Glancing out over the valley, Aang took note of the small port town they had arrived in; it was rather quaint, and if it weren't for the large Fire Nation dockyard that was located by the shore, he would have thought the town was virtually untouched the war, if they were in the Fire Nation, of course. It was the first colonial town he had seen, and it reminded him somewhat of the towns and villages he had seen when travelling to the Fire Nation a century prior. It didn't look to be the cleanest or wealthiest settlement he had come across, but it was clearly well away from the worries of the Fire Nation's civil war. He had already draped a cloak around himself, which disguised his tunic, not having any other clothes to wear, unlike the others; Katara gave him a hood to wear over it to obscure his tattoos, though he didn't bother covering his head when they were still well outside of the town and away from view. He had landed Appa on the top of a small escarpment, where he found a small cave that his sky-bison could rest in recluse away from prying eyes.
He hadn't personally wanted to venture into Fire Nation occupied territory, knowing the danger of being found out, or worse captured, for being the Avatar was more than possible; the only reason they were there was quite visible before them- the circus, supposedly the same one that Ty Lee had joined, was currently playing in the town. They had found out two days prior when they visited a small town to the east, where they learned the circus had been for a few weeks prior to their arrival, though it had moved, supposedly because of the threat of renegade Fire Nation forces nearing the settlement. He didn't see any, though he guessed that they were in hiding, waiting to strike.
Aang shook his head, knowing that he couldn't do anything about that, and rather turned his thoughts back to the matter at hand. They had to go find Ty Lee, and hopefully recruit her to their cause, which at the present moment simply involved them travelling to the North Pole, and perhaps checking around for Azula's former allies, who might be useful in securing the peace once he had garnered enough support. With Bumi and the Southern Water Tribe behind him, he knew that he already had some leverage, though clearly not enough to reunify the Earth Kingdom or anything of the likes.
"Aang, is something wrong?" he heard Sokka address him, the young Avatar turning around to face him, shaking his head profusely; he was fine, even if he had a few concerns about being in the Fire Nation colonies, and as long as their disguises worked, he was sure they would be safe.
"No, don't worry. I'm fine." he assured him, taking note of his own disguise; he was wearing the undergarments of his Fire Nation armour, which to Aang simply looked like a drab gray and red tunic, one that explicitly marked him as being Fire Nation.
"Don't worry about your disguise. I'm sure we can get you a hat or something that'll look a little less suspicious when we get into town." he suggested, the young Air Nomad smiling, appreciative of his idea.
"That's a good idea." he grinned at him, before tilting his head to glance back toward Appa, behind whom Katara and Azula were getting changed into their own disguises, "How long are they going to take?"
"Girls and clothes." Sokka joked, shrugging his shoulders with a sheepish grin, "I dunno." he added, implying that they were going to take a while.
"You just look like any other Fire Nation person." Aang acknowledged, before gesturing to his face, "Even the hair. Only your eyes say Water Tribe."
"Yeah, can't really fix that part." he acknowledged, "But I can do up my hair and wear this outfit." he gestured to his soldier's garbs, "I had to wear this for nearly two months straight at one point."
"Did it feel weird? Pretending to be Fire Nation?" he asked, just curious how he felt to hide his identity; Aang had a feeling that he might have to do something similar in the future, especially if the Fire Nation started paying the wrong kind of attention to him.
"Not really." he shrugged his shoulders, "I'd already been doing it when I was working for Azula, the only difference was I didn't have to take her orders." he explained, before a quip sounded out from behind Appa.
"That's a lie!" the Princess declared, the Water Tribesman blushing as he rubbed the back of his scalp.
"Uh... I did follow some orders." he conceded, making Aang raise a brow, slightly confused as to why he was embarrassed; he didn't know if it was because it made him feel like less of man, or maybe because of some other reason he couldn't understand.
"Uh, but we're going to have to act. So we can get into this circus and find Ty Lee." he concluded, the Water Tribesman nodding.
"That's right." he agreed, "Though you shouldn't worry about it. Azula and I will do most of the talking anyway."
"Maybe we can go buy some stuff at the market." he suggested, earning a glance of interest from the other boy, "They might have something we never knew we needed."
Sokka's lips pursed upward into a smirk, "Now, I do love my shopping, but I'm not going to think about it until we're done with this circus stuff." he conceded, before raising a brow, "Though, I might go get some food. I could really go for some spicy Fire Nation jerky again."
"If you're going to be eating food, you better not spend too much money, Sokka." he heard Azula warn him, before she stepped out from behind Appa, revealing her own disguise.
She was wearing a light red tunic that covered her chest, leaving her abdomen bare, with a pair of baggy pants underneath; rather normal looking, in Aang's view, though her hairstyle was quite different to the usual bangs and bun she wore. Given that there were wanted posters for her, she had decided to change it radically, getting rid of her bangs and instead tying her hair back into a low ponytail. He remembered Sokka jokingly suggesting that she cut herself new bangs to cover her forehead, but she had gotten surprisingly angry about it, quickly shutting down any chance of it happening.
"I won't overspend, I promise." Sokka raised his hands to assure her, "Only some jerky, and maybe some fire flakes... if you wanted some, that was."
"I might get some, if they're being sold at a reasonable price that is. Being so far from the homeland and the bigger colonies, I wouldn't be surprised if they price-gouge around here on Fire Nation delicacies from the homeland."
"That'd just be unreasonable of them." the Water Tribesman narrowed his eyes with slight annoyance, before turning to face Aang, "Did you want to get anything?"
"Uh... I guess I could have some fire flakes. They're vegetarian." he noted, the Princess chuckling.
"They might be a little too hot for your tongue. I remember you said you found them too spicy." she reminded him, the young Avatar laughing off his words, remembering that he had mentioned his thievery with Kuzon.
"Oh, yeah, but they still taste good. I'll just get a drink to get rid of the spicyness." he argued, the Princess raising a brow.
"And what, you think they're just going to sell freshly brewed tea at the market?" she retorted, the young Avatar narrowing his eyes in thought.
"But shouldn't there be tea-houses?" he asked her, before his tone grew more panicked, "There're still tea-houses in the Fire Nation, right?"
"Your assumptions are correct. Tea is still a fundamental part of Fire Nation culture as it is," she conceded, before narrowing her eyes, "despite how little I care for it myself."
"Tea sounds nice." Sokka backed him up, "That'll be a nice reprieve after eating rice, nuts and dried fruit for the past week."
"The food wasn't that bad." Katara spoke up, catching their attention; turning around, Aang was surprised how different she looked in her own disguise.
She had her hair styled almost exactly like how Azula usually wore her own, down to the bangs and topknot bun; her clothes consisted of her own cloak, like his own, which covered her light blue Water Tribe robes.
"That's a nice hairdo." he complimented her, Sokka grimacing slightly.
"More like weird. You're copying Azula's look a little too much." he argued, his sister crossing her arms with slight annoyance.
"I thought my disguise was pretty good, though I would prefer if I had some Fire Nation clothes to wear." she conceded, the Princess raising a finger to catch her attention.
"Well, you could always buy some when we go down to town today." she suggested, the Water Tribe girl nodding, before she narrowed her eyes.
"Do we have enough money to spare?" she asked, the Princess tilting her head in thought.
"Yes, but if you're really feeling stingy, you can steal some clothes off a washing line." she suggested, the Water Tribe girl shaking her head, almost disappointed she had suggested it.
"Why would I do that? I'm sure somebody wouldn't appreciate finding their clothes taken, and I doubt I'd wear them that much."
"Exactly." she raised her finger, "Why bother paying when you won't get your money's worth out of them?" she suggested, Sokka clearing his throat, interceding in their so far brief argument.
"How about you don't buy anything and just wear the cloak?" he asked Katara, who sighed, before nodding.
"That's what I'll do." she conceded, before turning her eyes to Aang, "So are we going?"
"Uh..." he nervously glanced around, "Was that meant to be my choice?" he asked the group, Azula rolling her eyes, striding forward past him and Sokka along the escarpment, which would eventually lead down toward the town itself.
"Leave the decisions to the adults." she declared, Aang not bothering to argue back; when it didn't concern the ethics of their actions, he was more than willing to let Azula and Sokka take the reins, and it usually seemed to be the former, unless she was feeling rather indifferent, "Let's just get down to town. We can get our snacks, and then we'll investigate the circus." she explained, the rest of them following after her, quickly joined by Momo, who climbed onto Aang's shoulder.
"Hey, you better behave yourself, Momo. I don't know if these Fire Nation folks will like you." he warned the flying-lemur.
He made a small purr-like sound before jumping into the air, gliding around them as they began to walk along the path down toward the town. After a few circles, he landed back on Appa's saddle, suggesting that he was going to remain there for the time-being; he could trust Momo to stay safe, though he couldn't say the same about his friends.
"Hopefully this is the circus we're looking for." he acknowledged, the Princess glancing back his way momentarily.
"I'm certain this is it." she assured him, "There's very few travelling circuses in the Colonies and I know for a fact Ty Lee is an acrobat, and those commoners definitely mentioned there being an acrobat here."
"I wonder where they've been." Katara mumbled, "They might have seen some interesting places."
"A few crappy towns here and there, and maybe a bigger city. There isn't much interesting stuff in this part of the world, unless you count the place we already have been to, New Omashu."
"That was a pretty weird place." Sokka conceded, "I never thought I'd see a whole city underground."
"You read the manuscripts in the Governor's Palace." the Princess raised her finger, "Ba Sing Se was once just like that, before it became the sprawling shithole it is today."
"Ah, that must have been a little nicer." he smiled, indicating that he didn't hold a very high opinion of the city.
The group fell silent for a bit as they strode downhill; they tried their best to remain inconspicuous as they began to approach actual people, most of whom seemed to be people walking around on errands, as well as a few travellers like themselves, probably heading to the local markets. Nobody gave them too odd a look, which relieved Aang, who had already draped the hood over his head to ensure that people didn't spot his tattoos. He glanced around, taking note of the small houses that were located around the outskirts of the town; the appearance of them suggested that they were inhabited by Earth Kingdom locals who were living in the town, which was somewhat relieving for him to see. Despite what he had heard about refugees, the fact that Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation people could live side-by-side was encouraging. He didn't see any soldiers until they got deeper into the town, as they neared the large tent and grounds of the circus, which was situated in what he guessed might have usually been a plot of land to garden or house livestock. The Fire Nation soldiers weren't seeming to be in an antagonistic mood, from what he could tell, and walked past them without batting an eye.
"I think the disguises are working." Sokka whispered to him, leaning down slightly to make sure only he could hear him.
"Yeah, they are." he agreed with a curt nod, Azula glancing back their way and gesturing ahead of them, past the entrance to the circus.
"The market is this way. Let's get those snacks before we check out the circus." she suggested, her tone sounding a little higher pitched and chirpier than usual, which made sense, given she was pretending to not be herself, the cold and snarky Crown Princess of the Fire Nation.
They walked along behind her, forced to move into file as the mass of people on the street became thicker; the crowd was growing, understandably, as they were now on the main street of the town. The road became made of cobble below their feet, and the buildings quickly connected up into dense blocks of shops and apartments, with hanging cords of paper lanterns above them, although they obviously weren't lit during the middle of the day. He glanced around, taking note of a few stalls that were propped up along the side of the street, though they were all selling random bits and pieces, gathered herbs and hunted meats from the nearby woods. What really caught Aang's attention was a stall down the street, where someone was clearly selling fire flakes, as he could see a large sign on top of the stall, claiming that it sold the best in town.
"Oooh... there it is." he gestured toward the stall, the Princess nodding without a word, making her way toward it; there was a small line in front of the stall, which forced their group to a halt.
Katara glanced around for a moment before she looked at her brother, "Sokka, did you want to go find a stall selling jerky while they wait to get some fire flakes?"
He gave her an affirmative nod, before his eyes darted to Aang, "I can trust you two to stay out of trouble, right?"
"Of course." Aang nodded, wanting to assure him he wasn't thinking of doing anything absurd, especially given the predicament they faced with disguising their identities, "I won't do anything you wouldn't." he assured him, Azula snickering at his choice of words.
"Well then, you might do something stupid." she observed, making her boyfriend clench his fists as he turned his head around with slight embarrassment.
"Yeah, yeah." he mumbled, before he began to walk away, followed by Katara, "Let's go find that jerky."
As he watched the other two walk off, he slowly turned his eyes back to Azula, who was ignoring him at that very moment, glancing ahead to see who was buying ahead of them; when she did turn her gaze toward him, she sighed, gesturing toward the hood he wore over his scalp.
"It'd really help if you grew some hair. That'd cover your scalp a little better and less suspiciously than a hood." she explained, her voice softening at the last part.
Touching the sides of his hood self-consciously, he hunched his shoulders slightly, "I don't want to."
"Well, it's not about what you want, Aang." she warned him, "It's about your safety. I'm sure if you really wanted to, you could shave it again once we head up north." she suggested, the young Air Nomad sighing, before he turned his gaze up toward her.
As much as he didn't want to agree with her, he knew she had a pretty good argument; of all things, he didn't want to be recognised by the Fire Nation, as it would only make more issues for them to deal with. Azula was the one who was most certainly threatened by any attention that came their way, as proven by their experience with Bumi's rebels, so he was sure that his sacrifice would not be pointless.
"Okay." he mumbled, "I'll stop shaving for a bit... but that won't help with my forehead."
"You can wear a bandana or something." she suggested, before raising a finger to her chin, "Remember the one I wore?"
"I want it to be orange." he argued, the Fire Nation Princess rolling her eyes.
"Fine then... if we can get you some orange fabric, will you not complain?" she offered a compromise, the young Avatar nodding; if he had to grow his hair out and cover his tattoo, he wanted to do it his way.
"I won't." he nodded, before smirking, "That'll be a cool bandana." he acknowledged with a slight smirk; Azula crossed her arms, looking at him with a suspicious glare.
"Are you trying to impress somebody?" she inquired, the young Avatar turning his head away; he didn't exactly think of it that way, but when he did, he couldn't help but feel embarrassed- he thought maybe Katara might like it, and that made him smile.
"No, not really." he made a half-lie, knowing that he had not set out his idea with the intention of impressing anyone.
"Okay, I believe you." she told him with a clearly sarcastic voice, forcing him to pull his hood down over his face, not wanting to give off any indication of his embarrassment.
His eyes darted up to check how far they had progressed through the line and noticed that there was now only one person in front of them; he turned his eyes up to Azula, trying to think of something different to talk about other than his hair or lack-there-of.
"Uh... so, are you excited to see Ty Lee?" he asked her, the Princess raising one of her eyebrows up.
"Hmph, I wouldn't say excited." she clarified her own opinion on the matter, "I'm looking forward to having her on our team."
"Is she nice?" he asked her, the Princess snickering with amusement, looking at him with a smug face.
"Well, she's a handful... but I'm sure she fits your view of what a nice person is." she clarified, the young Air Nomad smiling.
"That's good to hear." he admitted, genuinely looking forward to a little balance in their team.
Katara was nice, but serious, Sokka was jokey but scary at times, and Azula was just snarky; somebody who was just nice and cheery would be a good complement to their team, and someone to relief all the cold seriousness that they had amongst them. Aang already felt bad enough about his own mistakes, and being reminded of those of others, or the bad things that had happened to them, just made him feel sad.
"You two would get along." she acknowledged, "But, Ty Lee gets along with everyone."
He smiled momentarily, just appreciating the fact of the matter; he felt a sense of hope that they'd all enjoy the company of their potential recruit, and given what Azula had already said about her, he'd want to argue for her to join their group. His attention was quickly drawn away from the Princess as the last customer in the line moved out of the way, allowing them to step up to the stall.
"Good day, are you two looking for some fresh fire flakes?" the seller asked the pair, the Princess stepping forward, giving him a fake smile.
"We'd like two bags, please."
"Uh... we have a few bag sizes." he clarified, raising up a few in his hands, showing the varying sizes; Aang gestured to the medium sized one, which was about twice the size of a closed fist.
"Could we get that size?" he asked, the seller nodding before he turned around, scooping some fire flakes into the two bags, before he placed them down on the bench between them.
"That'd be three copper pieces." he clarified, the Princess pulling out the requested currency; placing it down on the bench.
He smiled at them, his eyes darting down to Aang, "Huh, you have a pretty nice sister if she's willing to buy you these." he noted, the young Air Nomad laughing off his comments.
"Uh, I sure do." he made an uneasy smile, his eyes darting over to Azula, whose expression was rather distant as she picked up the bags.
"Thank you." she simply addressed the seller with her fake smile before giving the Avatar his bag, "Let's go." she told him with a quiet, though audibly tense voice.
He followed after the Princess, increasing his pace so he could walk beside her down the street; glancing over to her face he could see the unnerved look on her face, though she quickly picked up a few fire flakes and chewed them down, probably to distract herself from whatever had caught her mind.
"Is something wrong?" he asked her, the Princess shaking her head.
"Of course not." she simply assured him, before glancing down to the bag in his hands, "Are you going to eat those or not?"
"Uh, yeah, just not too quickly." he noted, thinking about how spicy the last ones he had eaten were; he pulled out two fire flakes and chewed them up, cringing slightly at the hotness, though he certainly thought they tasted nice.
"I haven't had these in a while." the Princess conceded, before she darted her eyes around, "Where could have those two gotten off to?" she mumbled under her breath, sounding annoyed that Katara and Sokka had just walked off, and disappeared.
"We just need to find the stall that sells jerky." he concluded, pacing forward and glancing about the area, taking note of a few stalls that sold street food, though he couldn't see any that sold jerky specifically.
As he made his way down the street, he was able to spot Katara's dark cloak that covered her frame, which stood out from the lighter reds, greens and browns that the locals wore; he could hear Sokka's boisterous voice as he tried to haggle with the seller, which immediately made Azula smirk, obviously amused by her boyfriend's antics.
"Come on! Six copper? Don't play dumb with me. It's just a little bit of jerky." he argued, "This has to be a joke." he declared, the seller raising his hands up.
"Now, now, there's no need to get so angry. Jerky here gets imported... it's not as cheap as it is where they make it." he tried to explain, the Water Tribe teen raising his fingers to his nose-bridge.
"I seriously doubt that. It's pretty easy to make jerky." her retorted, the man behind the stall raising a brow with confusion.
"Then why don't you make it yourself?" he retorted, the Water Tribesman crossing his arms, "Three copper for that, and I'll buy double." he narrowed his eyes at the seller, who remained silent for a few moments as they approached from behind, catching Katara's attention; she looked pretty close to breaking down laughing at her brother's clear overreaction.
"Make it four, and we've got a deal." the seller gave an offer, Sokka placing down the requested currency.
"Fine." he agreed, before he was handed the jerky, "Thanks." he grumbled, sounding still quite annoyed by the price; she would agree that the price the seller was asking for was pretty sharp for something as mundane and common as dried meat with a little spice.
When he turned around to see that they had already arrived, his eyes widened with surprise, "Oh, you two were quick." he noted, Azula cocking her chin upward.
"The line didn't last very long." she simply noted, before tilting her head to the side, up the road the way they came, "Let's head up to the circus. We don't even know when they'll be playing next."
"Let's hope it's soon, then we can find her quicker."
"We could just walk into the place, couldn't we?" Katara asked her, the Princess shaking her head.
"I saw a few tough looking guys out front. They obviously won't let you in unless you've paid. Of course, once we go, we're free to walk around and find Ty Lee." she acknowledged, before turning her eyes to Sokka, "You ready to have a little fun?"
"Am I?" he asked her rhetorically in return, "I haven't played Wang Fire in so long. I'm looking forward to this."
"Wang Fire?" Aang raised an eyebrow, confused by his odd pseudonym.
"That's his 'name'." Katara clarified, before rolling her eyes, "A stupid one at that."
"Ah, something we agree upon." Azula smirked, the two girls laughing as Sokka pouted, obviously feeling that his ego was being trodded on.
"Hey, it's not that bad. Maybe drop the Fire, though." he suggested, "That sounds a little less wacky."
"But wacky's how I do things, Aang." he argued, making him snicker, unsure how to respond.
"You do the wacky then. Just leave me out of it." he simply requested, the Water Tribesman giving him a rather mocking bow.
"Of course, I'll keep it to myself. The Fire family name, that is." he smirked at him.
His sister made an exasperated sigh, while his girlfriend turned her eyes away with embarrassment; Aang wanted to giggle, but he restrained himself, instead tilting his head up the road, "So, are we going?"
"Yes." Azula was the first to answer, striding forward with a slightly flustered face, which he assumed she wanted to keep hidden from the rest of them by walking at the front of the group.
He followed after her quickly, with Sokka and Katara taking after behind him; he strode up beside the Princess, glancing around the street once more, taking note of the stalls that he had otherwise ignored; they were selling a wide variety of things, and he realised that they might be able to restock on some random things they might need, such as disguises, camping equipment and some more food. Even if he wasn't as food-obsessed as Sokka, he still thought they would be better off having a healthy amount of food to ration off in case of an emergency. He put that thought in the back of his head, knowing it was something they could suggest after they got into the circus and met Ty Lee.
He turned back to the Princess, remembering her odd reaction when the fire flake seller had assumed they were brother and sister, "Uh, did that fire flake guy annoy you?"
She turned her eyes to him, looking down at the young Air Nomad with an almost surprised expression, though she raised her chin up slightly, looking more or less indifferent to his words; he could tell, after being around her long enough, that she was probably trying to disguise her true feelings by acting like she didn't care.
"You're not my little brother." she simply stated, "Though, the fact I have to keep my eye on you suggests otherwise." she acknowledged, almost trying to insult him, though he didn't really feel offended by such a claim; she was so much older and more mature than him that it just made sense that she'd be looking out for him.
She turned her eyes back away from him, "I don't need another annoying brother." she simply declared, which made Aang grimace slightly; he didn't really know Zuko- what he was actually like away from Azula's biased descriptions, so he didn't want to judge her comment.
"I don't want to annoy you." he assured her, before his eyes darted down, "I'm sorry about the hair thing."
"Don't be sorry." she told him with a commanding, serious tone, "Standing your ground isn't something to be ashamed of... just choose your arguments a little wiser." she suggested, her voice becoming a little softer before her attention was drawn back ahead of them as the group had to weave around the other pedestrians walking along the main street.
"Uh... thanks for the advice." he gave her an encouraging smile, actually glad she had taken such a conciliatory route.
She was giving him ideas for how he ought to act toward others, perhaps unintentionally when giving other advice; her wisdom was something she had learned from experience, and even if he didn't agree with everything she had done in her past, he could respect what she knew. As they once again approached the circus, Aang scanned about, trying to figure out exactly what they needed to do. He couldn't see anything that indicated what time the circus played their shows, or what the entry fee was, so he was forced to approach, Azula taking the lead, unsurprisingly. She made her way up toward the two tough looking men standing out front, who were gate-keeping the circus-grounds, putting on a cheery face for show.
"Hello there. I was wondering when the next circus show is on." she requested of the pair, one of which raised his chin.
"People are lining up for the midday show inside. Entry fee is a silver for kids, and two silvers for adults." he simply acknowledged, before scanning his eyes along them, "So, three adults and one kid." he deduced, raising a brow at her, "Do you have seven silver on you?"
"Of course." she smiled, reaching into the bag she had slung around her shoulder, before handing him the requested amount of money; as she handed the coins into his hand, the two of them stood out of the way, allowing them to enter.
"Well then, enjoy your time here." the other bouncer simply told them, the group walking between them, Aang trying to keep a straight face; not that he fought he couldn't beat them with airbending, it was just that tough and intimidating people were still that, no matter if he could.
As they made their way into the circus grounds, approaching the large tent, out of which was a line of circus-goers, Katara turned around and addressed them, "So, that was easy. We didn't get suspected at all." she acknowledged, the Princess nodding.
"We're not that suspicious, though I'm sure we'll be able to work on our disguises in the future." she conceded, before glancing up the line, "This is going to take a while."
"Yeah, no shit." Sokka crossed his arms, before taking a bite out of his jerky.
Aang took one of his fire flakes out, only having one at a time to ensure he wasn't overcome by the spiciness; after eating one whole and chewing it down, he turned around to face his friends, "So, uh... who thinks this is going to be a good circus?"
"I've never been to one so I can't be a judge." Sokka acknowledged, his sister nodding along with a grimace.
"Yeah, same here. I haven't seen much more than a few people playing with puppets around the campfire."
"That stuff was cringier than the Ember Island Players." Azula leaned her face back with a look of disgust, "One thing I don't miss about the Southern Water Tribe."
"Hey, hey, you didn't need to watch it." Sokka argued, making his girlfriend raise a brow at him.
"Are you defending that stuff? You can't honestly think it was any good."
"Given what we had at hand, it was the best we could." he told her, before crossing his arms, "I thought my spirit wolf impression was pretty good actually." he argued, making Aang raise a brow.
"So you actually played in this puppet show?"
"Yeah, for the little kids." he simply told him, before chuckling, "And the adults could enjoy it too as long as you throw in a few dirty jokes."
"That's probably your favourite chore because you didn't have to walk around and actually do anything productive." Azula argued, earning a snicker from Katara.
"That's true." she agreed, Sokka crossing his arms.
"I like hunting. That's my favourite activity. Hunting with Dad, specifically, because a certain somebody just complains after a few hours if we don't get anything." he argued, making Azula roll her eyes.
"If you're not getting anything then what's the point of walking around in the middle of a frozen hellscape?" she argued, Aang nodding along, seeing her point well enough, even if he understood the Water Tribes needed to go hunting long distances to get enough food to feed themselves.
"Hunting sounds boring." he simply commented, the Water Tribe warrior crossing his arms.
"It's not. It's a fun experience, and you get to bond with your hunting partner." he argued with a self-assured tone, the young Avatar simply shrugging, not having much to say against his point.
"Or scream at them." Katara added, making Aang giggle, knowing that he could clearly imagine the two of them fighting in such a situation.
"I thought we were making fun of his acting skills and not how grating he gets after an extended period of time." Azula spoke up, the Water Tribesman turning his eyes away with embarrassment.
"I'm not that bad." he argued, the Princess smirking at him.
"Hey, I never said I didn't like arguing. It's my favourite past-time after training and sparring." she claimed, making Aang snicker; it was an unusual thing to have in her top three things she liked doing.
"If we didn't argue, what would we be doing?" Katara asked the group, the Princess narrowing her eyes.
"Probably being marginally more productive." she acknowledged, "Though there's not many productive things to do when you're stuck on a saddle most of the day."
"Yeah, I don't think you can do your training on top of Appa." the young Avatar admitted, before he glanced back along the line, "I sure hope the line's worth it. I don't want to be stuck here."
"Hey, hey, it's not going to be that bad." Sokka suggested, before his sister's hand rose up to his lips.
"No more games, Wang Fire." she warned him, "I don't want a repeat of last time."
"We really need to get a Pai Sho set or something." he suggested in converse, before eyeing his girlfriend, "Or not."
"No, I agree with you. Pai Sho's probably a good way to pass the time," she conceded, "as much as I despise the people who play it."
Aang narrowed his eyes for a moment, remembering the fact the organisation that had set out to put Zuko on the throne was called the Order of the White Lotus, named for a Pai Sho piece, "Why would a secret society name itself after a Pai Sho piece?" he whispered to the Princess, Sokka stepping closer to him.
"Because they like it." he simply answered his question, "It's like if I named my secret society to ensure the freedom of the Southern Water Tribe the Sea Prune Army."
"Your what?" Katara's jaw dropped, before she looked at him with an amused tone, "You do realise how stupid that sounds."
"I never said I'd call it that." he grit his teeth, which suggested that he actually intended to form such an organisation.
"Something more like the Sons of the South or something." Azula suggested, "Has a more tough, ominous feel to it." she added, making her boyfriend smile, nodding appreciatively to her words.
"Thanks. That is a good name." he agreed, before his eyes widened, "Wait, maybe we should have a name."
"A name?" Aang looked at him with confusion, "Like if we were a band or something?"
"Exactly like that." he snapped a finger at the young Avatar, who made an exasperated sigh confusion; why they'd have a name didn't make any sense to him, though he did consider it for a moment- maybe it would make them more enticing to potential allies if they had a cool sounding code-name.
"Yeah... that just sounds a little dumb." Katara shrugged her shoulders, Sokka pouting at her with a disappointed look.
"Aw, come on. You don't think that having a name for our group would be cool?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl glancing back his way with indifference.
"What does it matter? The only place you're going to see it is on wanted posters, and that's assuming anyone learns it." she argued, her brother sighing, turning his eyes to Aang.
"You think it's a good idea, right?"
"I don't know." he shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to get into the argument, "Do we need one?"
"That's exactly what I was thinking." Azula agreed with him, before narrowing her eyes at her boyfriend, "You can't really think it's a necessary thing. If anything, somebody will give us a name."
"But what if it's bad?" he leaned forward, looking at them both with a fearful face, "What if it's really stupid and catches on and we're stuck with that 'till we die?"
"Well, it's not like our group's going to be running around the Earth Kingdom forever." Azula shrugged her shoulders, "There's greater things ahead for us."
"You mean for you." Katara corrected her, the Princess smirking confidently.
"What an astute observation." she clapped her hands at her, before turning her eyes to Aang, "And definitely for you."
"Y-yeah..." he rubbed at his neck through the hood covering his head, "I'll be doing a lot of things." he acknowledged the fact of the matter; Aang was still unsure if he was ready for all of his Avatar duties, though he knew for sure that he couldn't get away from them.
"The future's got a lot in store for us. Let's just hope none of it involves inordinate amounts of lightning." Sokka acknowledged, making the young Avatar's eyes widen with fear.
"You say that like it's going to happen." he mumbled, the Princess placing a supportive hand on his shoulder, though her serious glare didn't feel enticing in any way.
"Lightning comes from unexpected places these days."
Ty Lee didn't really think the circus was for her; she did like it, to begin with, given it gave her the individuality she had always craved as a child. But fate seemed to not be in her favour, as within a few months, her sisters had tracked her down. They were supposed to all go back to the Fire Nation Capital together, and force her back to her boring life as a noblewoman, but instead, she was able to stay, though at the price of having all her sisters with her. They were a septuplet acrobatics group, and as cool as they might have seemed in comparison to one skilled acrobat to the crowds, she certainly didn't appreciate her sisters coming in and taking the one thing she had thought was her own.
She did acknowledge that they were okay to hang around, both to ensure that she never really got bored and to keep her constantly on the prowl. Whenever she looked for boys to flirt with when they came to a new town, her sisters would always be going after the same ones as her. That meant she had to always come up with more and more smarter ways to find someone to flirt with without having her night ruined by her sisters. She knew that, however, given time, the circus was growing to be as bad as it was for her at home, though without the added worry of impressing her parents; she knew that she needed to leave eventually, but she was sure her sisters would find a way to drag her back to the circus if she tried to leave, or worse, continue to follow her around, no matter what 'unique' thing she tried to do next.
As she patiently waited for their group to be called up, she sat on a crate, idly tracing her fingers along her arms, as if she was trying to write her thoughts out with her fingers. Ty Lin and Ty Lat were arguing with each other over some matching bracelets the two had accidentally bought, while Ty Liu, Ty Lum and Ty Lao were all placing a dice game, sitting in a circle. Ty Woo was, like her, sitting off idly, though she was reading something, the topic of which Ty Lee couldn't discern, given the distance between her and the book.
Suddenly, she heard a familiar voice calling out to them, "Alright girls, you're up!"
Ty Lee's head rose up, breaking out of her bored trance; she took note of Shumuzu, who was gesturing for her to head out of the small recluse waiting area of the tent. She was about to get up and follow his order, before she felt a hand whack her in the back of the head.
"Hurry up, nimwit!" she heard Ty Woo mock her, making her grunt as her head was shunted forward; she turned her eyes to her sister, snarling with frustration.
"What was that for, huh?" she growled at her, with both hands out, fingers pointed to strike.
Before she could act on her anger, Ty Liu grasped her by the arm to try and dissuade her from doing anything too brash; she could have easily chi-blocked her sister, one thing that she did still have to herself, though she lacked much practical use for her skill.
"Don't do it, Ty Lee. It's not worth it." she warned her, to which she simply sighed with frustration before she followed her sisters out to the arena of the circus.
"Give a warm welcome to the Ty Sisters!" she heard Shumuzu introduce them, the sound of the crowd applauding them making her smile; at least they appreciated her, even if they didn't know her.
The sisters spread out around the arena, all cartwheeling out to surprise the audience; she took a right-turn, cartwheeling along, putting on the most confident face she could, before she came to a halt. She moved to quickly scale up a ladder, which took her up to the platform from which she and her sisters were to jump. She reached the ladder with haste, glancing around and counting the number of sisters she could see; when she counted six, she felt assured that they were all in their positions, before she waited for the inevitable- one of them had to jump first. They had a conventional order to follow when they did their acrobatics together, but for the first jump, it varied from show to show; Ty Lee realised that it was her turn as she saw all of her sister's eyes on her. She gulped with slight fear, feeling a little more nervous than usual, as she had already been doubting her own desire to even be in the circus.
She put that thought to the back of her mind as she raced forward before leaping right off of the platform. Reaching with both hands up, she grasped the ring that was hanging closest to her, before she used it to fling herself further forward. At the centre of the arena there was another ring, larger than the rest, which she grabbed, before swinging herself upward. As her legs rose up above her head, she curled them around, hooking them over the ring, allowing herself to hang with the strength of her legs alone. The crowd remained silent still, before the real acrobatics was to begin; Ty Lat raced forward, jumping off of her platform and grasping a ring with only one hand before she leapt forward, both her hands meeting Ty Lee's. Their moment of contact pushed her backward as her sister propelled herself forward, grasping another ring, which she was able to hang off of and swing with. Flying forward, she swung close to the platform, allowing Ty Lum to jump onto the ring, joining her for a moment before she leapt onto another ring.
The crowd cheered brightly out as Ty Woo and Ty Liu raced forward at the same time from opposite sides of the arena, jumping to grasp two long roped rings, which allowed them to swing forward, each of them flying right past Ty Lee, using her hands to jump and switch rings, before they swung back in the opposite direction. Once the two sisters were back by the platform, they had already curled around, allowing Ty Lao and Ty Lin to jump forward and use their hands to swing ahead and grasp onto two more rings, positioning themselves opposite to each other, with Ty Lee between them.
Then Ty Lum began to swing herself on her ring, gaining enough momentum to jump forward, using Ty Woo first as a handle, before leaping forward and grabbing Ty Lee's hands; she tensed up for a moment as her sister made contact with her, but she quickly departed, grabbing Ty Liu's hands, before she finally made her way to the other side, landing on the platform. Ty Lat followed after her, swinging around on one of the long-roped rings, which allowed her and Ty Lin to switch. She swung right around Ty Lee, their eyes making contact for a moment before she switched with Ty Lao, who was able to use the long-rope ring to leap over to the platforms. Now with only five sisters in the air, each of them except for the centrally-placed Ty Lee began to move back and forth, before they swung around on their rings, jumping up into the air; she gasped as she saw all of them fly up at the same time, landing on different rings than they had used before, using their momentum to jump through the air, each of them grabbing one last ring before throwing themselves over to the platforms.
Ty Lee sighed, realising that her legs were starting to hurt, though she was relieved by the fact she wouldn't need to use them for the trick that followed. She swung herself up into the ring she had been hanging off of, putting herself in a seated position, before she began to spin the ring around by dropping down and pushing herself out to one side. As it began to swing faster, her legs rose up into the air, and she took a deep breath as she prepared herself for a her final move; she let go, allowing herself to soar forward, grasping the same long-roped ring Ty Lat had used, swinging on it with her new-found momentum, allowing her to glide around the arena, with one hand on the ring, and the other in the air to wave to the crowds, who cheered her on. She let go once she got close enough to the platform, landing on feet first, rising back to form with a smirk on her face; as annoyed as she was having to be everybody else's swinging post, she was relieved that she was actually the one who got to show off at the end.
"Show off." she heard Ty Lum grumble, rolling her eyes at the sight of Ty Lee's dashing finale; she ignored her sister's words as she turned to bow to the crowds below, who cheered them on.
"We'll be having a short break, but don't worry, we'll be right back with more amazing performances!" Shumuzu spoke out to the crowds with a loud voice, indicating that they were at the intermission of the current show.
Glancing back over toward her sisters, she realised they were already heading for the ladders to descend back down to the ground; she followed in suit, making her way after Ty Lum, sliding down the ladder with her palms on the wooden sides, quickly touching back down on the grounds of the arena. She glanced over into the ground, taking note that most of the people were talking amongst themselves rather than looking at them; she felt slightly disappointed to not see any admirers, and strode forth back out to the performer's exit, knowing that they didn't have anything else to do in the arena for a while- not until the next show that was.
"We did good out there." Ty Liu declared confidently, the other sisters nodding along.
"Same old, same old." Ty Woo retorted, "It's not like we're getting any more dazzling."
"We ought to shift up the routine a little, don't you think?" Ty Lat suggested, the other sisters nodding along, though the snarkiest of the group responded as Ty Lee expected her to.
"We agree on pretty much everything, dumb-dumb." she mocked her sister, who rolled her eyes.
"Seriously, I thought you would have gotten a little less snarky with time... but I was wrong." she admitted, making the other sisters laugh, even Ty Lee letting out a giggle- they all hoped that Ty Woo would stop acting like such an arse, but to her, that was her defining uniqueness.
"Give me something us to be me, and I'll do that, but until then, I'll tell you the cold truth." she declared, Ty Lum shaking her head with frustration.
"That's not the cold truth... that's more like what you'd like to think is the truth, but not always the actual truth." she argued a little too verbosely, though she got her point across well enough.
"Hey, my insults are always valid. They wouldn't be insults otherwise, they'd just be dumb comments!" she declared, the other sisters groaning with annoyance.
"Why does she have to be right..." Ty Lin groaned, "Maybe we should get you a new hobby?"
"Like what? Poetry?" Ty Lum guessed, Ty Woo raising a finger to her chin.
"Huh, I mean that's not the worst. I can still write insulting poetry!" she declared, Ty Lee rolling her eyes as she turned her attention away from her sister, knowing she ought to find something to do to spend the time between their next show and the present.
"Wait. I think I left the dice in the tent." Ty Lao's eyes widened, before she turned around pace in the direction of the main circus tent while the rest of them continued to walk toward their shared tent, which was a large one in which they all slept, which was probably the most annoying thing about being stuck with her sisters- she had be stuck with them at night when all they'd do is bicker and shout at each other.
Suddenly she heard a grunting noise; turning her head around, she saw that Ty Lao had walked into a young man, "Hey, watch where you're going... cutie." she addressed him, her tone clearly changing once she saw his appearance; Ty Lee had to agree with her sister's judgement, taking note of the appearance of the clearly attractive, lithe and swarthy teenager before them, though he wasn't too tough looking- not a little boy, yet not a man.
"Oh, sorry there, miss." he apologised, making a slight bow as he offered her a hand up, "I'm looking for somebody." he clarified, the sisters turning around to glance at each other.
"Is this one your boyfriends?" Ty Lao asked her sisters, all of whom shook their heads.
"Never seen this guy in my life." Ty Liu added, Ty Woo nodding along, before she stepped forward, pointing at him with slight suspicion.
"Who're you looking for?" she asked, the teenager glancing at them, looking them all in the eye.
"Well, uh... you're all identical, so sorry for asking this..." he prefaced his statement, which made a lot of sense, though that proved he was indeed looking for one of them, "which of you is Ty Lee?"
Her heart felt like it sunk in her chest at the moment of her name being mentioned, her cheeks flushing red with embarrassment; she could only wonder why an attractive boy was looking for her when she was with all her sisters. She guessed he was an admirer, but that didn't matter to her when she had the leering eyes of all six sisters to worry about.
"Is this your boyfriend, Lee?" Ty Lin asked her, making her blush and shake her head; she had never seen this rather attractive teenage boy in her life and he definitely wasn't her boyfriend, though she did consider asking him if he was single- just not in front of her sisters to save herself the embarrassment.
"No, no, I'm not her boyfriend." he assured the sisters, before he stepped closer to her, obviously having figured out which one she was, "I need to talk with you... uh, preferably alone."
"Oh... we'll leave you be." Ty Lao declared with a smug look on her face, patting Ty Lee on the shoulder as she strode past, "The dice can wait." she simply told her; she guessed that meant that she and the other girls would be watching from afar as the boy talked to her, which only made her feel more nervous.
"Come on, let's let Ty Lee do her thing." Ty Lin suggested, the other sisters following her lead as she continued to walk to the tent.
"Urgh." she grumbled to herself, her eyes focused on her sisters as they headed to their tent, although she knew they wouldn't remain inside for long.
"Sorry, if I just embarrassed you." he apologised, which surprised her; she turned her eyes to the boy, taking note of their bright blue colour- they were quite entrancing, but she tried to not let herself be distracted.
"No, it's fine." she lied, knowing that she could only feel a growing sense of dread about what her sisters might be talking about inside their tent, "What did you want to talk to be about? And... who are you?"
"I'd like to see if you're interested in conspiring against Fire Lord Zuko." he simply told her, making her jaw drop with utter surprise; she didn't know what to say to those words, having presumed the boy before her was an admirer, and not somebody important.
"Uh... did I just hear that right? Conspire against Zuko?" she asked him, the boy nodding, clearing his throat.
"Yep, that's- uh- well, that's it." he simply clarified, not saying anything important, other than clarifying she wasn't going insane.
"Okay, so I'm not having some really weird dream where a hot guy comes and tells me he's going to sweep me off my feet and take me out of this frustrating life." she concluded, before she covered her mouth, realising she had said everything she had been thinking out loud, "Um... I just said that out loud, didn't I?"
"You did." he confirmed her fears, making her cover her face with embarrassment.
"Uh, sorry about that... I'm just a little confused. Why are you talking to me specifically?"
"You're known to have associated with him and his close associates in the past, and therefore you're able of providing us very useful intelligence." he told her with a completely straight face, making her gasp with fear.
"Wait, seriously? You want me to help you" she gestured toward him accusingly, "overthrow my childhood friend's boyfriend?!"
"Well, yes, you and Lady Mai had a close relationship, did you not?" he asked her, Ty Lee glancing around, afraid that the boy had people with him who were going to kidnap her if she refused.
"What is this? Who are you?" she almost screamed at him, the boy sighing, obviously annoyed by her reaction, which couldn't be helped, given what he was saying.
"Well, I guess I'll just have to show you." he mumbled with a dejected tone, before suddenly, his hand struck out forward, Ty Lee weaving out of the way, afraid that he'd actually hit her.
He did, though only on the arm, giving her ample time to take form and ready herself to take down the boy; as cute as he was, he sounded like he was working with the wrong crowd of the people, the kind she would only find pain with.
"As cute as you are, I'm not afraid to-" she began to declare her intentions, before she realised something was terribly wrong; as she tried to move her right arm into form, she noticed that it was limp- it had been chi-blocked.
"Wh-what the..." she mumbled, realising that the boy had just used the same fighting technique that she knew against her- he had said he would show her who he was, but all he did was tell her he knew a lot about her, which only made her more afraid, "What is this?!" she cried out, the boy smirking at her confidently, stepping back without taking a fighting form.
"Oh, I don't know, I'd like to call it an introduction." he suggested with a cocky grin, before his expression became more annoyed, though the given emotion didn't seem to be toward her, "Don't tell me there aren't any wanted posters with my face on it."
"Wanted posters?" she asked him, now confused as to what he meant; obviously the boy before her was an enemy of Zuko's, though she couldn't say she recognised his face from any wanted posters.
"That's unfair." he crossed his arms, "I thought assaulting the Fire Lord would have earned me a good wanted poster in every single Fire Nation controlled settlement."
"Assaulting the-" she began to mumble, before she realised what the boy was saying; he had assaulted Zuko, and obviously expected that he would be hunted down for it, but he spoke of it so casually, which indicated that it wasn't a recent occurrence.
Though she had to think back for a moment, she remembered the story she had gotten out of Yu Dao; her old friend, Princess Azula, had gone after her brother and sought out an Agni Kai- they had fought in a duel, but she lost- supposedly she escaped because the Fire Lord was attacked by the Princess's ally, a Water Tribe warrior. Water Tribesmen had blue eyes, swarthy skin, and the boy before her was about the same age as Azula, which confirmed it all in one foul swoop.
"Y-you're..." she mumbled, "You're working for Azula!" she exclaimed, pointing toward him with her left hand accusingly.
"Technically, no." he corrected her, making a more warm smile, rather than the haughty one he had before, "I'm not working for her anymore. And I'm actually not recruiting you to conspire against Fire Lord Zuko."
"Then why are you here?" she asked her, before she heard an all too familiar voice behind her.
"To give a lesson to you: don't believe everything you hear, just because it sounds realistic." Azula advised her, the acrobat's stance softening as she failed to hold back a smile; her friend had come all the way from where-ever she had been hiding to find her, which genuinely made her want to jump up with glee.
"So it's not a hot guy coming to sweep me off my feet, it's you." she turned to face the Princess; she stiffened up for a moment, realising how different Azula looked- she wasn't wearing any make-up, her hair was tied up into a full bun with no bangs, and she was wearing a crop top and pants, akin to Ty Lee's own attire, "You've... changed a lot."
"And you haven't changed one bit, Ty." she raised her chin up, before gesturing back toward the boy who had confronted her, "If you didn't put two and two together, that is Sokka, my former accomplice and my current boyfriend." she explained, Ty Lee's jaw dropping with surprise.
"Your... you got a boyfriend?!" she almost squealed, amazed that her friend had found a guy that wasn't completely afraid of her, before she turned around to face him, "And he's so hot!" she pointed at him accusingly, before she remembered what he did, "And he can chi-block! How did that happen?"
"Oh, I picked up enough from our training together, so I was able to teach the basics to him. He's mostly self-taught, but I warn you, he's quite skilled now." she explained, the acrobat crossing her arms, raising her chin up.
"You never fail to impress me, Zula." she acknowledged, the Princess smiling at her, which unnerved her slightly.
She would never usually smile, unless it was because she had won, and seeing that she hadn't even asked her to do whatever she wanted of her, she was just doing it because she saw her. She realised her aura was so different from the last time she had seen her that she couldn't just chalk it up to mood; this was wholly different Azula, and not in a bad way. She was brighter than the morning sun, and Ty Lee just wanted to know how- how the Princess she knew had become so much happier.
"Is something wrong?" the Princess tilted her head slightly, touching the sides of her own head with a self-conscious look, "Is it the hair? It's probably the hair."
"No... it's not that, it's your aura. You're different- like, really different." she simply told her as best she could, Azula nodding, stepping closer with a warm smile on her face.
"Oh, well, I guess I am. I've learnt a lot of things since I left the palace about a year ago." she admitted, before her expression became more serious, "You're probably still wondering what I actually came here for... and yes, I do have a way for you to get out of this whole circus arrangement, if you'd like."
"What is it?" she asked her, the Princess smirking at her, raising her hands out as if to open the offer.
"How would you like to help the Avatar master the four elements and bring peace to the world?" she asked her, Ty Lee not making a sound as she took a moment to realise the words she had heard were not a joke, as much as she thought they might have been if not for what she had just told her.
"This has to be the most unexpected offer of all time." she noted with a bewildered expression, Azula raising a brow, clearly amused by her reaction.
"So it beats a stranger asking you if you want to overthrow my brother?" she smirked, the acrobat nodding.
"Yep, it just did." she confirmed, before she glanced back towards Sokka, blushing slightly as she remembered that he was actually Azula's boyfriend, "Sorry for making all those comments about your boyfriend." she apologised, "I didn't know."
"That was the idea." her friend grinned at her, "That reaction was what I came here for." she crossed her arms, before raising one of her hands up slightly, "But that second offer there wasn't a joke. Do you want to come with me?"
"Uh..." she mumbled, finding it hard to think straight when she came to think about exactly what she was offering her; an opportunity to escape the circus and with it, her sisters, but with the added confusion that they were actually working with the Avatar of all people, whom the Princess's brother had been hunting down for five whole years, "I'll- uh- think about it." she mumbled; her words seemed to entice Azula to step closer, her eyes narrowed on her own, as if she was trying to read her mind by staring her down.
"Well... you better think about it quickly. I'm not planning on staying around here much longer." she warned her, glancing back toward her boyfriend, "Sokka, head back to Aang and Katara and tell them we found her, I want to speak to Ty Lee alone." she directed her boyfriend, who eyed them both for a moment before nodding.
"Of course. I bet you two have a lot to catch up on." he simply observed, before turning his heels around, making his way back into the tent; Ty Lee realised that they must have come to the show, as to confirm that she was actually in the circus, before they decided to approach her, or better phrased, confuse her.
When he disappeared from sight, she turned her eyes back to Azula, who was still staring her down, "Uh... is something wrong, Azula?"
"No, not yet." she simply responded, which made her grimace; she sounded like she had already been through a lot, and she only had hearsay to rely on figuring out what that was, "I know you probably have a lot of questions for me, and I assure you, I can answer them."
"O-okay." she nodded, before glancing around, realising that they were still standing up when they probably ought to find somewhere to sit; the problem about the circus grounds was that there wasn't really anywhere to sit themselves down, but the Princess caught on quickly enough.
"We can sit down out of the way here." she gestured to a patch of grass nearby an empty cart; Ty Lee followed her suggestion and sat down beside her friend, trying to think of something to ask her, or really, just where to begin.
"I heard you fought against Zuko, but then you disappeared afterwards." she simply stated her own knowledge, remembering back to the time, when she had felt so worried about Azula, and that fear had faded over time, though mostly because she had other things to worry about, "What happened... other than the fact you got yourself a hot boyfriend?"
The Princess snickered at her specific phrasing of the question, raising her chin up as she considered her question, "Well... it was a long journey we took- by boat, that is. The colonies weren't safe for me, and I heeded Sokka's advice to head to the South Pole, where his tribe could protect me and keep me hidden from the world. I protested a little... but I knew it was the right decision. It was unnecessarily dangerous to remain around in the Earth Kingdom when my brother would send people after me as soon as I revealed myself again." she explained, the acrobat nodding along, relieved that Azula had chosen the more pragmatic option of hiding away over trying to fight what she guessed was the majority of the Fire Nation who had come to support her brother openly.
"So... you hid there. Is that where you met the Avatar?" she asked her, the Princess giving her a curt nod in return.
"Yes." she confirmed, before tilting her head, "Well, not immediately. Katara, Sokka's sister, and I we found him a little under a month ago in an iceberg; he'd been frozen inside of it since before Sozin's Comet."
"Wait, Sozin's Comet two years ago or Sozin's Comet a hundred years ago?" she asked in clarification, which to which Azula nodded at her last option.
"A century ago. He hid from Fire Lord Sozin, though unintentionally." she clarified, before narrowing her eyes, "I came north with the intention of going to the Northern Water Tribe to ensure he could be taught waterbending."
"Oh yeah, 'cause there's no waterbenders in the Southern Water Tribe anymore." she mumbled, remembering the news when it had come in a number of years prior, back when she was about seven years old- it had been a big deal at the time, though she didn't really understand what was meant by it until she was older.
"Well, that's technically not true, but that's beside the point." Azula clarified, making her eyes widen, realising that what she had just remembered was actually false.
"Since when?" she raised a brow, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"Since I don't know... whenever Katara was born?" she responded, sounding slightly unsure; Ty Lee put two and two together, clapping her hands as she realised it.
"Aha! So she's the last waterbender?" she asked, the Princess nodding.
"Yes, and she hasn't been trained in her art because of it. That's another thing we're going to do... make sure she gets the training she needs. She's actually quite a natural when it comes to bending, she's just untrained."
"W-wait, are you saying that you can appreciate waterbending?" she asked in clarification, the Princess raising a brow before shrugging her shoulders.
"I mean it's not firebending, but it's something." she spoke with indifference, which was rather surprising to Ty Lee, who knew her friend to have rather disparaging views of the other bending arts.
"Uh... okay." she mumbled, realising another thing that had changed about her friend, "So, how'd you get a boyfriend? I don't mean to offend, I'm really just interested." she smiled at her friend, hoping that her positive tone would encourage her to divulge her knowledge.
"He tried to kidnap me." she told her as if it were a matter of fact, making Ty Lee's eyes widen with surprise, before the Princess cleared her throat, "Uh, he didn't succeed, if that's what you were wondering."
"I think he kinda did." she smirked at her friend, knowing for a fact that she had been missing for a good six months or so, and she could already guess it was, for better or for worse, because of Azula's boyfriend; he was her first one at that, seeing that unlike Ty Lee, she had never found young romance to be her fancy, though that obviously didn't mean that she didn't want it.
She narrowed her eyes at her friend, trying to think of something to snap back with before she sighed, "Okay, you do have a point there." she agreed with her, before shaking her head, trying to ignore the fact that she had just admitted that she was right, "I didn't fall in love at first sight or any of that bullshit you like to talk about."
"Ah, so he seduced you." the acrobat guessed, much to her friends annoyance; she clenched her fists, turning her face away, though that didn't mean that she couldn't see that her cheeks got a little redder.
"It wasn't like that." she argued, "I recruited him, and our partnership... it became more intimate."
"So... you tried to get a servant and got a boyfriend instead. Sounds like a sweet deal." she grinned at her friend, who rolled her eyes, obviously not thinking about it the same way she had.
"I wanted to ensure his loyalty because I wanted a reliable ally. With you and Mai so far away and out of reach, he was my best option at the time... and I shaped him up quite well, I would say." she argued, trying to make her resulting relationship sound logical- it was 'logical' in Ty Lee's eyes, seeing that they were both two teenagers who were attractive and attracted to each other.
"I'm just surprised... he's from the Water Tribe." she mumbled, the Princess making a curt nod.
"Yes, yes he is. I used to think of his people as if they were dirt that needed to be wiped off of our world to make it clean." she mumbled, sounding disgusted as she said it; the old Azula would never feel remorse or disgust for her own actions, which enticed Ty Lee to lean forward, and turn her head around to try and look her friend in the eye.
"You really... grew up." she mumbled, trying to find the right word to describe what had happened to her friend.
"I am no different to who I was when we last saw each other. I simply know a lot more about the world and life now." she acknowledged, before sighing, "It turns out books and tutors didn't teach me everything."
"That's for sure." she nodded along to her friend's words, agreeing with them wholeheartedly, "That's part of the reason I even came here to the circus. I get to be able to be myself and think for myself... even if I have to deal with my sisters."
"Why are they here, anyway? I thought you left by yourself." she noted, the acrobat sighing as she turned her own eyes away; she felt ashamed to think that she disdained her sisters for even being around, but when all she had ever wanted was to be unique, she couldn't help it.
"I did go by myself. I was okay for a few months, but then they caught up with me, and instead of dragging me back home, they decided to join the circus and we became a group act." she explained, before her eyes moved downward, "At first I was glad to have people I knew around, but then I found myself competing with them again, even if my parents weren't here to impress. I wish we could all just do our own things- I wanted the circus to be mine, but I guess I'm never that lucky."
"That's the most down I've heard you in about ever, Ty Lee." Azula acknowledged her unusually sad demeanour, placing a hand on her shoulder, "I'm not forcing you to come along with me... I know that if you want to stay here and live the life you always wanted to, I won't stop you." she explained, making Ty Lee raise a brow.
She was being completely genuine from what she could tell; she had guessed her friend might have dragged her out of the circus if that was what it took, but it seemed like she was trying to give her a choice. It wasn't much of a choice, but even then, she didn't feel comfortable just upping and leaving without explaining things to her sisters.
"But..." she spoke up once more, Ty Lee's eyes darting up to meet her own, which showed a variety of emotions; she could see unease, fear, sadness- none of them intense, but strong enough that she could tell she was feeling them, "I want you to come with me." she simply told her, "You." she stressed, "You're the only person I know who I can trust outside of Sokka, Aang and Katara."
"What about Mai?" she asked her, the Princess snickering, seeming to understand where their mutual friend was at that very moment.
"She's probably off fucking my brother right now." she astutely guessed, making Ty Lee giggle, finding her snarky comment to be one the best things she'd heard all day, "So, she's occupied, and you're my best option."
"I'm honoured." she made a slight bow of respect, "Did you want to meet my sisters again? I'm sure you could out-insult Ty Woo... actually, can you do that for me?"
"Oh, I'm sure I could." she rose up to her feet, offering Ty Lee a hand, "So, what's your thoughts on my offer?"
"I'll think about it." she simply told her, though in fact she had already decided on it; she would go with her friend, and she would help her achieve her new destiny, whatever that would be- her glowing aura inspired her more than any words ever could.
"That's all I could ask for."
"So, what's she like?"
Sokka idly glanced back toward Aang as they strode out of the circus tent, the show having finished; he took a moment to realise that he was asking about Ty Lee, and cleared his throat as he tried to think of a succinct response to describe her with.
"Uh, she's nice... but too flirty for her own good." he simply commented, making his sister snicker, obviously finding such a caricature to be funny.
"Well, well, I'm looking forward to meeting this Ty Lee. Which one of the seven identical girls was she?" she asked him, Sokka raising a finger to his chin, trying to remember what colour her outfit had been, seeing that was the primary way he could distinguish between the sisters.
"She was the one wearing gold and white." he clarified, Katara nodding along.
"Oh, so the show-off?" she asked her brother, who tried his best to not break down laughing.
"Well, I'd guess they're all show offs." he argued, making her narrow her eyes with thought.
"Huh, so what's stopping us from taking all of these girls with us and having an army of identical sisters." she argued with a smirk, the Water Tribe warrior cringing at the thought of having all seven of them on Appa with them.
"One: one cheery girl hitting on me is enough, and two: she's the only one who can chi-block... I think." he clarified, unsure exactly if the other girls could use the skill that Ty Lee and him had in common.
"Well, that's how we can distinguish them. Whichever one paralyses us if we try to attack them." Katara argued, making Aang look at her with confusion.
"Wait, were we going to attack them?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl giggling.
"No, no, it's just a joke." she assured him, the Air Nomad scrunching up his lips as he looked at her skeptically; just like Sokka, he didn't exactly think her sense of humour was on par with the rest of the group- Azula was funnier, even though her humour was mostly morbid, and outright sadistic at times.
"So, yeah, we're not taking them all. It's either Ty Lee comes with us, or she doesn't." he assured the other two, Aang's eyes narrowing with thought as he considered the possibilities.
"Huh, I guess it'll just be us for a while if she doesn't join."
"That's until Toph joins." Katara clarified, the Water Tribesman raising a brow.
"Did she even agree to being Aang's earthbending master, or are you just going to force her?" he asked his sister, who gestured toward Aang.
"It was his idea, and I personally think it's a good one. That girl will keep us safe from everyone and everything dangerous. Fire Nation or Earth Kingdom." she argued, which made him smile, glad that they'd probably have her on their side.
"Well, that's reassuring. I was here thinking my girlfriend was going to have to do all the fighting." he joked, though Katara took his words seriously.
"What do you mean? We all fight." she argued, her brother crossing his arms as he tried to extend his argument.
'Well, as good as we are, when it comes to an actual army... I'm pretty sure she's the only one who will be able to save us- that and the you-know-what State, but we don't want to rely on that." he explained, elbowing Aang, "Isn't that right?"
"Of course." he nodded, "I don't want to use my powers and accidentally... do things." his voice quietened to a mumble; Sokka cringed slightly, realising that he was actually afraid of his own powers.
If he was in the same position, he would be too, but that didn't make his plight any less pitiful; he was a twelve year old boy with the responsibility of fixing the world. He wanted to try and assure him that he could learn to control it, but even he didn't know what could be controlled when it came to the Avatar; perhaps they were destined to be a well-intentioned killing-machine against the wrong-doers of the world, though he doubted that was actually the case.
"Anyway, I was going to go find Az- you-know-who." he nearly said his girlfriend's name, the fact of which caught both Aang and Katara's attention; he was at least glad that they were observant enough when it came to name-slips by that point, "Are you two just going to head back to Appa?"
"Uh..." Aang raised a finger to his chin, before shaking his head, "I wanted to go to the market. There might be something useful there for us to buy." he explained, Sokka narrowing his eyes at him for a moment as they came to a halt, near the exit of the circus grounds.
"Hmmm..." he mumbled, his eyes turning to his sister, "I can trust you to supervise?"
"What do you take me for?" she retorted, raising her hand up, "Of course you can." she told him, her open palm gesturing for him to hand over some coins; he begrudgingly handed ten of their twenty gold pieces over to her, unsure what they would be spent on.
"Have fun, you two." he made a small smile at them both before waving as he turned his heels, heading back toward where he remembered Azula and Ty Lee to be.
Making his way back through the circus, he walked past a few performers, who were understandably confused why some random guy was walking through their camp; they didn't question him, however, and he was free to stay on his path back to where he had confronted Ty Lee. He chuckled back at the response he had gotten, but his mind immediately turned to what she and Azula might be talking about. He wanted to make sure his girlfriend was okay, and also that she didn't freak out her friend; Azula was a very different person to what she used to be, at least in how she treated and interacted with others. Instead of being constantly snarky, she was only mildly snarky, and could even be sweet and caring at times; calling her sweet though might have been a stretch, seeing that she was either usually considerate or seductive and almost never in between those two expressive states.
When he made sight of where he had last seen them, he was surprised to see they were gone; he immediately turned his eyes around toward the tent that Ty Lee had been heading to until he met her and her sisters. He guessed that they might have gone inside, and thus, he strode toward it, hoping that his girlfriend was there with her friend and that he was not about to flirt with six identical sisters at once. He made his way up to the canvas opening of the tent, hearing a few voices inside, all of which sounded similar, though he wasn't surprised by that, given that they were identical septuplets; when his hands parted the canvas open, a few eyes turned his way as he tried to spot his girlfriend. He did indeed see her sitting in the centre of the large tent, drinking some tea with Ty Lee and her sisters, though they weren't all sitting with the pair.
"Oh, it's the hot guy again." one of the sister's observed, "Is this her boyfriend?" she asked Ty Lee, who nodded, gesturing for Sokka to enter.
"It's okay, you can come in, Sokka." she assured him, Azula snickering as she herself took note of all the sisters barring Ty Lee checking him out.
"Uh... the tea smells nice." he made a random comment, hoping that would break the awkwardness of having all the eyes on him as he strode into the tent.
"Oh, did you want some?" she asked him, raising the pot up, "It's fresh... Azula was able to help me heat it up quickly."
"Sure, thanks." he smiled, giving her an affirmative nod as he sat down beside his girlfriend, "Uh, so, what have you two been talking about?"
"How you two met... all the things that have happened since Azula disappeared- that kind of stuff." Ty Lee clarified rather openly, which didn't surprise his girlfriend in the slightest.
"Ah okay, story-time number twenty three." he joked, actually having lost count of how many times he had told his and Azula's story in its various permutations and abridged versions.
As the acrobat poured him a cup of tea, he smiled at her thankfully, before his girlfriend spoke up, "There's no need to go on a tirade, Sokka. I've caught her up to speed for the most part. Not everything, of course, for the sake of brevity." she admitted, Ty Lee raising a brow.
"Well, what didn't you tell me?" she asked her, the Princess's eyes darting down, almost as if she were embarrassed to say it.
"Something I don't want to tell you." she mumbled, her words catching the attention of Ty Lee's sisters, though none of them spoke up.
"Oh... I can guess what it is." Sokka admitted, immediately having figured out that it was the story of how they actually first told each other their feelings, the kind he guessed Ty Lee would squeal with joy about, if their previous interaction was any indication.
"What?" one of the sister's asked, "Come on, don't leave us hanging." she requested, the Princess shooting her an annoyed glare.
"I wasn't talking to you, Ty Liu." she snapped, making the sister snicker, before her eyes widened.
"Huh, you didn't mess up my name." she observed, "Most people mix us up."
"Yeah, I can definitely see why. Was the matching hairstyles really necessary?" he gestured to the braids they all wore; each of them self-consciously touched them before looking at him with suspicious, annoyed glances.
"They're part of our identity." one of the other sisters argued, "Isn't that right?"
She got a few affirmative nods from the other sisters, though Ty Lee decided to intercede at that moment, "Now, now, I don't think he was trying to offend us. He's got a point, though I agree, I wouldn't ever change my hair. It's just great the way it is."
"Right..." he mumbled, before taking a sip from his tea, feeling slightly embarrassed after having annoyed all of the sisters at once.
Once he swallowed it, he cleared his throat, deciding he ought to break the awkwardness with some more casual conversation, "Uh, so, was there anything you wanted to ask me, Ty Lee?" he asked her, the acrobat's eyes widening as she realised she was being talked to once again.
"Oh, uh, well, you can tell me what it was like to assault the Fire Lord." she reminded him of his joke, which wasn't actually a joke, just a funny occurrence in hindsight.
"That's the question you wanted to ask?" Azula raised a brow at her with interest, almost sounding skeptical that her question was the real one she wanted to ask, just a preface to her true intentions; Sokka couldn't be sure what she might 'really' want to know, so he took her question at face value.
"Yeah, it is." she confirmed, "You spent so much of your childhood humiliating Zuko, I just want to hear about it from somebody else's perspective."
"Oh, if you're wondering if I enjoyed it or not, I did, although at the time I was far more focused on making sure Azula was safe." he simply explained his thoughts on the matter; he didn't think about Zuko or what he might be able to do to him if he had failed in his incapacitation, but only about protecting the Princess from her brother, who had openly stated his intention to have her thrown in prison.
"Ah, so you were the hero of the day." Ty Lee deduced, Sokka shaking his head.
"I wouldn't say that. At Yu Dao, two people saved us- Iroh and Mai, which... is pretty ironic, given that they were the two people closest to Zuko."
"Wait so you've met Mai?" she raised a brow, the Water Tribesman nodding, remembering distinctively how she had pinned him to the ground when he had tailed her and Kori through an alleyway.
"Yeah, she kinda kicked my butt." he admitted, slightly embarrassed by the fact.
"Not kinda. She definitely beat you. Luckily for you, she likes me more than she was suspicious of you." Azula retorted with a smirk, obviously wanting to feel a little pride in her actions, if to try and not think about what else had happened in Yu Dao because of her own decisions.
"So, how'd she save you? Give you passage out of the city or something like that?" Ty Lee asked them, the pair glancing toward each other, both shaking their heads.
"Not that. She knocked out a guard who was about to recognise Azula. We'd been taking refuge with one of our allies, who happened to be the Mayor's daughter." he explained, before clearing his throat, knowing he ought to be succinct in his description of the event, "She was living next to where Zuko and Mai were staying... so, yeah, she came out and saved us from getting caught."
"Huh." she mumbled, raising a hand to her chin, "So, even though she's like obviously in love with your brother, she was still willing to do that for you. That takes guts." she acknowledged, Azula chuckling.
"She wasn't going to ignore all those years we spent together." she argued, crossing her arms, "If anything I thought she might have come to the Agni Kai and helped soothe Zuzu's anger. I still don't know why she didn't come- probably couldn't stomach the idea of one of us killing the other."
"Uh yeah, that's obviously why." Sokka rolled his eyes, "I couldn't either." he spoke more quietly, acknowledging that he had been feeling a mixture of emotions during and after their duel, but the overriding one was fear.
Azula turned to face him, smirking as she obviously thought of a quip in her mind, before she fell short, her lips straightening as her eyes flickered with fear; she knew what could have happened that evening, and she was glad that he had been there.
She turned her eyes away, looking more annoyed that sad; that was her best trick, turning her sadness or fear into anger- that was how she bent her flames, and probably half the reason she mocked people so much, "Fucking Uncle. The coward couldn't do it himself so he made Zuzu do it for him." she snarled with annoyance, Ty Lee's eyes turning to meet Sokka's as they both shared a common understanding; it was more than obvious that Iroh wasn't the root cause of her issues.
"Don't-" he began to try and argue, before he sighed, knowing there was no point trying to persuade her otherwise, "He's not going to get send somebody to come and capture you... not anymore." he assured her, the Princess shaking her head.
"The damage is already done." she sighed, before turning her eyes to Ty Lee, "That's why we're here. Well, not here specifically, but out of the South Pole. We're going to fix the world."
"Wait... did she just say fix the world?" one of the identical sisters spoke up, "Lee, this is the same girl you said wanted to burn Ba Sing Se to the ground when we were little." she addressed her sister, who raised a hand to her mouth with embarrassment.
"Oh, so even nine year old Azula dreamt of conquering Ba Sing Se. Why am I not surprised?" he joked, his girlfriend rolling her eyes.
"I still dream of it, that hasn't changed." she argued, the Water Tribesman raising a finger to stress in return.
"Hey, but remember, you want to do it for a much better reason. To get rid of those slimy Dai Li bastards." he assured her, Ty Lee raising a brow with interest.
"Wait... you want to do that?"
The Princess crossed her arms, looking rather self-assured, which given the topic, Sokka wasn't surprised, "Oh course I do. Those bastards nearly kidnapped me."
"But didn't Sokka nearly kidnap you too?" she gestured to her boyfriend, who raised a hand to his chest; he was actually offended to be compared to the Dai Li of all people.
"Just wait a-" he began to argue, before Azula raised a hand to silence him.
"Well..." she spoke up, eyeing him for a moment, before her gaze returned to her friend, "I can actually trust his motivations. The Dai Li on the other hand are power-hungry snakes who wanted to throw Ba Sing Se into chaos all to regain power."
"Damn, so you're like some kind of revolutionary now." one of the sisters mumbled, "Why'd you get the cool friends, Ty Lee?" she asked her, making her place her hands on her hips cockily.
"Because I'm the cooler sister, and she wanted to be friends with somebody who's cool like me." she declared, pointing her thumb to her chest with a smirk that reminded Sokka of his girlfriend quite a lot; it seemed the two friends rubbed off on each other over the years, which wasn't surprising, given how close Azula described their relationship as being.
"That's actually not far from the truth." Azula conceded, raising a finger to stress, "I choose the best of the best."
"We can all do acrobatics just as good as her." one of the sisters declared, rising up to her feet, "You stole it from me anyway!"
"Oh, shut up, Ty Woo." Ty Lee growled with annoyance, "Just let me have my thing."
"You do have your own thing. That weird chi-blocking thing... which you refuse to teach us." she added with a slightly disgruntled tone, crossing her arms.
"Because I want to be unique!" she pointed at her sister, "And I take pride in the fact I could beat you all up and still come out on top."
"Do you want to make a bet?" Ty Woo narrowed her eyes at her, Azula raising her hands up.
"Now, now, there's no need to fight... no matter how enjoyable it would be to watch." she told them, Sokka rolling his eyes at his girlfriend's words; she was trying to be the serious one but just came off as being immature as them.
"We really shouldn't do anything in the tent. What if we break something?" Ty Lee tried to reason with her sister, who backed down, sitting on her bed.
"Yeah, I don't want to break one of your ribs." she warned her, before clearing her throat, "I really don't want to. We have to go back for another show in an hour, and we need all seven of us."
"Uh..." Ty Lee mumbled, her unease indicating that she hadn't explained the fact that she might join them, "About that, I've been meaning to explain something."
"Oh, yes." Azula raised a brow, "You didn't tell them."
"Tell us what?" Ty Liu prodded her sister for an answer, "What's happening, Lee?"
"Azula wants me to join her to go help the Avatar." she simply put it, the sisters all looking toward her with shock.
"Sorry, what?" one of her sisters asked her, "Join the Avatar?"
"Yeah, that's it." she confirmed, "That's how she and Sokka got here."
"Here I was thinking they showed up from hiding around the Earth Kingdom." Ty Liu mumbled, before she turned to Sokka, "So, what, you two just want to take her?"
"Not take her." he stressed, "Ty Lee has a choice."
"We did come here to make sure she didn't go off alone in the first place." another of her sisters acknowledged, "I don't think you should go again. I don't mistrust the Princess or anything, it just really sounds unsafe."
"It is unsafe." Ty Lee conceded, "But I'm willing to give some help to a friend, because I know she could use it." she turned her eyes to Azula, giving her an affirmative smile, which actually unnerved her somewhat; she turned her eyes away, looking nearly embarrassed, before she regained her composure.
"I do want her to come." she spoke up, before turning to face the sister who had addressed them, "And I will keep her safe. You have my word."
"You must have come a long way to find her." one of the sisters spoke up, rising to her feet, "Ty Lee... I don't want you to go, but I won't stop you. We all want to be unique... and really, this girl is your one chance to have that."
"Thanks, Ty Lat." she smiled at her sister, "I want all of us to be unique. Honestly I wish we split up and all did our own things... but I won't make you guys do that." she admitted to her sisters, who glanced amongst themselves, "Did any of you really want to be acrobats? I know you're all good at it, but is this the life you want for yourselves."
"We are good at it, and we enjoy it." one of the sisters acknowledged, "But we haven't seen Mum and Dad in so long. Maybe we will go home eventually... but I don't know."
"Should we vote on it?" Ty Woo stood up, "Who wants to let Ty Lee go?"
Three of the sisters rose their hands up, one after the other, the other three keeping their hands down; one of those who refused turned to face her sister, looking at her sympathetically, "Lee, we're in this together... but is this really what you want? This is the life you always wanted, and I know we might not always get along, but this is it. Why would you throw it away?"
The sister who had all the attention drawn to her looked downward, not making a response yet, simply mulling over the words of each of her sisters, "The circus isn't everything to me. I like it, and I love acrobatics, but that's not what defines me. What defines me is what I believe in..." she declared, trailing off as she turned her eyes to Sokka and Azula, "I believe in you, Zula. And... even if you're not the same as you used to be, that doesn't mean I still won't. You've always been smart, and now... now you're wise."
"Thanks, Ty Lee." the Princess nodded, genuinely appreciative of her words, "I know this mustn't be the best thing to happen to you all." she addressed all of her sisters, "But, I know that you... care about Ty Lee." she conceded, "I won't force her to come with me, but please... don't try and stop her. She's her own person- that's what I know." she declared, before rising up to her feet, "I think I need to get some fresh air."
"Good idea." Sokka rose up beside her, before sipping down the last of the tea he had been drinking, "Uh, thanks for the tea."
"No problem." Ty Lee smiled at him, before she grimaced slightly, "Are you alright, Zula?"
"I'm fine. Sokka and I will just be a moment." she told her before striding over toward the entrance of the tent, her boyfriend quickly pacing behind her, awkwardly glancing at Ty Lee's sisters as they observed their retreat from the tent.
Once they had gotten past the canvas, Sokka reached forward, placing a hand on her shoulder, "Did her sisters piss you off or something?" he asked her, genuinely afraid that she was about to have an outburst of anger; she obviously wanted Ty Lee to come with them, and any opposition she might have faced was obviously going to frustrate her.
"N-no..." she mumbled, slowly turning her head around, "No, that's not why I feel... broken." she told him with a pained voice, struggling to keep a straight face.
"Azula." he gasped her name, moving both of his hands to hold her shoulders, "What's wrong?"
"I'm wrong." she simply told him, "Something's always been wrong with me. I'm... my family. Nobody has ever spoken about me like that." she admitted, the Water Tribesman grimacing as he realised what she was saying; she didn't feel like anyone loved or cared for her, or her fate- given the impression he got from the few interactions she had with Zuko, he wasn't surprised she felt that way.
"But I-" he began to speak up, before she shut him up with her piercing golden eyes; except, they weren't exactly piercing in that moment- more like little seas of gold, like a dim, but warm fire.
"I know you have. But you're you. Of course you would." she admitted with a pained voice, her eyes turning away, "Why did it take a random foreigner who met me trying to kidnap me for anyone to feel like that toward me?" she asked him, as if he might even be able to answer the question.
His only answer was that her family were horrible, and didn't deserve her; they probably didn't deserve each other, though he could argue that Iroh might have been deserving of a little more respect than what he was actually given.
"Maybe she was right... maybe I am just a monster."
"Y-your mother..." he mumbled, before he turned away, clenching his fists, "How could anyone fucking say that?"
"Because it was true." she argued, the Water Tribesman shaking his head.
"No. That's not right. No parent should say that... ever." he told her, pointing a finger on her sternum, "You're not a monster... if anything, she helped you accept the worst part of yourself. You aren't defined by what you think you are, but what you do."
"And I've failed." she declared poignantly, "I've suffered, I've failed, and all I've learnt is that I can get up, but I don't know if I can win."
"You will." he assured her, "Winning isn't just about being on top- it's about being right."
"What, so you think we won at Yu Dao because you're more honourable than my shit-stain of a brother?"
"No, we definitely didn't win then... but we survived again. Just like before. You were able to recover, and we won because of that. You overcome your loss, and now, now we can overcome whatever comes our way." he argued, placing his hands on her shoulders, "You're meant to be tough one." he joked, the Princess making a small giggle, smiling at his words appreciatively.
"Oh, I am the tough one." she assured him, before her eyes turned away, "I don't want to be hated." she simply admitted, the Water Tribesman sighing.
"I doubt anybody actually hates you. They just don't understand you."
"Not everyone is as empathetic as you, Sokka." she turned away, "Katara doesn't like me, our 'allies' don't trust me, and Aang, I don't even know what he thinks of me." she admitted, clenching her fists, her lips forming a snarl as she looked up to the sky above them, "I am going to be a good Fire Lord. I know that... but I don't want to be a hated one."
He stepped beside her, not touching her again, but simply looking up to the clouds beside her, "Katara does like you... even if she won't admit it." he assured her, "I mean, a few weeks ago, maybe she didn't. Maybe she feared you. But I think she understands you a little better now."
"What, so it took beating up the Southern Raiders and the endangerment of your village for your sister to reconsider her views?" she quipped in return, mocking his sister's attitude; Sokka sighed, knowing that despite her good intentions, Katara was a little too steadfast in her ways at times, and that was coming from the teenager who once thought bending was magical and a nuisance, and that girls were far weaker than boys.
"Sometimes we need a wake up call to see when we're wrong." he admitted, before chuckling, "It took you and me surviving that forest for me to change my mind about the Fire Nation."
"Hmph." she crossed her arms, her eyes darting to meet his own, "You really think you would have captured me if you had the chance?"
"Probably. Back then, all I knew was that you were some important Fire Nation person that we might be able ransom off. Not that money would have done us much good." he theorised what he thought might have realistically happened, "But we could have bought a lot of food for our tribe with the money Jeong Jeong probably would have given us, or did he give it anyway. I can't remember... I was too afraid to ask Dad in the first place."
"I have a feeling our relationship might have gone a very different way." she acknowledged, with an intrigued look, before her expression became colder, "But my brother still would have become Fire Lord. Maybe it was inevitable."
"I don't think anything's inevitable. Fate's made up by people too afraid to act." he argued, the Princess smirking back at him with approval.
"I ought to use that line in a speech before a battle." she noted, "I thank you in advance."
"No problem, your majesty." he bowed jokingly, the Princess rolling her eyes at his mocking act of deference; when he straightened his back, he glanced back toward her, remembering what they had been talking about before they were side-tracked with the 'what-if's' they had considered.
"And I think Aang likes you." he added, "For what it's worth, I think he looks up to you."
"You're joking. I'm the wrong kind of person for him to be looking up to... as much as I'd like the respect. I'm the Fire Nation Princess who crushed a rebellion in Ba Sing Se- I'm not some kind of hero for him to idolise." she argued, the Water Tribesman shrugging his shoulders.
"I wasn't joking. He really does look up to you. Even if your principles are completely different, you're a confident leader- the kind of person any Avatar would want to be. To be ready to act in the moment and do what needs to be done."
"Are you trying to say I would have been a better Avatar than Aang?" she leaned forward with a cocky smirk.
"That's not what I was saying... but, uh, yeah, you might have been." he conceded, before shaking his head, "The point is, you're the leader. I might be making the itinerary, but I'm not sneaking into Fire Nation encampments or planning to explode ships."
"You aren't." she conceded, before looking at him with a serious expression, placing a finger on his chest, 'You better give me some advice from time to time or you'll be redundant." she argued, the Water Tribesman scoffing at her joke.
"Oh really? Redundant? And who's the voice of reason in our group?" he argued, his girlfriend looking back at him with skeptical expression, one eyebrow raised up while she held back a laugh.
"I didn't know rational thought equated with the priorities of one man's stomach." she retorted, making him wince.
"Okay, fair point, I think a little too much with my gut and not enough with my head." he acknowledged one of his main flaws, knowing all too well that his appetite got in the way of straight-thinking, more often than not; when it came down to it, however, he was able to ignore what his gut was telling him to save his friends and do the right thing.
"You're pretty good at what you do, Sokka." she admitted, before clearing her throat, "But you can always be better."
"I know." he smiled at her, "We can always get better." he furthered her own argument, which made her expression falter.
"You're right." she agreed, before she turned her eyes downward, "I'm sorry for having this... moment. I can't let myself get too concerned about stupid things like Zuko or Mother." she chided herself, Sokka leaning in grasping her by the shoulders, pulling her into a hug.
"You are loved, Azula." he simply told her, "Don't doubt that for a second. Just because some arseholes don't doesn't make you a bad person." he argued, leaning back slightly as the two of them locked eyes.
"I'm not good." she defiantly declared, though with a more quiet tone than expected.
"No. You're great." he retorted, before leaning in and kissing her on the lips; she was surprised by his sudden embrace, though only for a moment, before her eyes shut.
He leaned back after a few moments, looking her in the eyes, "And don't forget it." he told her, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"Why do you have to be so persuasive?" she sighed, as if she were actually disappointed that he was able to make her falter.
"Because I love you." he told her bluntly, the Princess's eyes turning back to face his own; they remained silent for a few moments, Sokka considering whether he ought to add something else, but she did eventually respond, her voice low and almost pleading.
"Say it again." she demanded with a quiet tone; the Water Tribesman smirked, realising that she really did want to hear him say it, rather than being embarrassed like he had first guessed.
"I love you, Azula." he told her in reassurance, kissing her on the lips once more, the Princess leaning back in with passion; she didn't need to say the same words in return- he could feel it her lips, and the hot air that was coming out her nose, like she was about to start breathing fire down his throat.
Their embrace was cut short by the short of a squeal; Sokka flinched back, glancing to his right as he took note of Ty Lee peering out of the tent, with a wide grin on her face, "That was so cute!" she declared with a bright, giddy voice, pointing to them both, "I love this whole thing. So much!" she exclaimed, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"Urgh... I guess our 'fresh air break' is over then." she mumbled, Ty Lee raising her hands up, her expression becoming far less giddy and more conciliatory.
"No, no, I'll leave you two be. Come back inside when you want more tea or want to start an argument with my sisters." she suggested, the Princess's lips pursing upward, before she turned her eyes to her boyfriend.
"I certainly will." she assured her, the acrobat slipping back through the canvas, Sokka relaxing somewhat as he felt less unnerved by Ty Lee's presence in their rather romantic moment.
"Well, that was annoying." he mumbled, the Princess rolling her eyes, making an exasperated sigh.
"Sokka, haven't you figured it out yet? Life is just a bunch of annoying incidences, set up one after another."
"Excuse me, I wouldn't call you kissing me annoying." he argued, the Princess smirking at him.
"Oh, so you enjoyed it." she raised a finger to her lips, leaning back away from him as she awaited his response.
"Of course I did. I don't enjoy everything we do, but I firmly believe the good outweighs the bad." he argued, the Princess raising a brow at him skeptically.
"Always the optimist." she mumbled, the Water Tribesman pointing his thumb at his sternum.
"I'm not an optimist, I'm a survivor. At some point, I got from surviving fighting you... to doing unspeakable things with you." he gestured his hands along as if to suggest a scale, though he realised his examples were a little too funny to pass up.
"I feel that the idea of overcoming your weaknesses is a better way to describe it." she suggested, making him snort, thinking of a way to describe just that.
"So what, I'm the overcomer-er?" he asked her, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"That's not a word." she argued, the Water Tribesman defiantly crossing his arms.
"If I say it's a word, it's a word." he retorted, Azula face-palming as she tried to hold back a laugh.
"I swear this has to be the stupidest thing you could argue with me about." she argued, before she turned her eyes up to meet his own, "I'd rather argue in a different manner."
"I'm unsure if you're talking about arguing-arguing... or that kind of arguing." he mumbled, the Princess rolling her eyes, grasping him by his tunic and pulling him closer.
"Just kiss me damn it."
"Katara, look at this!"
Turning her head around, Katara saw Aang holding up a whistle in his hand, which confused her somewhat; she knew that he was the kind of person who was positive all the time and tended to get excited about a lot of stuff, but she couldn't wrap her head around what was so cool about a whistle of all things.
"A whistle." she mumbled after a short pause, the Avatar's bright expression faltering, before he stepped closer to show it to her.
"It's not just any whistle. It's a sky-bison whistle." he told her with a whisper, making her raise a brow.
"A sky-bison whistle?" she raised a brow, "Why would they have one of those in a Fire Nation shop?" she asked him, the young Air Nomad narrowing his eyes at her.
"This is the antiques shop." he simply reminded her, "They're going to have weird stuff like this... not that bison whistles are weird, I've just never gotten one before." he explained himself before he glanced toward the counter, "So can I get it?" he asked her with a wide, hopeful grin.
"What exactly are you going to need it for?" she asked him, feeling somewhat skeptical that they should be spending their money on a whistle of all things.
"Emergencies." he argued, Katara sighing, before glancing back at the whistle.
"Does it have a price?" she asked him, the Avatar scanning it for a moment, before he shook his head.
"Uh, I think I'll just have to ask the guy at the counter." he noted, before he strode in the direction of the person he spoke of; Katara turned her head around, idly glancing about the antiques store.
There was a wide variety of wares around her, though she couldn't find anything of interest; she knew that buying something random from an antiques store would be a waste of money. As much as she didn't want to agree with her brother on the matter, buying food was a far higher priority, and if they were to get anything else, it would be supplies to complement their camping set up. Given that they were already well equipped, the only thing she could think of was what they had been talking about earlier, that being some disguises for them all to wear. She scanned around, checking for some disguises, but was disappointed to see there weren't any clothes in the store; there was always another store for her to go check, but she didn't know when they would be leaving. Sokka and Azula could show up at any moment with Ty Lee, and then they would be on their way, back on track to get to the North Pole. She knew it would still be a few weeks before they got there, and that was assuming they didn't have any more detours. She turned back around to face Aang, who was talking to the cashier with his usual giddy tone, and as she approached, the young Avatar turned back to face her.
"Oh, Katara, could I have a copper piece for the whistle." he asked Katara, her eyes widening as she realised how cheap the whistle was; she simply reached into the purse she had slung around her shoulder, pulling out a coin to hand over.
He grabbed the coin as she offered it over, before exchanging it to the cashier, who smiled thankfully as he gave him the whistle, "Thanks for buying here. If there's anything else you like, don't be afraid to come back." he suggested, the young Avatar giving an awkward smile and wave.
"Ah okay." he acknowledged his words, before turning his heels and making his way toward the door; Katara followed behind him, making her way to the doorway, where he stood waiting for her, "We're not coming back here." he simply noted, making her giggle.
"That's true." she agreed, before leaning her head out, looking down the street at the other stores that lined it, "Are we going to look at some other stores? We had to get some disguises, didn't we?"
"Oh yeah, we did." he nodded, before smirking, "I'm gonna get that headband."
"Headband?" she raised a brow, surprised that he had something specific in mind.
"Yeah, A- you know who told me to grow out my hair, so I can blend in a little easier, and I want to get a headband to cover my arrow." he explained, the Water Tribe girl smiling at the idea.
"That's a good idea." she agreed, before she narrowed her eyes at him, realising that there wasn't much apprehension in his voice, "You're okay with that?"
"Y-yeah..." he mumbled, scratching the back of his head, which was covered by the hood he was wearing, "I didn't want to, but she's right. It's more important to stay hidden than to be bald."
"When you say it like that, being bald sounds like a job in and of itself." she joked, the young Avatar giggling.
"Oh, I do have to shave it every day, so that's a good point." he agreed, before stepping out of the doorway, offering her a hand, "Come on, let's go."
She accepted his hand, striding forward alongside him as he led her along the street, pointing straight at a shop some way down, "See there, clothes." he pointed out its sign, which clearly marked it as a place to buy clothing.
The pair made their way down the street, and Katara instinctively pulled her cloak tighter around her neck, trying to make sure her Water Tribe clothes were as covered as possible. Even if people from the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation could live in relative peace together in the Fire Nation colonies, she doubted they'd be as friendly to people from her tribe. Aang's cloak covered him well enough, but she could see why Azula was arguing that he should grow out his hair- it would simply make him a lot less suspicious looking.
Quickly enough, they got to the door of the shop, which Aang opened up, glancing inside, his expression brightening, "Ah, yep, this is what we need." he gestured inside.
She could see a wide variety of clothes, consisting of robes, cloaks, tunics, pants and dresses, mostly of Fire Nation colours, and what she assumed to be their style of clothing. It was a lot looser than Water Tribe clothing, but that didn't concern her; given the climate of the area they were in was quite warm, she thought it might actually be better if they were to wear looser clothing; long sleeves and thick robes would get on her nerves quickly enough, especially if they ended up somewhere even warmer.
"Well, are we going to go try some things on?" he asked her, the Water Tribe girl raising a brow.
"Wait, try it on?" she asked, the young Avatar nodding.
"Well, yeah. You want to be sure it fits before you buy it." he simply noted, her eyes narrowing for a moment as she considered what he was saying.
Down at the South Pole, they didn't really ever buy clothes, most people making their own or having them made by their parents; the only things the different villages would trade would usually be excesses of furs, meat, fish and blubber, all of which were vital for life on the tundra. The idea of buying clothes intrigued her, but she didn't really know what she wanted.
"Could you help me pick something out?" he asked the young Avatar, whose eyes widened, falling speechless for a few moments before he smiled.
"Yeah, of course." he nodded, before gesturing for her to follow him down into the section dedicated to tunics and shirts, "You'll need a shirt first."
She turned her eyes away with embarrassment, realising she was getting fashion advice from a twelve-year-old; however, she knew that he, the more worldly of the pair, would have a better idea of what Fire Nation clothes would actually look good and be practical. Aang ran his hand through the row of hung-up shirts, before his expression brightened, picking out one; he showed it off, a light red, almost pink shirt that had loose short sleeves and wrapped around itself at the middle, held together with a few clips. She found that specific aspect of the shirt to be interesting, given that it could be worn more loosely or tighter depending on how warm she wanted to be.
"Huh, that's nice." she acknowledged, before narrowing her eyes, "Is something meant to go over that?" she asked, the young Avatar looking at the shirt with a puzzled eye, before he gave an uncertain nod.
"I think so. Maybe like a robe. Kinda like what I've got." he gestured to his own over-robes, Katara nodding.
"Yeah, that sounds about right." she agreed, before glancing down at her current attire, "What about pants?"
He glanced around before pointing deeper into the store, "I think the pants are down by the back." he simply explained, before he offered her the shirt he had picked out; she grabbed it and followed after Aang as he walked down the aisle, leading her all the way to the back of the store, where he pointed to a large set of hung up pants and skirts.
She looked along, taking note how the pants varied in length and looseness; some of the pants were like the leggings she wore normally, and some were in contrast almost like a dress on each pant-leg that cuffed above the ankles. She picked out a pair that looked to be about her size, and not too loose, finding such a style of clothing to be a little too unusual for her tastes. As she held them out, the young Avatar nodded along approvingly.
"That looks good." he assured her, before he scanned around the row of pants, "Now... I just need some." he noted, quickly finding a pair of dull red baggy pants, "Do these look okay?"
"Yeah, they're fine. You better get a shirt too." she suggested to Aang, who smiled in approval, glancing back around the store.
"I think the men's shirts are around the other side." he acknowledged, before he gestured down toward the end of the aisle, "Let's go around and find a robe for you." he suggested, Katara following once more as he paced around to the adjacent aisle.
He paced ahead, walking down along the aisle until his expression brightened, pulling out a long flowing gray robe to go with her shirt; it had floral patterns sewn into its edges and would probably go down to just above her knees when worn. Just like the shirt, it was tied around the middle, with a waist band coming with it, just like her own outer robe that she wore.
"This looks nice, don't you think?" he smiled at her, to which she nodded with appreciation.
"It does. So, where do I go to try this on?" she asked him, the young Air Nomad glancing around, trying to think of an answer.
"Uh, I dunno. Maybe you could ask the lady at the counter." he gestured back toward the front of the store."
She nodded, pacing past him as she grasped the robe out of his hands, "I'll go put this on. You can go find your disguise, and then we can compare." she suggested, Aang grinning and giving her a thumbs up.
"Got it." he assured her, before he paced down in the opposite direction to go find himself a shirt.
She made her way down to the end of the aisle, spotting the cashier, who glanced her way with interest, seeing that she had a few articles of clothing in her hands, "Oh, did you come to buy those?" she asked her, the Water Tribe girl giving an affirmative nod.
"Well, yes, but I was wondering if you had somewhere for me to try them on." she requested, the cashier raising her left hand up and gesturing down to a doorway that was covered by a bit of fabric.
"Just in there." she simply told her, Katara the woman a curt nod before she paced over to the fabric, parting it out of the way to glance into a small hallway; there were compartments, each covered by more long sheets of fabric, which she guessed was to prevent people from being watched while they changed.
Stepping into one of the small changing areas, she pulled the fabric across to obscure herself, before placing the clothes she had gathered down on a small wooden bench that sat by the wall. She quickly loosened up her robes, before she untied her waistband, allowing her to unravel and pull her upper robe off, leaving only her loose tunic underneath. She dispensed off that quickly as well, throwing it onto the bench before she exchanged it with the shirt Aang had picked out for her. She felt odd as she looked at the red shirt and realised that she would be the one wearing wearing it; she had never worn foreign clothes before, and the touch of fabric surprised her; it was thin and soft, and although she wondered if she would be cold wearing it, she was sure that it wouldn't be uncomfortable. She smiled as she pulled her arms through the short sleeves, before wrapping the shirt shut, taking the clips that came with it and putting them in place.
She then took her hands down to her leggings, pulling them off, forced to slide off her boots in the process; she then picked up the pants she had chosen, and stepped into the pant-holes, the first thing she noticed was how the pants cuffed at the ankles, but were otherwise airy and loose, unlike anything she had worn before. Taking the pants up all the way to her waist, her eyes widened with surprise, if she closed her eyes, she might have thought she was just wearing some bands around her ankles and nothing more. It was an unusual feeling to have, but she shook her head, chiding herself internally for being distracted by something as trivial as the way her pants fit. Once she had pants in place, she turned around to pick up the robe, which she slid her hands into its sleeves, allowing her to pull it up and over her shoulders, before tying it around. As she guessed, it hung down to her knees, and she tightened it to her body with the waistband that came along with it; glancing down, she realised that the sleeves were rather loosely hanging down over her hands, and decided to grab her wristbands from her Water Tribe outfit and place them over her wrists once more, keeping her hands uncovered and tightening the sleeves into place.
She glanced down at her outfit, and couldn't help but mumble, "Well, this isn't as bad as I thought." she conceded, before she parted the sheet of fabric, stepping out of the changing area; she glanced down the small hallway, and took note of the sound of rustling nearby.
"Aang, is that you?" she asked out, before suddenly his head peered out of one of the changing areas.
"Uh, yeah." he confirmed, before his expression became more surprised, "Uh, your outfit looks nice." he noted with a quieter voice.
The Water Tribe girl glanced down at her outer robes, "You really think so?"
"Yeah." he nodded, before his eyes turned to his own right, "Uh, I need to finish getting changed. So you better get changed back into your clothes if you want to buy them." he suggested, before she raised a brow.
"Hmmm, could I just ask the lady at the counter if I could buy them so I don't need to get changed?" she asked, the young Avatar narrowing his eyes for a moment before shrugging his shoulders, seeming unsure in what to say.
"I guess. You can try." he mumbled; she simply nodded, before she glanced back into the changing area, taking note that her bag was sitting by the bench.
She stepped back into the changing area and picked up the bag, before striding out of the change room, leaving her clothes there for the time being, in case she did have to take off her new clothes before buying them. When she walked out of the small hallway, the cashier turned around to face her, making a small smile.
"Ah, that looks quite nice." she observed, before gesturing toward her, "Would you like to purchase that outfit right now?"
"Yes, that's what I wanted to do." she confirmed, pacing up toward the counter, "How much would it be for this?' she gestured down to her clothes, the lady narrowing her eyes for a moment, gesturing to each of the articles of clothing she was wearing.
"Um... hmph, are those arm-bands yours, or did you pick them out from the store?" she asked her, Katara instinctively touching her left arm band with her right hand.
"They're mine." she clarified, "So, for the robe, shirt and pants. How much is it?"
"Uh, for all of it, that's thirty five silver pieces. Three hundred and fifty ban to be precise." she explained, Katara, reaching into her bag, and realising that their money was rather limited.
They only had about twenty gold pieces, all of which was exchanged from their Water Tribe money plus some on top that Bumi had donated to help them along toward the North Pole. She knew that she ought to lay off spending any more money after she'd bought her disguise, however. She pulled out five gold pieces and five silver, which was equivalent to what she had asked for; the cashier gratefully accepted the currency, smiling at Katara before she turned toward the entrance of the changing areas.
"Is your friend still trying on his outfit?" she asked the Water Tribe girl, who glanced back toward the changing area.
"Uh, yeah." she confirmed her suspicions, "I'll just tell him to hurry up so I can buy his clothes too." she explained her intentions before striding forward toward the change-rooms, remembering that she also needed to pick up her own clothes and put them in her bag.
She made her way back into the hallway, parting the fabric out of the way once more and quickly leaned over to shovel her robes, tunic and leggings all into her bag, which by that point had gotten quite stuffy. When she got back out into the hallway, she heard Aang clearing his throat.
"I'm gonna come out now... with my all new outfit." he preempted himself, making her giggle.
"Just come out." she called on him, the young Avatar stepping out of his own changing area, revealing his outfit.
He was wearing the baggy pants she saw him pick out, as well as a loose, long-sleeved light gray shirt that had cuffed arm bands to keep the sleeves in place, as well as a dark red vest with gold trimmings over the top of the shirt itself. Around his scalp he wore a wide orange bandana, though she guessed it would be more practical once he had grown out some hair.
"Hmmm... if it wasn't for the tattoos I'd say you were as Fire Nation as they come." she conceded, making him grin brightly.
"Really? That's exactly what I was going for." he exclaimed, before glancing up and down her own outfit, "So did you buy yours?"
"Yep. Now, you can either come up to the counter like that or get changed." she offered him two choices, the young Avatar narrowing his eyes for a moment before they widened.
"Just a second." he raised a finger, before darting back into his changing area; he came out a few moments later with his actual clothes in hand, wearing his robe around his shoulders and his hood over his head to obscure his tattoos.
"That's a lot of layers." she conceded, before she glanced back into her own changing area, realising that she had almost forgotten her cloaks.
She picked it up and wore it over her shoulders, wearing hers a little looser, simply tying it around her neck and letting it hang down her back, "Though, thanks for reminding me I needed my cloak."
"No problem." he smiled at her, before gesturing out the doorway, "So, are we going to go buy now?"
"Yep." she nodded, leading him out of the changing area; the cashier glanced toward Aang, looking at him with slight confusion.
"Uh... is he wearing the outfit he picked out?" she asked, gesturing toward his face, "All I can see is a bandana."
He opened up the cloak, showing the vest, shirt and pants underneath, her expression brightening, "Ahh.. okay, is that all you'll be getting today."
"Yes." Katara confirmed, "How much for what he picked out?"
She narrowed her eyes for a moment before gesturing to each of the articles of clothing he was wearing, "Uh... that'd be three gold pieces- three hundred ban." she clarified, Katara pulling out three gold pieces, and realising how much they had spent just on clothes.
"Thank you for your purchases. I hope you both have a fine day." the cashier smiled at them, Katara nodding before gesturing for Aang to follow.
"You have a really nice store. Thanks!" he bowed in respect, before following after her.
Stepping out of the doorway, she sighed, wondering where they would go next; she was sure they couldn't spend much more money. Looking toward her friend, she realised how he was struggling to carry his tunic in his hands.
"Aang, maybe you should get a bag." she suggested, the young Avatar sighing.
"Oh, that'd be even more money spent." he mumbled, "I think I just carry it back to Appa." he acknowledged, Katara raising a brow as she considered what might be able to substitute as a bag; she remembered that the tarpaulin of a tent could wrap around the tent canvas proper when folded up, and realised she could apply the same principle with clothes.
"Actually, I think I have an idea." she admitted, untying the cloak around her neck, "You can use this as a sack." she explained, folding each of the ends of the cloak up, and tying it at the top, though there were four gaps, through which he could funnel in his clothes.
"Huh, that's a good idea." he looked at her with awe, before he took the makeshift sack into his hands, putting his tunic and pants inside, before he slung it over his shoulder, "That's much better."
She gestured down the street they had come down, "Maybe we should head back in the direction of the circus. I'm sure Azula and Sokka are done talking with Ty Lee by now." she suggested, the young Avatar making a curt nod.
"Oh yeah. Then we can all head back to Appa and rest for a bit before we head off." he noted, before glancing down the street, "You never know though, there might be a store with something cool."
"I don't need anything." she mumbled, the young Air Nomad leaning closer to her, raising a finger up.
"Hey, hey, you can find something you didn't think you needed." he suggested, making her sigh.
"You sound like Sokka." she noted with a little chuckle, making him raise a finger.
"He has good ideas... most of the time." he clarified his statement, not wanting to make such a wide claim, when he himself disagreed with Sokka from time to time.
"Okay." she nodded, beginning to walk back down the street, "But we're not going to waste the entire afternoon. I'd prefer to rest on Appa for a bit." she suggested, "And have a little peace of mind." she glanced around them; she knew that she was on edge by the fact they were in a Fire Nation colony, and she couldn't help but think that she'd feel a little calmer if she was safely on Appa's saddle.
"I know this place is weird." he agreed with her, before his expression brightened up, "But we've got to make the most of it, y'know?"
"Yeah." she agreed with an unenthusiastic voice, which he caught note of, before she glanced back toward him, "Let's just do this quickly."
Making her way down along the street, she glanced over at the stores they strode by; there were a wide variety of stores on the street, though most of them were of little interest to her. Sure, stores that sold spices and furniture would be necessary for the local populace, but they certainly didn't help her. Katara did take note of one store though, which looked like a bit of a gimmick; it had a bright and popping exterior with a sign that clearly marked its attitude. 'Zhu's Far-Off Wares and Trinkets' was what it was called, and that immediately caught her interest.
She gestured toward it, "Aang, let's just check this store." she suggested, the young Avatar nodding.
"Oh, okay... seems interesting. Maybe they'll have some more Air Nomad things here." he noted, Katara giving an affirmative smile.
"That's what I was thinking. Well, that and anything not-Fire Nation, which means they could have things from the Water Tribe."
"What do the Water Tribes make anyway?" he asked her, making her furrow a brow; though the Southern Water Tribe didn't export anything, given their circumstances, she guessed that their more fortunate northern cousins would be selling a wide variety of goods, probably similar to the things that she and her fellow villagers produced for themselves.
"Uh, maybe fur clothes spears and quality tents. Nothing beats a Water Tribe tent- that's what Sokka says. I'd trust him, seeing that he's used a Fire Nation one before." she suggested, making Aang giggle.
"Maybe he should start making and selling tents if he thinks that." he suggested, Katara laughing.
"Oh, he'd think something like that is below him." she admitted honestly, although the fact itself was clearly amusing.
Sokka was far more inclined to think of himself as a warrior, if not a leader-in-the-making; she didn't disagree with such a judgement, but that didn't mean that he wasn't constraining his future options by thinking like that.
"Uh, so, are we going to go in?" he asked, Katara nodding and leading inside, pushing the door open, which sounded off a bell; a few moments later, the cashier, who she assumed was the individual mentioned in the name of the store, appeared before them with a bright look on his face.
"Ah, two youngsters have come to my store. May I ask, are you looking for something in particular, or just here to browse?" he asked Katara, who cleared her throat.
She didn't want to give away her actual ethnicity by telling him what she was actually seeking out; anything that would help her understand her element or the culture of the Northern Water Tribe better.
"Uh, just browsing." she told him, Zhu nodding before pacing back toward the counter, "Just come to me if you want to learn about any of the trinkets you find here." he suggested, the pair nodding along, before they turned to look at each other.
"Uh, I'll go look at Air Nomad... you'll look at Water Tribe?" he asked her, to which she nodded.
"Yep. Hopefully this isn't a waste of time." she acknowledged, Aang chuckling.
"What did I say? You might find something you don't expect." he raised a finger, before he began pacing down an aisle of the store, looking around at the wares in awe.
She turned her glance around the shelves she could see, spotting out a few odd trinkets, as the name of the store suggested; there were some fragments of Earth Kingdom statues, representing some kind of rodent creature, as well as some unusual looking articles of clothing. A golden conical hat was one of them, which amused her somewhat; wearing one of those would make someone look like a glorified farmer, which would be perfectly fine if it didn't contradict the whole idea of what 'fancy' high culture clothing was meant to represent. People like Bumi, who was the king of a whole city, wore regal robes and attire that was befitting of their rank, but if someone was to wear a golden conical hat, they'd either have to be a really rich farmer or a rich person with the most absurd taste in clothing. Not that she really cared about it, she just found herself amused by the idea. It made her imagine Azula wearing a really big crown of sorts, which made her giggle; seeing that she hoped to one day be Fire Lord, there was some possibility her imagination could eventually become fact. Katara was certain that she would relish to mock her for whatever absurd looking attire she would end up.
She then walked down the aisle, spotting a few artifacts that were unmistakably Water tribe; a helmet, similar to the one her father and brother both wore as warriors, as well as an intricately carved amulet, the latter reminding her a lot of her own necklace. She then looked on further, taking note of a few weapons, each of which she assumed came from different parts of the world; there was a variety of jian swords, some dao swords, a curved broadsword like the ones she saw the Kyoshi Warriors wield. She took note of a pair of battle-axes, which from the cuts and blunted blades, looked to be well used, disturbingly enough. She shook her head, not wanting to think about such things, and turned around to look at things that were a little more mundane. There were a few more artifacts, from the Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes and even a few that she thought might have been Fire Nation, though they looked very weird in comparison to what modern Fire Nation people wore. Feather and bead laden headdresses, patterned tunics and golden bands that made her think more of a tropical paradise and less of the expansive empire that currently ruled the world.
That thought made her sigh, remembering that Aang knew the Fire Nation as it must have been before it was corrupted by the century long war; she thought it was probably better that he remembered it like that, seeing that he'd find it a lot harder to sympathise with them, just like herself. She didn't like them, or trust them, but she certainly pitied their people; they were probably all brainwashed, just like the former Governor of Ba Sing Se, except in a far more primal fashion. Educated and indoctrinated to believe the rest of the world was full of barbarians who had no culture or right to be free of their hegemony.
She continued along through the store, before she took note of a shelf that was full of what looked to be scrolls; she raised a brow with interest, reaching a hand forward to pull one out, taking note immediately that it was a scroll for airbending. She could see the inscribed drawings, which unsurprisingly showed some moves that she had seen Aang use; the moves were rather basic, but they enticed her to pick up another scroll. She took an old and slightly damaged one out, taking note that it was of firebending forms; they were moves she had never seen before, and that was unusual, given that she saw Azula training on a daily basis. The forms were actually more flowing and graceful than what she had seen the Princess use, more akin to Aang's airbending in a way, though obviously more aggressive, given that it was firebending, not airbending. She pulled out another scroll, and gasped with awe as she realised what it was. The flowing motions, the colouration and the attire of the drawn figure said it all; it was a waterbending scroll. She touched it, and scanned over the forms it showed her, imagining herself doing them. She could see the forms to create water whips, coiled shields of water, and even a water blast, akin to the firebending streams she had seen both Azula and Fire Nation soldiers use.
She glanced around, realising that if there was something she wanted to get, it was the scroll before her, "Aang, come over here." she called on her friend, who quickly made his way over to her, with a intrigued look on his face.
"Oh... so you did find something. What did I say?" he grinned at her, Katara flipping the scroll around to show it to him.
"A waterbending scroll!" he exclaimed, before glancing around, "How mayn scrolls are here?" he looked past her to the shelf, "THere's enough here I could just learn the elements from reading them."
"Well, probably not." she conceded, "Only the basic moves are in these." she clarified, before rolling up the waterbending scroll, "But I do think we should get this scroll. It'll be good practice so we're ready when we get to the Northern Water Tribe."
"That's a good idea." he smiled at her, before his expression faltered, "It's annoying about their rules for women not bending though. I'm sure that we can find a way around it. I'm the Avatar, and I want you to be my waterbending master."
"I know." she smiled at him, placing a hand on his shoulder, "But, this is the next best thing." she raised the scroll up, "I wonder how much it will be to buy."
"I dunno. I've never bought a scroll before." he acknowledged, before narrowing his eyes at the scroll.
"But how did that scroll get here? From what Azula's been saying, nobody from the Water Tribes goes to the Fire Nation." he noted, making her eyes narrow at the scroll in her hands; even if it was literally clean, she was sure that it had been gained through blood- murder, theft, raids even.
"Y-yeah..." she mumbled, "I think this got here the same way the airbending scrolls did." she acknowledged, his expression widening.
"Airbending scr-" he began to repeat her words, before his expression turned into a snarl, "W-wait a minute, if they've got airbending scrolls here. Then..." he trailed off, before glancing down the aisle, "They stole them from the temples. Or from any place Air Nomads lived, before... you know." his voice softened, Katara grimacing at his clearly saddened expression.
"Aang, I've changed my mind." she admitted, making his eyes widen.
"Huh, did you not want the scroll?" he asked her with a baffled look, the Water Tribe girl scoffing at his suggestion.
"Oh, I want the scroll." she acknowledged, before smirking, thinking that her intentions could be justified by the way in which the scroll in her hand ended up in the store she was in.
"I'm just not paying some dirty thieves to get it."
Pulling her hair back into place, Azula tried to remain calm as she stood outside of Ty Lee's tent; she knew she shouldn't feel so nervous, but kissing her boyfriend didn't allow her to forget the fact of the matter. She didn't know if her friend was certainly going to come with her; she hadn't explicitly said if she was, even if she had agreed to come meet Katara and Aang. She thought she should at least see who she'd be stuck with for the next few months, if she was to come along. As much as she thought she was loyal, and she knew she was, that didn't mean that Ty Lee was willing to follow her at that point, especially when she lacked all of the coercive power she might have once been able to wield to change her mind.
She didn't want to force her friend to choose her, and it disgusted her to think that she'd changed so much; the old Azula wouldn't have cared if she didn't have a guard, or was wanted by the Fire Nation as a whole- she would have stormed into her tent and demanded she come with her. The old Azula wouldn't have dared to help the Avatar, even if it was in her interests to do so; she was once so naive and narrow minded, even if she thought herself to be a conniving mastermind. Arrogance and ignorance were one in the same, and she realised that she was once just as bad as Admiral Zhao; his arrogance had cost him much, and she doubted that he would have much luck as long as that arrogance remained.
"Azula, just take a deep breath or something." Sokka tried to suggest, making her dart her eyes toward him, snarling slightly.
"Oh, so you're the one telling me to do my breathing exercises now?" she snapped at him, the Water Tribe teen leaning back, seemingly surprised by her annoyed tone.
"Uh... sorry. I just don't want you to panic. I'm sure she'll come with us." he assured her, making the princess narrow her eyes and turn away.
She was perplexed how he could come to that conclusion with so much confidence while she was still full of doubt; that doubt was useful at times, but at that moment it made him seem a lot more confident and self-assured than her.
"How can you be so sure? It's not like you can read her mind." she mumbled, her boyfriend placing a hand on her shoulder; she wanted to flinch away, but her better half told her that he was just trying to help- that's all he ever did, and all she did was get snappy in return.
"I can't. I can read her face, and between the lines. She really cares about you Azula." he acknowledged, before he narrowed his eyes, "Like a lot. Were you two a thing at some point?" he asked her out of the blue, making her snort, amused by the suggestion.
Though she and Ty Lee had been close, their relationship had never been like that; perhaps it was because they were younger, and she didn't have the same kinds of thoughts she did at that time.
"I wasn't- we weren't. She's my friend. A good friend, but just a friend." she stressed, before turning her eyes away, feeling a shred of doubt; maybe at one point, she might have had a glimmer of feelings toward the other girl, but it wasn't like those feelings were going to be reciprocated- the acrobat was always boy-obsessed, anyway.
"You don't sound so sure." he prodded her, Azula pressing her hand toward his chest.
"Just shut up, Sokka. You're making this more awkward than it actually is." she told him with a straight face, her dagger eyes intimidating him well enough.
"Okay, okay... I'll shut up now." he assured her, clearing his throat before he stood up straight, his eyes darting back toward the opening in the tent canvas, "She'll be out... any second now."
"She had to get changed." she reminded her boyfriend, "Ty Lee is meticulous when it comes to her appearance." she added, before considering his point; she had taken a little longer than usual, so in consideration, Azula raised a finger, "Though, you do have a point. She should be out soon."
After a few moment's silence, Sokka turned back to face her, with a thoughtful look on his face, "Where's she going to sleep?"
She raised a brow, realising that Sokka was referring to the fact they only had two tents, which fit two people each, "Well, we should just hope that she has her own, otherwise she'll be sleeping on Appa."
"Or sharing." he added, making her narrow her eyes at him.
"I can see what you're getting at, and I'm not falling for it." she pointed at him, before she raised a brow, "Unless of course, you're somehow jealous."
"Of course not." he scoffed at her claim, "I'm not jealous of anyone." he declared, before raising a finger to his chin, "Although, I guess I'm kinda jealous of Mai. I wanted to be the Fire Lord's consort."
"When you say it like that, you sound like you want to marry Zuko." she grinned at him, amused by the ambiguous meaning of his words.
"Aw come on!" he groaned, "You know what I mean!"
"What's this about marrying Zuko?" Ty Lee spoke up, revealing herself as she peered out of the canvas.
"Oh, my boyfriend is just enamoured with him, that's all." she joked, Sokka face-palming.
"No, your highness, I'm enamoured with you." he pointed at her accusingly, making her laugh, trying to cover up the blush that came naturally from his words; he usually only ever said such things before they made love or any other kind of dastardly thing in the tent, and thus she tried her best to keep her mind off of such things.
"Aw... that's so cute!" Ty Lee raised her hands up into the air, giddy to hear Sokka's words, "You're such a cute couple. Totally beat Mai and Zuko I say."
"Oh, thank you for arbitrating on that matter." Azula bowed jokingly, as if she was the most important judge on the matter, "I'd been meaning to ask."
"But you are. Like, just look at you two!" she gestured to them, before Azula cleared her throat.
"Now, as much as I appreciate your compliments, I'd like if we could get to business." she admitted, her friend's eyes brightening.
"Oh yeah, Aang and Katara. That's their names, right?" she asked, Sokka nodding in confirmation.
"The Avatar and my sister." he added, just to stress the point.
"But where are they? I know they came here to the circus with you, but where'd they go after that?" she asked, the Princess gesturing toward the entrance of the circus.
"My guess is they went shopping. Probably to get food or some disguises. Hopefully they didn't waste all the money." she acknowledged, genuinely concerned that the pair might overspend by a mile.
"I hope so too. I'd been hoping to get to spend some myself."
"On what, a new tent?" she joked, reminding him of the last thing she had given him money to buy something with, back in Yu Dao; that was excluding all the food and supplies they bought for themselves on the trip south, when the money was clearly both of theirs rather than belonging to her.
"Ah-ha-ha very funny." he dryly commented, "As long as the White Lotus don't come to try and take you out again, we should still have a tent."
"The White Lotus?" Ty Lee asked, obviously confused by the name-drop; she hadn't explained that part of the story very well for the sake of brevity.
"My Uncle's associates They hired Sokka's people to kidnap me, and then when I came to the colonies, they tried to... well, I'm unsure exactly what they intended to do, but they nearly killed Sokka." she explained, Ty Lee looking at her with a perplexed expression on her face.
"This is the same funny uncle I'm thinking of?" she asked, the Princess nodding, not refraining to snarl, frustrated by the mere thought of her uncle.
The Dragon of the West was once a great hero of their nation, but all he was to her was a wall to overcome; he constituted a very tough and high wall in her path, but she believed that one day, she could beat him. Not in a battle of flames, but through her wit, allies and support from her people; she would be the greatest Fire Lord in history, and she knew how she would achieve it- all she needed to do was take the throne for herself.
"Yes." she narrowed her eyes, "He's the one who caused all of this. Him and his shitty dreams." she declared, turning away from her friend's gaze instinctively; she didn't want her to see her get angry and frustrated- it just ruined Ty Lee's image of her, the perfect Princess who would never let her or her country down.
"I'd have to disagree with that." Sokka raised a finger, making her look at her boyfriend with frustration; as much as she enjoyed arguing with him, he chose the worst hills to die on.
"Oh, would you now?" she placed her hands on her hips; her friend's expression became more fearful as she realised how annoyed she was about such a suggestion.
"Please don't fight." she asked of them, "Not over something like this." she asked, Azula raising a finger up to silence her.
"No, Ty Lee, I want to hear what he has to say. Why do you disagree, Sokka?" she asked her boyfriend, who crossed his arms.
"Your uncle didn't burn Zuko's face and send him to scour the world." he declared, "And plus, the one who tried to have you kidnapped was that Jeong Jeong guy. Maybe Iroh just wanted to talk it out- he obviously wanted Ozai gone, not you."
"I seriously doubt that." she narrowed her eyes at him, "But seeing that neither of us can read his mind, I think this would be a rather stupid thing to argue about Sokka. I'd prefer to argue things we can act upon."
"You're kinda acting upon your own thoughts, aren't you? You don't trust him, or your brother... I mean, you have good reason, but there's a chance they might want to reconcile."
"Reconcile? We can't reconcile. Zuzu's the Fire Lord, and that's something I just can't argue with." she declared, Ty Lee stepping between them.
"Come on. Seriously, this is something stupid to argue about. We're all on the same side, aren't we?"
"The side of what?" Azula quipped, her boyfriend clearing his throat before he raised a finger into the air.
"Peace... or balance. Those words pretty much mean the same thing." he acknowledged, making the Princess snicker; those two words definitely didn't mean the same thing to someone like her father, or any of the Fire Lords that preceded him.
"Not to the Fire Nation." she argued in return, her voice a little calmer as she was no longer on the topic of discussing her brother and uncle, "Peace is subjugating the Earth Kingdom... again."
"Well, not to Zuko. He doesn't want to conquer the Earth Kingdom." Sokka added, "What exactly is different about your ideologies, may I ask?"
"I won't be serving the White Lotus. I won't be serving anyone. Peace will be shaped in the way I think the world ought to be." she argued, his arms crossing.
"Hmph... I guess you do have a point there. Luckily you decided to agree with Aang, or we might have had an issue." he noted, making her chuckle.
"An issue is an understatement." she retorted, before smiling, "Luckily, I'm the one who will help the Avatar understand the world and not some biased ignorant savages... I'm talking about your sister, by the way."
"Yeah... I mean she is pretty ignorant in some areas. But you can admit, she's gotten better." he argued, the Princess smirking.
"That's true." she agreed, before turning to face Ty Lee, "Oh, I didn't explain, but his sister has been more or less an arsehole to me for the past six months." she clarified, her friend's expression becoming almost sad.
"Why? It's not like you hurt her or anything... you didn't, right?" she asked, knowing her a little too well; the old Azula might have given Katara a fashionable beating to drive it to home that she was a xenophobic arsehole, just like she had to Sokka- though at that point, the xenophobia was quite mutual.
She crossed her arms, shaking her head to reassure her friend, "I didn't. I thought I acted quite cordially, actually."
"She did." Sokka added, as to reassure she wasn't just being biased, "Azula is a well mannered Princess when she wants to be."
"Emphasis on wants." she raised a finger, "My manners run short when Water Tribe girls question every decision I make like it's some kind of moral dilemma."
"Huh... so kinda like... oh..." Ty Lee's jaw dropped, before she grimaced; it seems that she had drawn the same conclusion Azula had, that being that Katara acted fair too much like her mother for her own good.
"Yeah, you can see why?" she asked her friend, who nodded with a slight grimace, before she cleared her throat.
"So, uh, we were going to meet Aang and Katara."
"Yes." Sokka's expression brightened, before he gestured toward the entrance of the circus, "Let's go. I'm sure they'll be waiting for us in the market or something. Hopefully they didn't spend all of our money."
"I doubt they could have... but then again, Aang is twelve." she noted, feeling that of all people in their group that could spend their money on triviality non-necessities, it would be him.
"Well, come on!" Ty Lee gestured for her to follow as she began to walk ahead, both her and her boyfriend striding behind her.
They quickly made their way through the campsite at the back of the circus, coming around to the front, where the bouncers were still standing; Azula would almost pity them, if it wasn't for the fact they were probably being paid well to essentially stand around and look tough. The bouncers did look their way, but didn't give much more than a care as they recognised Ty Lee.
"Don't you have another show soon?" one of them asked her offhandedly, the acrobat turning around to face them as she walked past, striding backwards onto the street.
"Maybe." she shrugged her shoulders, which seemed to confuse the pair.
"What's 'maybe'? You didn't get fired, did you?" the other bouncer asked her.
She chuckled, shaking her head as Sokka and Azula both walked out of the gates of the circus grounds, "No, no, I'm just considering... a different career path." she admitted, the bouncers glancing at each other for a moment, before looking at her with some unease.
"Uh, good luck then." one of them gestured a wave, though it seemed to be mostly a courtesy, his eyes turning back to the street as they began to walk away, heading down toward the centre of the town.
"A different career path?" she raised a brow, "Who said I was paying you?" Azula quipped, the acrobat smirking at her as she raised two fingers up toward her face.
"But you forget that I haven't been to the Royal Spa with you for ages. We're going to get the best treatment of our lives once this is all over." she declared, the Princess pursing her lips upward.
"Oh, I wouldn't mind that at all." she acknowledged, before she turned her eyes to Sokka, "You can enjoy the palace kitchen... though I don't know if they're ready for your appetite." she acknowledged, making him snicker.
"Well, I'm always ready to give a challenge when it comes to both fighting and eating."
"Maybe you should enter some kind of eating competition. I swear I heard someone doing one of those in one of the colonies." Ty Lee suggested, making her boyfriend look her way with awe.
"You're joking." he looked at her with a skeptical cross of his arms.
"Nope. I'm pretty sure they give out prizes to whoever can eat the most food." she explained, the Water Tribe warrior clapping his hands together.
"That's the kind of competition I know I could win." he declared, the Princess rolling her eyes; she could guess well enough how such an endeavour would end.
"When you start throwing up your guts, I'll say I told you so." she raised a finger, her boyfriend looking at her with a serious glare, almost suspicious of her words.
"You're a real moron sometimes. Do you know what it's like to throw up after overeating?" she asked him, genuinely concerned that he hadn't pushed himself to that point, and that doing so could end terribly for him.
"Do you?" he retorted, Azula rolling her eyes.
"Seriously?" she face-palmed, "If I knew your stomach was so powerful, I might have asked you to do an eating competition against Uncle instead of me fighting an Agni Kai."
He looked at her with confusion for a moment before he broke down laughing, Ty Lee joining in as the pair of them cackled at her absurd suggestion.
"Oh that's a good one!" he patted her on the shoulder, before he raised a hand up as she tried to make a serious face, "He's a pretty... big guy." he acknowledged, "I don't know if I could beat a man with a gut like that."
"I don't know. I've seen you shovel down a bowl of rice in about five bites. You could probably beat him, at least with your speed." she suggested, making her friend look at her with an expression that portrayed both awe and confusion.
"Is this what all your conversations are like?"
"Pretty much," Sokka nodded, "The good ones at least. Some just devolve into really stupid arguments. Like 'chi-blocking is stupid because I can just shoot fireballs form a distance'." he imitated her rather poorly, Ty Lee covering her mouth as she tried to hold back her own laughter.
"But you can just dodge. Right?" she argued against the example argument, Sokka raising a finger.
"That's exactly what I said."
"And I said I'm faster than your flimsy legs." Azula piped up, "When was the last time you beat me in a spar?" she asked her boyfriend, gesturing to him as she turned toward Ty Lee with a smirk.
"About two months ago, I think." he acknowledged, her friend grimacing.
"Ooh... that sucks. Do you really go that hard on him?" she asked the Princess, who nodded, her expression shifting to a serious one.
"Of course. I seek to shape him into the most formidable non-bender alive." she argued, the Water Tribesman cracking his knuckles as he smirked.
"I lose... with dignity." he simply acknowledged with a confident, almost suave voice.
"Losing's still losing." she raised a finger to try and break his smirk, and succeeded, his expression shifting to a grimace; she realised after a few seconds that he wasn't grimacing at her words, but rather what he could see ahead of him.
She turned her eyes ahead to see Aang and Katara, who were both wearing Fire Nation clothes, surprisingly enough, racing toward them with panicked looks on their faces.
"Run!" the Avatar told them, Azula glancing at her boyfriend with confusion.
"What the fuck is going on?" she mumbled, her boyfriend grasping her shoulder and tilting his head back down the way they came.
"I dunno, but that face says enough. Let's get out of here." he declared, before they both began to race up the road, Ty Lee following behind them with a confused face.
"Sorry, but what's happening?" she asked Aang and Katara, who both kept up their pace, with fearful looks on their faces, though the Water Tribe girl was noticeably more calm.
"We kinda stole something." the young Avatar admitted with a grimace.
"I mean, that's a way not to spend money." Sokka conceded, before narrowing his eyes at his sister, "But why?"
"They had a waterbending scroll I wanted, and we didn't want to pay." she explained as they raced down the street, the Princess rolling her eyes.
"Could have you been a little more discreet about it? I'm guessing the guards are after you." she concluded, the Water Tribe girl shaking her head.
"The store-owner called out to them, but I think we've still got time." she explained, Ty Lee racing ahead with a smirk on her face.
"Good, I've already got a plan in mind."
"Hey, lucky me. I don't have to think of something on the fly." Azula smiled at her friend, before smirking deviously, "Just what did you have in mind?"
"Just follow me!" she gestured for them to follow as they approached the circus once more.
Azula didn't question her friend's intentions as she darted to the left, down a side-street that ran alongside the circus grounds; the acrobat gestured to the fence that lined the outside of the circus, which she noted as being a little too tall to vault over. That didn't seem to be an issue to her friend, who instead raced forward and leapt onto the wall, grasping the top. She remained stationary for only a moment, before she pulled her whole lower body up and over the wooden fence.
"Come on, this is the only way we'll get in without getting spotted." she explained her actions; the Princess glanced back toward Aang, knowing well enough that his abilities could assist them.
"Use your airbending." she simply requested, gesturing toward the fence.
The young Air Nomad looked at her with surprise; she had in the past warned him against using his bending in public, especially when they were around Fire Nation occupied territories, but that warning was overruled by their current situation.
"Got it." he nodded, before turning to face Katara and Sokka, "Run for the fence and jump. I'll do the rest."
"Wait, seriously?" the Water Tribe warrior looked at him with a worried look, "You can't be serious."
"Just do what he says, Sokka!" Azula growled at her boyfriend, gesturing toward the fence; he complied, both he and his sister sprinting forward, as requested.
When they were about to run right into the wall, Aang thrust both his arms forward, sending out a powerful gust that came below their feet; for a moment, it pushed them up into the air, soaring over the fence, both of them squealing out in shock. When she heard them grunt as they landed on the other side, she couldn't help but sigh with relief; she then momentarily glanced toward Aang, who was staring down the fence with an eager eye.
"Well, come on, jump over." she directed him, the young Avatar looking at her with slight confusion.
"What about you?" he asked, the Princess not responding to his rather stupid question, instead breaking into a dash toward the fence, before jumping up to grasp the top; she pulled herself all the way up to the top, her legs swinging just above it, before she dropped down on the other side.
She glanced over at Sokka and Katara, who were dusting themselves off, while Ty Lee stood waiting for them, though she seemed to be preoccupied with making sure they hadn't been spotted. She turned her eyes back toward the fence, waiting for Aang to eventually come over. He took a few seconds, but he was able to easily jump over with the assistance of his airbending; when he landed down on his feet, his eyes darted around, obviously worried that the local guards would be onto them.
"Are the guards here?" he asked out, Ty Lee turning back to face him, shaking her head reassuringly.
"No, no- not yet. I need to get my bags." she explained, Azula raising a brow with interest; without even saying anything else, she implied that she was getting her bags to leave- with her, that was.
"So that's it then? You're coming with us without even talking to my friends here?"
"I don't think I need to. We have plenty of time for that later!" she piped up before she darted off into the circus grounds, obviously heading back to her tent; the Princess momentarily looked back to the two Water Tribe siblings, who had recovered and were on their two feet again, before she made her way after her friend.
Making her way back through the campsite, she earned a few odd looks from other circus performers and workers, who didn't understand why a bunch of random strangers were chasing one of their acrobats through the circus. She slowed down her dash as she neared the Ty sisters' tent, opening the canvas to glance inside, where Ty Lee's sisters stood up, looking at her with surprise.
"What did you do?" Ty Lum pointed at her accusingly, "Why are you leaving right now?!" she demanded of her, the Princess raising a hand to object to her assumptions.
"Excuse me, I didn't do anything. That would be my friends, who decided to burgle some store." she clarified, which only seemed to confuse the sisters.
"Lee, what's going on?" Ty Lin asked her sister, who simply glanced up from her corner of the tent as she shovelled her clothes and other belongings into a bag.
"They stole some bending scroll. This is the Avatar, remember?" she told them, Ty Woo snickering at her suggestion.
"So the Avatar's a thief, even though he's meant to be what, the most powerful person in the world." she observed, her sisters not laughing at what seemed to be intended as a joke.
"It wasn't my idea." Aang spoke up, making Azula realise that he was standing right beside her, peering into the tent, "And I'm not a thief. They probably stole it from the Northern Water Tribe." he added, making Azula raise a brow with interest.
Her friends must have pragmatically considered the origins of the item they were thieving before they did so stealing from a thief, even indirectly, wasn't exactly wrong in her mind.
"Wh-what... he's really just a kid." Ty Lao gasped, "You're helping a kid master the elements?" she turned to Ty Lee, who shrugged her shoulders.
"Yeah, I guess I am." she acknowledged, not concerned by the absurdity of the situation she had been faced with; Azula had gotten over, for the most part, how weird her life had turned out, and was actually a little surprised that her friend was handling it so well- it must have been her carefree personality that helped her get a grip.
"Well, you better be quick." Ty Liu concluded, "You don't have much time if the guards are coming after you."
"Aang!" she heard Katara speak up, Azula taking note that she and Sokka were just arriving at the tent, "Do you still have that whistle on you?" she asked, the young Avatar's expression brightening.
"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you guys. I bought a whistle that can call Appa, so he'll come right here to us." he explained, making the Ty sisters all look at him with interest.
"What's an Appa?" Ty Lat asked her, the Avatar grinning as he pulled out the described whistle.
"He's my flying-bison. Imagine a really big fluffy animal with six legs and an arrow on his head- just like me." he gestured to his forehead, which he had revealed by moving his cloak out of the way; the one thing she could know is that the guards would have no idea the Avatar was the one who robbed some random store in their town, which would keep whoever wanted to hunt them down off their tracks.
"Why do you have an arrow on your head?" Ty Liu asked him, the young Avatar raising a finger up.
"It marks that I've mastered airbending." he clarified, before turning to face Ty Lee, "Uh, have you got your stuff? I think we need to leave quickly." he admitted, the acrobat nodding as she rose up to her feet, slinging her bag over her shoulder.
"I just need to fold up my sleeping roll." she clarified, Azula striding forward, knowing that she could at the very least help her, as to ensure they were able to leave the town as quickly as possible.
She kicked the end of the sleeping roll up, flinging it over the top of itself before she leaned over folding it over, glancing around for whatever was meant to bind it together.
"Uh, here's the bag." her friend handed her a burlap sack, which she shoved the sleeping roll into, "Thanks, Zula." she smiled at her, the Princess simply picking up the sleeping roll before turning to face her friends.
"We just need to get out of the town without causing a fuss. I'd prefer that the authorities don't know we're here." she admitted, Ty Lin stepping toward her.
"You mean you don't want them to know Princess Azula is here?" she asked, the Princess nodding.
"Precisely." she confirmed, her eyes darting around to look at Ty lee's six sisters, "Would any of you have a good idea on how to avoid the guards?"
"Uh..." Ty Lum rose up to her feet, "I think we could do something." she admitted, "We can pretend we found the thieves and direct the guards away so you guys can all go back to your Appa." she explained, Katara and Sokka stepping into the tent, both interested by the idea.
"Well, that might work." the Water Tribe warrior conceded, "Are you guys going to go right now?" he asked them, the sisters all stepping forward, moving to the centre of the tent, where Azula and Ty Lee were standing side by side.
"Good luck, Lee." Ty Liu simply told her, her own sad expression mirrored on the faces of her other sisters, before raising a brow, "Group hug before we go?"
"Yeah, group hug!" Ty Lee piped us enthusiastically, Azula darting out of the way to avoid being swamped by her six sisters, who leapt into a group hug; the Princess darted her eyes away, not wanting to watch as her friend almost got trampled by her identical sisters.
"Okay, we're running out of time. Somebody on the street is going to tell the guards where we went." the Princess spoke up, the sisters breaking up their hug, before they began to file toward the front of the tent.
"We'll distract them. You guys get out of here." Ty Lao declared, before turning to face the Avatar, "Uh, good luck mastering the elements."
"Thanks." Aang smiled at her, before waving to the sisters as they left the tent, "Good luck!" he cheered them on, before Katara and Sokka approached him.
"Come on, let's get out of here, Aang." the Water Tribe girl advised, before she turned her gaze to Ty Lee, who was poignantly looking the way her sisters had gone, "Do you know a good way out of here?" she asked, the acrobat nodding.
"Around the back there's a hole in the fence, I think." she noted, gesturing in the direction they would have to go.
Sokka looked at her with confusion, "Sorry, you're saying we didn't need to get thrown over that fence?" he asked her, the acrobat shrugging her shoulders.
"It's a small gap. We can get out, but if we'd come in that way, the guards would have caught up." she argued, before she gestured to the rear of the tent, "Follow me!" she requested of them, Azula following her friends as she pulled up the canvas and stepped out of the tent.
They raced through the circus, making their way along the outside of the massive tent before reaching the rear of the circus grounds, which backed onto a few small plots of land, fenced off, as she had assumed. As her friend had told her, there was a hole in the fence, big enough for them to step through, though they would have to throw their things over the fence; Aang and Katara had their ordinary clothes in bags, which meant they would have to toss them over if they wanted to get through.
"Give me your bag." she asked of the young Air Nomad, who looked at her with surprise; he was slightly unnerved, but followed through with her request, and once his bag was in her hands, she tossed it over to the other side of the fence, "Now sneak through. I want you to get to Appa first and get him ready to fly, in case the guards catch on." she requested, the young Air Nomad pulling his hood up to cover his tattooed scalp.
"Got it." he nodded, understanding what he needed to do with her succinct commands, before he stepped through the hole in the fence, immediately darting off in the direction of the cliff where Appa was resting.
Ty Lee climbed through after him, offering a hand to Azula, who first threw the sleeping roll over the fence, before grasping her friend's hand; she climbed through the hole, stepping out on the other side.
She looked back toward Sokka and Katara, who followed after her, filing through the hole in the fence, the former glancing back in the direction they had come, "There's no guards yet." he noted, before stepping through.
The four of them made their way down the street, making their way in the direction Aang had gone; they hadn't been running for any longer than ten seconds when she heard a guard call out.
"Stop right there!" he demanded, Azula turning her eyes to see three guards, all unarmed, which suggested that they were firebenders, "You! You're the thief!" he gestured to Katara, who stepped back with fear.
"We need to keep running." she told the group, who had come to a halt.
"They can't have a chance to see Appa." Sokka concluded, "We'll have to take care of them now." he acknowledged, Ty Lee dropping the bag she had on her shoulder.
"Together, because I want to see your chi-blocking in action." she admitted with a smirk; the almost suggestive look on her friends face made Azula feel uncomfortable, seeing that she was looking at her boyfriend of all people.
The pair raced forward, the guards taking firebending stances while Katara and Azula both stepped back; she didn't want to get involved, given that her firebending would immediately give away her identity, assuming that the guards didn't already recognise her face from wanted posters. The Water Tribe warrior ducked under a fireball that was sent his way, before he kicked one of the guards in the shin; another of the guards aimed a fire whip at Ty Lee, who somersaulted forward, dodging the attack. She jabbed that guard in the leg, paralysing it, before she took out his arms as well; in near synchronisation, Sokka did the same, jabbing his opponent in the arms and torso to paralyse him as well as disable his bending. The last guard stepped back with fear, obviously beginning to realise he was in a fight he could not win.
"By the spirits!" he cried out with fear, before he was jabbed by both Ty Lee and Sokka at the same time, paralysing his arms, before he was kicked in the gut by the Water Tribesman, left to slump down to the ground in pain, winded and unable to continue fighting.
"You're a pretty good chi-blocker." the acrobat conceded, before crossing her arms, "But you're not as good as me."
"There's always someone better." he acknowledged, before the pair raced back toward Katara and Azula.
Realising that they needed to leave at once, the Princess picked up her friend's bag and threw it to her; she caught it successfully, and with that, the four of them were racing uphill along the back street toward the rocky escarpment where Appa would be awaiting them. She didn't falter in her sprint, racing right past unsuspecting civilians with her friends in tow; when they reached the edge of the town, they turned to take a quick path up the escarpment, which was rough and steep, but still manageable to climb. Though their pace decreased, they had still outrun any guards they might have spotted them as they made their way out of town. When they reached the town of the slope, she made sight of Appa, on top of which sat Aang, who was sitting with Momo, ready to fly off into the sky.
"Come on, guys!" he gestured with his right hand for them to hurry up, Ty Lee slowly somewhat as she looked in awe of the sky-bison.
"He really is fluffy!" she exclaimed, referring back to the Avatar's description of his beastly companion.
"Yeah, and you'll be able to pat him once you get on the saddle." she told her friend before she sprinted up toward the flying bison, first throwing her friend's sleeping roll up, before she leapt up with the assistance of her firebending, safely landing on the saddle.
She turned around, offering Sokka a hand as he struggled to climb up after her; he accepted her assistance with a thankful nod, before he sat up beside her, Ty Lee still slowly approaching the sky-bison, glancing back toward the town where her sisters were probably still hard at work distracting the guards from their actual location.
"I'm going to miss them... as annoying as they are." she admitted, before turning around, leaping up onto the saddle by gripping Appa's fur and propelling herself up.
"A little help?" Katara asked out, still standing on the ground; the Princess offered her a hand, somewhat begrudgingly, considering the fact she was responsible for their mad dash out of the town.
"All this for a damn scroll? Is it worth it?" she asked the Water Tribe girl, who smirked at her, grasping her hand before she climbed up onto the saddle.
"Certainly." she confirmed, "Now Aang and I can finally start learning waterbending."
"Oh, I don't think we actually introduced ourselves." Aang admitted, turning to face Ty Lee, "I'm Aang, and this is Katara." he gestured to her, "It's nice to meet you, Ty Lee."
"Thanks, it's nice to meet you, Aang." she nodded with a warm smile, "And you too, Katara."
"Uh, yeah. I hope you're ready to fly." she tapped the saddle, the Avatar making a wide grin as he turned to face ahead.
"First time flyer, hold on tight." he warned her, "Yip-yip!" he called on his sky-bison, who groaned, before he swiftly rose into the air; they quickly ascended up above the town, and Ty lee raised her hands up, in direct opposition to the advice Aang had given her.
"Wooo! This is the coolest thing ever!" she shouted out gleefully, Azula rolling her eyes as she failed to hold back a smile.
"All this positivity is going to take some getting used to."