She should have burned the letter. She wanted to. Instead, she sat down, examined the stamp that designated it a correspondence from the rich city of the Earth Kingdom, and flipped the letter over. It had been folded flat, a mark of someone who didn’t care about appearances. The Bei Fongs would have sealed a scroll in wax and placed it in a pompous messenger tube.
The back of the letter read:
From: Ty Lee
Ty Lee had written and rewritten the complex characters for Mai’s name three times. Each attempt was crossed out. Beside those attempts, she’d simply written the casual phonetic script for Mai’s name and then a frowning face and ‘sorry’ with an arrow pointing to the failed attempts. She couldn’t be too irritated about that; Ty Lee hadn’t even tried to write her own name’s symbols.
Mai felt a cold shiver of unease. Ty Lee had visited Gaoling. Mai had replied to each of Ty Lee’s last three letters telling her it was stupid to even try. Apparently she hadn’t heeded Mai’s advice. Just like Ty Lee to forge ahead, hoping for the best.
When she unfolded the letter, she wasn’t surprised there were two sheets of rice paper. Ty Lee’s handwriting was atrocious and enormous. Mai studied the whole without reading it, hoping to ascertain the meaning without having to contemplate the words. Phonetic script was interspersed with sloppy proper characters, and at least a quarter of the letter consisted of strikethroughs. Typical.
Ty Lee had never cared about calligraphy in the Royal Academy. Mai had done the work for that class for all three of them, creating three perfect copies per assignment. Neither Ty Lee nor Azula had attempted to mimic her script when they’d written their names on their copies. All the instructors had known, but no one said a word. They never did, not even when Azula had turned in their arithmetic assignments blatantly as one: she’d always written all three of their names at the top of her single paper neatly. Ty Lee had been in charge of their music class; she’d written all their compositions, and no one had said a word when she’d played the songs assigned to Mai and Azula. They’d shared all of their classes and received perfect marks on every assignment.
Ty Lee’s letter read:
Mai, I’m so happy! I’m so so so so glad I came. Azula was so wonderful!
Mai paused and noted that Ty Lee had written Azula’s name perfectly. She wondered what ‘wonderful’ meant in this context. The connotation had to be positive for all those ‘so’s. And Ty Lee was alive and functioning enough to write.
She’s changed, Mai. She apologized to me. She said she shouldn’t have sent us to prison, and she was so good to me. In bed, I mean. Well, she was good everywhere, but Azula’s always good at everything. I gave her a massage, and then we took a bath together, and it was wonderful. I’m all heavy and happy, and I haven’t felt like this since Ba Sing Se. We missed you though. I know you love her, and me, and she loves us, and please come see her and make up so we can all be together again!
PS: Ursa looks a lot older than I remember. She was kind of mean to me. She called me a hussy! That was so funny! Azula said I was her hussy. I want to be your hussy again too! Hehe!
The word “her” had been underlined three times and bolded with extra ink. Ty Lee closed the letter with:
Kisses and hearts!
Several hearts had been drawn beside that. Someone needed to figure out how to make glittery pink ink for Ty Lee.
Mai reached over and pulled the oil lamp closer. She picked up the letter, held it just above the flame, and watched the corner curl. Then she snatched it from the flame and used her heavy sleeve to snuff it. She read the letter again.
Her anger was growing. Ty Lee had gone to Gaoling just to fall into bed with Azula. She couldn’t believe how stupid it all was. A small part of her hated that Ty Lee hadn’t just come to Mai instead of Azula. A bigger part of her hated that Ty Lee had gone to Azula without her.
Mai didn’t believe for one second that Azula had changed. Ty Lee tended to exaggerate, and Mai had long since learned to take Ty Lee’s words with a grain of salt. But… She was curious about how great the exaggeration had been. She was very curious.
Zuko had been convinced that Azula was crazy. It had stretched Mai’s mind trying to imagine that…as much as she tried not to think about Azula at all. Then Ursa had swept in like a hurricane, scolded Zuko for locking his sister in an institution, and whisked her away to Gaoling, where Ursa had a sizeable estate.
It was all very convoluted, and Zuko was still bitterly disillusioned that after he found his mother again, she had declined to live in the Fire Nation. He wouldn’t talk about it, not that Mai really cared. She’d heard enough about the whole situation with Ursa screaming about the conditions that Azula was living in, and didn’t she raise him to treat his baby sister better than that?! Et cetera.
Mai picked up the letter again. She read it again.
She’d thought she let go of Azula a long time ago. Apparently she’d been wrong.
“You’re leaving?” Zuko asked.
He rubbed his face and sighed. “Anywhere in particular?”
He didn’t hide his annoyance. Then he sighed and said, “Well, be safe.”
“Sure,” she said. She didn’t know why he didn’t just ask her outright where she was going and why she was going. She didn’t know why he didn’t ask her to stay.
He rounded the desk in her study and pulled her into a hug; the embrace was comfortable but empty. “I mean it. Be safe.” He kissed her forehead. “I love you.”
She accepted his hug out of habit. Her mind was already turned away, thinking of what she would find in Gaoling.
Apparently Ozai had made sure Ursa was cared for monetarily in her banishment. The estate on the outskirts of Gaoling—neighboring the Bei Fongs, in fact—was lavish. A servant met Mai at the gates, and the lady of the house was shadowed by a bodyservant.
Ursa didn’t look old. She just had a few more wrinkles and some gray in her hair now. Mai’s mother had always called Ursa ‘quite severe looking’, but Mai had never seen that as a child. She saw it now. Azula had inherited her full lips, yet Ursa held them so tightly pinched they’d lost their fullness.
“Mai, I wasn’t aware you were coming.” Thinly veiled in that statement was, ‘you should have sent me notice’. It was etiquette that Mai refused to follow now that she’d escaped her parents’ household. She refused to be polite now too.
Ursa looked at her oddly. “She’s at snatchball practice in town. She won’t be back until this evening.”
Mai, who had made it a point not to enter the house, now turned her back to Ursa to walk towards the estate gates.
“You can wait here—”
Mai didn’t reply. She didn’t plan to stay that long.
Gaoling was supposedly a rich city, but it didn’t compare with Ba Sing Se or Capital City. It was smaller, the buildings were more spread out, and the streets were narrower. It had wide-open feel. Azula would fill this place up and snuff it out with her very presence.
Mai wandered for a few minutes before she stopped a passerby. She didn’t know why she was procrastinating—that was a lie. She knew why. “Where is…” Had Ursa really called it snatchball? “…snatchball played?”
“What team?” the man asked, scratching his head.
That was easy. “The best one.”
He grinned at her. “The Bouncing Boulders practice in the main arena.” He pointed down the street. “Keep going ’til you hit Eighth, hang a right, and the big round coliseum is right down the road.”
The ‘coliseum’ turned out to be a ring of stone that had been carved, or earthbent, into rows of seats. It ringed a long grass field that had been mowed short. Half a dozen girls were kicking a ball around on the field. Half a dozen more girls—all in makeup, sitting in the prim way Mai’s mother had always commanded of her—sat on the first row of seats and watched.
Without studying any of their faces, she knew Azula wasn’t here. No one had the princess’s sheer largeness of presence.
One of the spectators saw her watching and elbowed her neighbor. “Can I help you?” she asked with a half grin. Her eyes traveled up and down Mai’s form, and what she saw apparently amused her.
Mai removed her hands from her sleeves, flashing the stilettos under her cuffs, and that smile fell away for a moment. Mai settled her arms against her sides; she didn’t need the defensive posture. Her heart rate began to slow, and her anticipation fell away just like that. “Where’s Azula?”
Immediately every girl on the bench looked over at her. Most of them smirked. The girl who she’d asked laughed. Mai realized she was laughing at Azula. The oddness of it shocked Mai, especially when the girl said, “The princess?”
Mai answered, “Yes” before she realized the girl had meant it as an insult, not as her title. It caused more laughter to rise from the group. Mai had a stunned moment to consider the fact that they’d laughed and yet they were still alive.
“Snooty bitch is with her own little club down in the slums. Thirtieth Street by the canals. We kicked her off our team.”
This was all very strange. Mai refolded her arms and turned away. She heard one of the girls whisper, “Stupid bitch” and wasn’t sure if she or Azula was being insulted.
She flicked her fingers and heard the girls scream as her stiletto embedded into the stone bench between that girl’s knees. Mai told herself she did it because they’d insulted her; it had nothing to do with Azula. She walked away with a smirk on her face.
Probably most of the girls they shared classes with at the Royal Academy had thought exactly what these Earth Kingdom girls did, but no one at the Royal Academy had dared say anything negative about Azula. Mai had always wanted someone to slip up. She’d wanted to know if Azula even had any feelings to hurt.
She’d ended up determining that for herself.
She wished the answer hadn’t been such a relief.
As Mai ascended street numbers, the buildings and streets grew smaller. A stale scent rose in the air, and more and more trash lined the gutters. The brackish smell grew stronger the closer she got to said ‘canals’. She realized the water of the city’s nicer districts drained downhill to this area, where it stagnated. She crushed a mosquito between her fingers before it could bite the back of her hand.
She couldn’t for one moment imagine Azula being in a place like this by choice.
When Mai reached Thirtieth Street, she could walk into the stinking canal or she could turn left or right. Every direction seemed like the wrong one. Then she heard that silken voice shout a demand: “Yung, cover your right side!”
Even with her heart pounding as loudly as it was, Mai heard the retort: “I would cover it, but Jin always goes left.”
A third voice: “I do?”
Then Azula, “I suppose you’re right. Make sure you don’t make that assumption during the game.”
“Why don’t you just worry about your post, Zula?”
Zula? As a toddler, Mai had been drilled to enunciate Azula’s name perfectly…even when the little princess couldn’t say her own name correctly. She waited for Azula to say something in sharp retort, but there were no more distinct words for a few minutes, only shouts and gasps.
Then: “Whoops! Sorry!”
“I’m not made of glass,” Azula snapped. That was closer to what Mai remembered.
She took a steadying breath, made sure her features were composed, and walked down the street to the gap in the buildings where these voices emanated. It took all her control not to jump when she turned her head.
The field this group played on wasn’t made of grass, but of wet clay. All of the girls were covered in it, including Azula. Azula herself… She was unmistakable. Her presence was enormous. Mai’s eyes fell to her immediately, and she saw her expressions, saw the shift in her shoulders and body, saw her. Mai was stunned by her appearance. She didn’t know why; all the girls in the coliseum had been wearing cut off linen trousers and sleeveless tunics too. It wasn’t the clothes then, or the mud, or even the fact that Azula’s hair had been cut at her shoulders. It was the culmination of these features that shocked her.
Azula sprinted at the girl handling the ball and slid into her. Their legs tangled, and they went down on the wet clay in a heap. Mai was not surprised by that. She was surprised that Azula stood and held out her hand to pull the girl to her feet. “Good,” she said to the girl she’d just knocked down. “You passed the ball before I hit you.”
This was feeling like an out of body experience to Mai.
“That’d get a penalty in a real game,” said the short, stout girl who now dribbled the muddy ball on her equally muddy knees.
“Not if we’re playing a team with more standing than us.” Azula tapped her chin. “Oh, wait, all of them have more standing than we do!”
“She’s right,” said another girl. She turned and saw Mai was watching and paused. “Can I help you?”
Azula saw her now. Whatever openness that had been in her face before slipped away as she studied Mai. Mai studied her right back. Azula’s sharp eyes were brilliant amber, and they seemed to glow in the orange sunlight of evening. Even without makeup, covered in mud, with her glossy black hair cut short, she was the most beautiful person Mai had ever seen. She was a dragon.
Mai had hoped she would be immune to that after over a year of absence.
Azula stepped past the other girls. “I’m done for the day,” she said simply. The girls glanced at each other and just shrugged. “See you, Zula,” said one of them. Azula responded with a vague wave.
Mai turned as Azula approached, and they walked together down the street in silence. When they hit Fourth Street, Azula broke the silence. “Ty Lee wrote to you, did she?”
Somehow Mai’s voice was normal. “She said you changed.”
“Oh, I’m sure she did.” Azula’s airy words were accompanied by a careless laugh.
“She said you apologized.”
“I didn’t apologize,” Azula said with a weary sigh. “I simply explained the circumstances. I had hoped you wouldn’t require that explanation. Is that why you’re here? To see if I’m willing to grovel and beg your forgiveness?”
Mai held her anger in check. As always, Azula read her like an open book. She laughed and continued. “Well, why not? I might as well explain. What do you think my father would have done to you if you’d assaulted him, hm?”
“You threw us in prison.”
Azula rolled her eyes at the accusation. “My god, you are maudlin. My father would have killed you right then. Or he would have had your necks removed from your shoulders later. Was I supposed to say, ‘Oh, I forgive you. Let’s all be friends again and forget this all happened!’ Mai, I thought you were smarter than that.”
“I served you all through the war—”
“Yes, yes,” Azula said carelessly. “You served me until you decided to throw your lot in with my brother.”
“I love him!” Mai did love him. She loved him more than she feared Azula. But maybe not more than she loved Azula.
“And yet you’re here,” Azula said, echoing her thoughts. Mai couldn’t meet her eyes. “You threatened my life, and Ty Lee physically assaulted me. I threw you in prison, the same prison your uncle was demoted to after his failure at Boiling Rock. Did you think that was a coincidence? Tell me, did they strip you naked, clap you in irons, and require you sleep in a cell with a convict?”
At the time, Mai had been angry enough that she’d almost convinced herself that Azula had simply made a mistake. That she’d forgotten about Mai’s uncle. That it had been a coincidence they’d been sent to the same place he had been appointed as warden. That she had expected Mai’s uncle to treat them like common prisoners instead of furnishing their cells, bringing in a chef to prepare their meals, and giving them all the luxuries they would have had at their homes.
“Was it easier to share my brother’s bed when you pretended I hadn’t protected you?”
“Protected us?” Mai scoffed.
“What do you think my father did when he found out about your actions? I hid it as long as I could, but being betrayed in front of my guards…” Azula’s jaw tightened. “Father doesn’t like weakness,” she said quietly.
Father doesn’t like weakness. Azula had carried that moniker around with her since Ursa had been banished. Father doesn’t like weakness. She’d said it the first time Ozai had burned her. Father doesn’t like weakness. She’d repeated it often.
Azula took a breath and released some of the darkness of her last statement with a controlled exhale. Her expression shifted. “Oh, don’t,” she commanded with a laugh. The laugh was sharp and bitter. “Don’t you dare pity me.”
“Don’t worry; I don’t.” Mai muttered it for Azula, not herself.
They didn’t speak again.
Bathed and dressed in silk, Azula oozed privilege once again. It was hard to remember her covered in mud and smelling of brassy sweat only hours before. After an uncomfortable, mostly silent supper shared with Ursa and Azula, Mai wandered through the lavish garden behind the estate and tried to center herself. She’d thought that first conversation would be enough for her to let go and move on with her life. She only felt more entangled, more hopelessly lost.
Mai sat down on the stone fountain that was the center of an artificial stream that ringed the garden. She watched the colorful koi flutter beneath green and red lily pads. She sat alone and could form no thoughts. When darkness fell, Mai looked along the long line of the house. Rice paper walls transmitted the light from lamps within several of the rooms; servants moved about, always busy. She used to envy the servants of her parents’ household; she still did a little.
One room opened. Azula’s outline was unmistakable as she stood in the doorway, a dark silhouette framed by flickering blue candlelight. She didn’t beckon. She didn’t step outside. She only turned and stepped back into the room. She left the door open.
There was nothing Mai could do but follow.
She stepped onto the polished wood of the porch and stood at the threshold of Azula’s room. Azula watched her expressionlessly, her eyes glittering in the light. At last, she asked, “Why did you come, Mai? You said Ty Lee told you I changed. So are you here now because you thought I had or you hoped I hadn’t?”
Mai trembled. She didn’t want this lust, this need anymore. She’d thought… She’d thought if Azula had changed and lost her self-respect, her elitism, her silken sensuality, Mai would be free of her finally. She could be with Zuko and know there was nothing better. She’d hoped too that Azula hadn’t changed…that she could still hate her for her condescension, her callous indifference, her bitchy entitlement.
She hadn’t expected to find the right mix of both.
Mai stepped into the room and closed the door behind her.
“If you want me in your bed, get rid of the nails.” In her words were several commands: she wanted to be touched, and she wanted to be touched without pain. She wouldn’t compromise.
Azula’s lips turned up into a smile. The expression was a surprise. She raised her hands and wiggled her fingers, displaying her short, blunt nails. “Aren’t we both lucky snatchball requires trimmed fingernails? Apparently it’s against the rules to gouge out your opponents’ eyes. I don’t see why. It would be so much more interesting with more blood involved.”
Mai was uncharacteristically sidetracked. “Why do they call it that?”
“Rather unfortunate, isn’t it? Especially so for a women-only sport. It’s unfortunate too that there’s nothing else to do around this boring hellhole. Until you and Ty Lee showed up, that is.”
Azula stepped close to Mai. Mai couldn’t hide her tremble. Azula’s full lips twitched into a slow smile. She brushed a soft finger along Mai’s jaw. The simple touch paired with that smile was enough to make her wet. Mai betrayed herself with a heavy breath through her nose.
Azula didn’t make fun of her need, the betraying gasp, or Mai’s trembling hands. Azula just kissed her. Her lips were soft, but her mouth was hard. She slipped her tongue into Mai’s mouth and cupped the back of Mai’s head. Mai knew her kisses well enough to read need in Azula as well.
She couldn’t stand still any longer. Mai seized Azula’s robe, twisted it in her hands, and pulled Azula closer as they kissed. She ached and she wanted and she couldn’t hide it.
Azula pulled away after long desperate minutes of sharing each other’s air. She tugged at Mai’s robes. Her lips were swollen and her pupils were dilated. The lamps in the room flared as Azula’s passion rose. She seemed to realize it and released her bending control. The light softened immediately as the flames fluttered back to their wicks and turned orange.
“It wouldn’t do to burn the house down,” Azula said with a half-smile.
The first time Ty Lee had coaxed the three of them into an embrace, Azula had destroyed two ancient tapestries that used to hang over her bed. They’d combusted before any of them had noticed the smoke. Azula had been embarrassed by her loss of control, and Ty Lee had later whispered to Mai how cute it was. Mai’s thoughts weren’t about Azula being ‘cute’. She’d been proud despite herself that it had been her fingers and her mouth that had made the princess scream.
Azula stepped back and opened the clasp on the front of Mai’s outer tunic. She’d expected Azula to fumble; Ty Lee had always been the one to undress Mai. But her hands were steady. Azula pushed the tunic from her shoulders, and it fell to the ground with a snap, weighed down by the knife belt within it. Azula’s fingers brushed her neck as she opened the hidden buttons of Mai’s collar. Mai shivered. As soon as her neck was bare, Azula’s lips fell to it. She used her teeth, but gently, and it took every bit of self-control Mai had to keep her hands by her side.
Mai’s hair came undone next, and it fell in heavy waves over her shoulders. Azula nuzzled it and breathed its scent, invoking a shiver. Azula was possessive and appreciative in one, as if she were categorizing Mai’s body as her own once again.
Azula’s fingers continued opening Mai’s under-tunic, and her lips and teeth traced the path across Mai’s right shoulder. She bit the end of Mai’s collarbone and laved it with her tongue as she unbelted the tunic and pushed it over Mai’s shoulders. When she returned to Mai’s mouth, Mai couldn’t stop herself; she tangled her fingers in Azula’s soft hair and yanked her close for a hard kiss. She pushed her tongue into Azula’s mouth and moaned when, for the first time, Azula let her dictate the kiss. It was new; it was exciting; and it was what she’d been missing.
Mai lost track of anything but exploring Azula’s mouth and was surprised to find she was naked except her boots and her weapon sheaths. When Azula pulled away, Mai let a moan of protest escape. Azula studied her with a smile and murmured, “Dangerous, beautiful Mai.”
Azula’s statement didn’t anger her, not when she dropped to her knees in front of Mai. The princess never done that before. Never. Azula’s mouth sucked at the skin of her thighs as her hands worked to free the sheaths that covered Mai’s shins. Mai shook herself out of her daze long enough to pull off the bands on her forearms. When she dropped them, one sharp end of a stiletto gouged the wooden floor.
Azula laughed as she traced the gouge with her finger. “I’ll remember that mark fondly,” she said. Mai trembled. Seeing that, Azula looked up at her and smiled. The expression was almost tender. She tugged at Mai’s boot, and it only took a few more moments before Mai was naked, barefoot, and weaponless.
Azula stood and gave her a little push, and Mai was too caught up to protest the inherent order in that gesture. She went to the bed and lay down on it.
She did say, “Lose the robe.” She’d never heard herself sound like that before.
Azula cocked an eyebrow and obeyed without a word.
The sight of Azula’s muscled, curved body was too much. Mai’s groan was wanton and completely unladylike, but she didn’t give a flying fuck about her mother’s lecture on how to ‘appropriately’ bed a lover. Her mother had never known she’d been having sex with royalty for a year before she’d shared Zuko’s bed. Her mother would have been horrified that she’d fucked Azula and she’d fucked Ty Lee and they’d fucked her. That she loved fucking them, that she got lost in it, that she missed both of them. Her mother would only approve that she’d never lost her composure with Zuko.
She used to tell herself it had been Ty Lee that had made the difference. That if Ty Lee had been in bed with her and Zuko, it would have been closer to what she’d shared with Azula. It was a lie in several ways: without Azula, Mai and Ty Lee had drifted apart too…even though Ty Lee had chosen Mai. She still didn’t understand it. Ty Lee could have kept Azula, yet she’d taken Mai’s side. And now they’d drifted so far apart anyway.
Azula seized her attention again when she settled over Mai and kissed her hard. Mai thrust up against her, rubbing their breasts together desperately. She needed…
Azula’s palm cupped between her legs, then squeezed. Mai rubbed against her, gasping openly now. She moaned as Azula whispered in her ear, “I love your cunt. You’re so wet for me. I’m going to fuck you until you beg me to stop. This is only the first time—”
Mai canted her hips up and screamed as she came. Azula laughed in her ear, not at her, but in pleasure and triumph. She kissed Mai more gently this time, then moved down Mai’s body, kissing her neck, her sternum, her breasts, her belly, and…
Mai twisted Azula’s hair in her hands as Azula licked between her legs. Licked her cunt. Cunt, she thought fiercely. Her mother would be horrified that she thought that, no matter that Azula had said it. Mai loved hearing the word whispered from Azula’s lips. She whimpered and rocked her hips. Azula had taken the edge off before, and now she was delirious from the slow rise of her passion. She couldn’t stop her pleas; she didn’t want to hide them: “Azula, please… Don’t stop, Azula…”
Mai’s toes curled as she peaked. Her orgasm was softer and slower, but it wrung her out just the same. Azula ascended her body with her mouth again, and when she kissed Mai, Mai tasted herself on Azula’s lips.
“Marvelous,” Azula whispered fiercely.
She pushed a finger into Mai and caressed her, and Mai accepted the touch with a shiver. Azula’s mouth found hers again. This time, her kiss was all softness. “Ty Lee brought me something you might like.” She kissed Mai again. “I’m going to get it. I’m coming back.”
When Azula left it room, it felt desperately empty without her encompassing presence. Mai dropped a forearm over her eyes and tried to catch her breath. This was too much. It wasn’t fair to be dragged back down so easily. She’d had a plan before this, a good plan: marry Zuko, be the Fire Lady. That plan was in shambles again, broken by Mai’s weakness to Azula.
The door slid open then closed, and Azula sat back down on the bed. She handed Mai a cup, and Mai stared at it for a moment. “Water,” Azula said, taking a few big swallows from her own cup. Mai’s mother had taught her to always take small sips no matter how thirsty she was. Mai gulped the water greedily.
Azula’s mouth was cool against hers. She still tasted like Mai: a musky non-taste that made Mai shiver in remembrance of the soft, slow licks of her tongue. Perhaps Azula thought of the same thing; she licked inside Mai’s mouth just as she’d licked between her legs. Azula took the empty cup from her and pushed Mai back down against her pillows. She unwrapped the bundle in her lap, and brushed the item against Mai’s belly.
It was cool, polished wood, shaped in a tapered cylinder. There was a handle on the broad end with grips for a hand.
“Ty Lee enjoyed this immensely. She called it a toy. I wonder if they make a kind a woman can wear,” Azula said, her voice rich and dark. “Would you like to enjoy the toy like Ty Lee did? Do you want me to fuck you with it?”
Azula smiled and slicked the toy with oil. Mai expected her to be rough and push it deep without thought, but Azula used the tip to tease her gently—her nipples, then her cunt. Oh, god, she’d bent heat to warm the oil, and it was a sharp pleasure. Mai canted her hips up in wordless request. Azula breathed in her ear and then kissed her. Her mouth was soft this time. Her kisses were gentle and steady, and Mai was still realizing it when Azula pushed the toy inside her.
She was full, stretched, and it felt so good. She wanted Azula to hold her down and fuck her until she screamed. Azula had other ideas. She continued her soft kisses until Mai had softened her own lips in response. Azula rewarded her with a gentle, deep thrust. The angle she took hit a place inside her that had Mai gasping against Azula’s lips.
“Faster,” Mai pleaded.
“No,” Azula replied softly. “Just like this. Until you come all over me.”
Mai sobbed at the thought.
Her kisses remained soft, her thrusts stayed at that slow rhythm, and Mai was lost in all of it. She’d thought that it was the power and demand and harshness of Azula that were the only things missing from when she was with Zuko sexually. She’d been wrong…this way was so desperately good, so much better than it had ever been with him.
Azula was gentle with her and soft with her and moved so slow with her, and she still made Mai scream and soak them both with a powerful orgasm.
Mai pressed the heels of her hands against her eyes as she sobbed with the aftereffects. Her hips jerked, and her body still shook with spasms as Azula withdrew. Then Azula’s fingers slipped into her hair, and her body was a welcome weight. She didn’t say anything about Mai’s tears.
As she regained her breath and senses, Mai relaxed. She turned her head on the pillow and reached out to touch Azula’s face in wonder. Azula didn’t rebuff her touch, nor did she rebuff Mai’s command: “Lie down.”
Azula obeyed. Mai settled on her elbow and pinched one of Azula’s nipples. Azula’s body jolted and she showed a flash of her perfect white teeth. Her hips lifted in wordless request. Mai cast her fingers down Azula’s body, gratified by how wet and swollen she was. Mai had missed that response. Azula was so aroused that Mai slipped two fingers inside her easily, which was not common for her. She might even be able to accept the toy. The thought of fucking Azula with it—while it was still wet from her own body—made Mai gasp.
Not tonight though. They would do it later: tomorrow or the next night or when Ty Lee came back to them. Tonight, Mai withdrew her fingers and pressed back inside, then rubbed Azula’s pulsing walls gently.
Azula came with a gasp. Her hands tightened around Mai’s shoulders, and Mai almost wished for the sting of sharp nails on her skin. In the past, she’d liked to shift just to feel the pain of her clothes over them and remind herself that she could undo Azula like she did.
Mai brushed Azula’s lips with her wet fingers, and Azula opened her mouth and sucked them clean. Then Mai drew close to sample Azula. Their kisses continued, soft and heavy and wonderful, until Mai felt the beginnings of sleepiness. When they stopped, they lay in shared silence—just barely touching—for a long time.
Finally, Azula said, “I’ll fight for you this time.”
Mai stiffened. Only Azula could shatter the peace they’d just shared in such a horrible way. She sat up, prepared to snatch up her clothes and leave. “I’m not your possession!”
“Did I say you were?” Azula asked calmly. Her hand stroked down Mai’s back. “Obviously you have control over this, which is why I will fight for you, not claim you as mine. I, however, reserve the right to do everything I can to make myself the best option in your eyes. To make you love me.”
Mai stilled and slowly relaxed; she lay back down.
“What can I do?” Azula asked her.
She’d already done most of it. “I’m not your servant.”
“Yes,” Azula said. It was Azula-speak; she had replied like she was answering a question. It was, in long form: ‘Yes, I agree you are not my servant.’
“I will go where I please when I please and be with whom I please.”
“Yes. But I won’t share you sexually,” Azula said firmly.
“What about Ty Lee?”
That provoked a sigh that suggested Azula was losing patience. She waved an elegant hand in a vague gesture. “Ty Lee is part of this, as she always has been.”
“We’ll be like this sometimes too, just us,” Mai demanded.
“Yes,” Azula said. “As I may just be with Ty Lee sometimes, and you and Ty Lee with each other sometimes. No doubt we will be apart for periods of time; there’s no reason to abstain from each other in that case or otherwise.”
“You won’t harm Zuko.”
“Yes, I won’t harm him,” Azula said. Mai could hear the eye-roll in that reply. “How long do you think it will take him to ask me to take over?”
“We’re not talking about him.”
“Yes,” Azula said and fell silent. She hooked a finger against Mai’s hand and caressed her gently.
Mai took a long breath and sighed. She didn’t protest when Azula rolled onto her side and wrapped her in an embrace. Her sleep, when it came, was easy.
Mai fumbled for a pillow and pulled it over her face to block out the sunlight. There was something off about her surroundings that kept her from fading back into sleep.
There was no birdsong in the royal district or the royal palace.
Her pillow smelled of…Azula.
Then she remembered.
She supposed she should have been angry at herself. She couldn’t summon the emotion; she felt too good. She was sexually and, surprisingly, emotionally satiated. Mai sat up in bed and stretched. As expected, she was alone. Azula had always been early to rise. She was a morning person in a way only she could be: sharp and fierce and cheerfully arrogant when all Mai wanted to do was smother her with a pillow. She had that to look forward to, didn’t she? With energetic Ty Lee too. Goodie.
A robe had been left on a chair in the corner. Mai pulled it on, not giving a damn that it didn’t cover the bruises that were probably all over her neck. She opened the door to the wooden porch and stepped outside into the cool morning. She followed the sound of voices.
Azula sat at a table in the garden with Ursa for breakfast. They weren’t speaking to one another, but the silence didn’t seem uncomfortable. Azula glanced up and saw her, and her resulting smile was all predatory satisfaction. Mai settled at the table and accepted the teacup a servant placed at her elbow. As she raised it to her lips, she smelled Azula’s spicy scent on her fingers.
Ursa was looking at Mai in horror. “No!” she said. “No, you didn’t, Azula!” She turned back to Mai. “But you’re Zuko’s betrothed!”
“I’m not his possession,” Mai said, irritation softened by how absolutely good she felt. “He hasn’t asked me to marry him and I wouldn’t have said ‘yes’ anyway.”
“What about Ty Lee?” Ursa’s question was thrown sharply at Azula.
Azula cocked her head and regarded Mai; her full lips pursed in a smirk. “I suppose we should write her. How long do you think it will take her to get here? We’ll need a bigger bed.”
There were no words to describe the expression on Ursa’s face as she realized that they all shared each other.
“I will not allow this perversion to go on in my house!” Flame flicked from Ursa’s mouth as she said those words. She was apparently spitting mad. No wonder Azula and Zuko had such hot tempers.
Azula leaned back carelessly. “Fine. Pike Island is lovely this time of year, isn’t it, Mai? My servants there will be pleased I’ve finally visited the finished estate.”
“Estate?” Ursa asked sharply.
“I invested in a little invention a few years ago. It paid back in…thousands of percentages I suppose, and I bought a little house on a quaint island with some of the money I made.”
She’d made over three million gold pieces after taxes—was still making more, probably—on the investment. At the age of thirteen, she’d been gleeful about being able to purchase property without using any of the crown’s money; she’d called it her birthday present to herself. Azula had shared the estate architecture plans with Mai and Ty Lee during one of their classes at the academy. The house, the entire estate, was enormous and lavish. Pike Island was a resort of the highest proportion, ringed by vineyards that produced wine people of all nations paid a fortune to sample. It would be paradise.
It sounded wonderful to Mai.
“We can pick up Ty Lee on our way,” Mai said dryly. “She’ll finally be the individual she always dreamed of.”
Azula rewarded her words with a slow smile.
Maybe Azula had been waiting for them to find her again to leave Ursa’s household. Maybe she’d thought she would be lonely living by herself on Pike Island. Maybe she wanted to christen her new house with them. Maybe she’d just been waiting to become a legal adult at the age of sixteen and Ty Lee and Mai were both a happy coincidence. Who knew the inner machinations of Azula’s unpredictable mind? Whatever her plan had been, it had worked to reunite them.
Ty Lee took one look at Mai and Azula standing together on Kyoshi Island and rushed off to strip from her uniform, wash her face, and turn in her resignation papers to the leader of the Kyoshi Warriors.
They didn’t leave their lavish cabin’s bed the whole time they were aboard the ship on the way to Pike Island. Mai was, despite herself, happy…even when they woke her up at the crack of dawn the first day. Ty Lee had looked up at Mai from between her legs and grinned, and Azula had whispered in her ear about how good it was they were all back together…and it hadn’t taken much to forgive that, had it?
Azula and Ty Lee stopped at Pike Island. Mai spent one night there—’christening their awesome new house’, Ty Lee said—before she took a ship to Capital City. She had to hire a carriage to the palace because the palace transport wouldn’t take her, and Zuko made her wait all day before he would see her.
“So that’s it?” he asked sharply when they finally let her in his office. He didn’t even rise from his desk to greet her. Mai supposed Ursa had written him the news. “You spend one night with Azula and suddenly you’re her little servant again?”
Mai rolled her eyes.
Zuko threw the scroll in his hand across the room. “Fuck!” he snarled. “She’s a liar. She’ll never love you. She’ll never treat you right!”
“If she doesn’t, I’ll leave.”
“You really think she’ll let you leave?!” Zuko had clearly missed her point. “What did she promise you?”
Some part of Mai had still hoped Zuko would turn out to be the person she needed him to be. He was only proving he would never be that person. She hoped he found happiness with someone else, a girl who wanted to be treated gently and not coveted. Mai looked at him and sighed.
“She told me she’d do whatever she needed to do for me to be with her.” Mai only said it because she wanted him to understand why.
Zuko raised his hands in anger; his face betrayed disappointment. “She doesn’t have a clue what you need!”
“Which is why she asked me what I need.” She didn’t say ‘unlike you’, but he guessed it all the same.
“What is this?” Zuko asked her angrily. “Some kind of ploy to make me give you gifts or make me jealous or make me beg?”
He didn’t get it. He never would. Much of it wasn’t his fault; she hoped he’d figure that out. She gave up. “I just thought I should tell you face to face.”
“Great, good. Leave me for my little sister.” He waved her away in disgust. She was glad to leave him this time. She knew she wouldn’t be back again. If she ever became Fire Lady, she would do it standing next to Azula and Ty Lee.
Ty Lee was waiting for her at the gates of the estate. She met Mai with a long, salacious kiss that made the carriage driver trip headlong in the dust. Ty Lee giggled, gave him a little wave, and threaded her fingers with Mai’s as they walked up to the house. Mai tolerated her grip despite Ty Lee’s incessant need to swing their hands.
“You gonna stay?” Ty Lee asked her hopefully. “No more Zuko?”
“No more boys,” Mai said pointedly.
Ty Lee gave a little shrug. “We were all trying to make each other jealous, weren’t we?”
Mai supposed that she had started that imbalance. She’d been so angry from Ba Sing Se—the risks Azula had taken, that she hadn’t allowed Mai or Ty Lee to protect her for that last battle, that they’d been replaced by the Dai Li just like that—and then Zuko had been there, embodying every goal and dream and demand that her parents had ever made of her. She’s snatched the chance up, part of her secretly hoping Azula would fight for her. Those few days on Ember Island had just stirred the pot up, and then they’d boiled over at Boiling Rock.
She took a breath and let it all go. Mai gave Ty Lee’s hand a little squeeze. “You were right,” she admitted. “She has changed.”
“Of course I’m right, silly!” Ty Lee laughed. “Don’t try to kill her again, okay? Taking a side really sucked.”
Mai was finally able to ask the question that had haunted her since that day. “Why did you take my side?”
Ty Lee pursed her lips. “I didn’t. I took my own side. One of you was going to die if you fought, so I had to stop you both.”
“Why did you attack Azula and not me?” Mai clarified. She dropped Ty Lee’s hand and folded her arms, nervous about the answer.
“She was closer.”
Mai stared at Ty Lee in shock. “She was closer to you…physically?”
“Yeah.” Ty Lee frowned. “That was awful. Poor Azula! We hurt her feelings really bad. We can’t do that again. I don’t think she’ll forgive us a second time. So we have to be good to each other. If we fight, only words, no violence!”
There had never been an imbalance at all. Trust Ty Lee to make simple decisions, and trust Mai to overthink them. Mai took a long breath and felt a strange lightness descend on her. She watched Azula walk across the wooden porch, waiting for them to join her. Mai smiled, took Ty Lee’s hand again, and they walked towards the girl who bound them together.
Come what may, they would have each other.