The first time, Azula wakes up and she is thirteen years old again. It’s fall, and the leaves are changing. It’s the first day of school. It is the day she met Ty Lee.
She remembers this age. She’d hated it the first time, and she’s not looking forward to living it again.
She thinks, all she has to do to save Ty Lee is never befriend her at school. It’s Azula’s fault Ty Lee became a witch, Azula’s fault Ty Lee died, because it’s Azula’s fault Ty Lee became a magical girl in the first place.
Azula is still a magical girl. Her soul is still a warm glowing gem, clear and electric blue.
She hunts witches, goes to school and tries to make sure Ty Lee doesn’t notice her, comes home and eats dinner silently while her parents attack each other verbally. (At least they haven’t noticed Azula acting strangely- they are too wrapped up in their battle with each other to note that Azula is acting any differently than usual.)
At night, she goes out again to hunt more witches. Sleep is less important. Keeping the city safe is what matters right now. Ty Lee isn’t in danger of being Azula’s friend, this time, but who knows what other changes Azula has brought about? Azula wasn’t a magical girl this early, last time. Maybe there will be a ripple effect. Maybe if Azula misses a witch, Ty Lee will be in danger.
It won’t happen, though. This time, Ty Lee will be safe. Azula is making sure of it. And, well, if she ends up with bags under her eyes from the lack of sleep, that’s what magic is for.
Azula doesn’t befriend Mai, either- the two of them are inseparable at school, and if she’s avoiding Ty Lee, she has to avoid them both.
Her soul gem gets cloudier and cloudier over the next few weeks, no matter how many grief seeds she uses. She ignores this fact. It doesn’t matter. What matters is Ty Lee. It doesn’t matter that Azula is thirteen and stuck in a house where her mom and dad are fighting constantly. (It will be fine- her mom will leave in a couple months for good, and Azula knows how to deal with her dad.) It doesn’t matter that Azula has said all of two sentences at a time to anyone for the past few weeks. (She doesn’t need friends. She doesn’t need anyone.)
There’s another magical girl in town. Azula hadn’t known her, the first time around. She must have died or become a witch long before Azula contracted, the first time. Magical girls don’t tend to last long. This is the only magical girl Azula has encountered in this timeline so far. She hasn’t even seen Kyubey yet. She decides to introduce herself. Not because she needs a friend, but because she needs to evaluate the competition for grief seeds. This town is too small to support two resident magical girls at once. Others come and go (and often become witches to for Azula to hunt), but Azula needs to be the only permanent magical girl of this town.
They’re going to end up fighting, Azula knows it. This will be like the Toph situation all over again (except that Toph is so much younger now, and probably isn’t even a magical girl yet. Time travel is strange.)
Azula has only seen the other girl from a distance. She fights with a whip, and she is competent. Azula likes competent people in general. She thinks, maybe this girl can be reasoned with.
The other magical girl’s gem is blue, too, though lighter in color than Azula’s. Seafoam-colored and frosted-looking, but not cloudy in the way that indicates she needs a grief seed. She introduces herself at once, before Azula even has a chance.
“I’m Katara,” she says. “Are you new? I’ve seen you fight- you’re really good!”
Azula would normally brush her off, or warn her away. That’s what she should do now. Instead she says, “Azula,” and gives what she hopes is a friendly smile. She doesn’t know why. (That is a lie. She knows exactly why- she is pathetically lonely, and this is the first person she has had a chance to really talk to in over a month.)
Katara put a lot of thought into her wish, she explains in the following days and weeks. “I mean, there are stories about spirits who grant wishes, and it always goes wrong, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t say something stupid.”
“What did you wish for, then?”
Katara says, brightly, “I wished for my mom back. She died three years ago. I wished that she’d never died in the first place. It’s been working out great.”
Azula frowns. She can’t imagine wanting her mother around. She’s always gotten along better with her dad. He’s more predictable. She can deal with predictable, even if he’s not nice.
“Was it worth it?” Azula asks. “Being a magical girl is dangerous, you know. It will eventually kill you.”
“My mom is a doctor,” Katara says, obviously prepared for this question. “She saves lives every day. I figure, while I’m alive I won’t be missing her, and if I die, she’ll go on saving people. The world is a little better with her in it.” She smiles. “What did you wish for?”
Azula looks down. “My girlfriend died,” she says, finally. “She was a magical girl, and it’s my fault she became one in the first place. So I wished to go back and save her. I was fifteen. I didn’t realize I would be going back so far.”
Katara says, “Have you saved her, then?”
Azula says, “I think so. We haven’t talked this time around. We aren’t even friends. It was my fault she died, so I need to stay away from her. But it’s worth it if she survives.”
Katara frowns, but says nothing.
(Azula does not notice, this time, how sad Katara looks. That comes in another timeline)
A couple weeks later, Katara goes missing. Her parents and brother put up posters around town. Azula even sees Katara’s mom, once. She wonders if Katara’s mom suspects anything. She can’t know that Katara used up a wish on her, but surely she realizes something is wrong. Katara only has one sibling, and it seems from a distance like Katara’s parents are very involved. It’s not like Azula’s family, which is about to break apart for good, and it’s not like Ty Lee’s, which is too large to keep track of anyone’s whereabouts at all.
Azula assumes a witch killed Katara. Azula wouldn’t have been sad about that before. She thinks, being without Ty Lee is messing with her. Azula should be glad that she doesn’t have to share her grief seeds, not upset that she has no one to talk to.
Her soul gem is dark, though, and she can’t seem to find a single witch to kill, to get a grief seed to clear it. (She thinks, is Katara around somewhere after all, and snatching up all the grief seeds for herself. But then, why hasn’t Azula seen her?)
After a week of no witches, she bumps into Ty Lee in the hall. Ty Lee wasn’t watching where she was going. Azula doesn’t notice who it is for a moment, and is about to snap, but then, to her horror, she feels tears welling up in her eyes instead.
“Are you okay?” Ty Lee asks. “Gosh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think I’d bumped you that hard!”
Azula turns on her heel and runs. She ends up in the girl’s bathroom, and locks herself in a stall to cry alone.
Of course, there is no universe where Ty Lee has any sense of boundaries.
“Are you alright?” Ty Lee asks, through the stall door, only a moment later. “Are you hurt?”
“Leave me alone,”Azula says. She’s sitting on the floor of the stall, leaning against the wall. The middle school bathroom smells faintly of bleach and piss. Azula has only ever had three friends in her life, and all of them are lost to her. Her soul gem is clouded and she hates her life, and still Ty Lee won’t leave her alone- which would be nice, except that she’s going to die if she becomes friends with Azula.
Ty Lee says, “I’m coming in.”
Azula wants to protest, but she doesn’t have time. There’s a trick to the stalls at this school, that you can unlatch them if you jog the stall door the right way. Ty Lee obviously figured this out at some point, too, because she lets herself into Azula’s stall. She takes one look at Azula and says, “You’re Katara’s friend. I saw the two of you talking a few times.”
Azula shrugs, wipes her eyes furiously.
“I know she’s been missing for over a week now,” Ty Lee says. “But you can’t give up hope! She could turn up any time!”
The tears start again.
Ty Lee crouches down next to Azula. “I’m Ty Lee,” she says. “You’re Azula, right?”
Azula should tell her to mind her own business. She should push her as far away as possible. Azula is a magical girl. She’s poison to everything she touches. It’s bad enough that Ty Lee has noticed her at some point, that Ty Lee knows her name. Azula should drive her away, make sure that Ty Lee doesn’t want to be friends, let alone girlfriends, later.
She nods mutely.
Ty Lee pulls some toilet paper from the roll and folds it neatly before handing it to Azula. “Here.”
Azula takes it, blows her nose, and says, “I don’t know what to do.”
Ty Lee says, “Talking sometimes helps. I probably don’t have any answers, but I can listen.”
Haltingly, Azula says, “What would you do if you knew that being around you put your friends in danger?”
“Tell them!” Ty Lee says at once. “They deserve to know.”
“Really?” Azula says. “What if being around you might even kill them?”
Ty Lee looks thoughtful. “Well,” she said, “I think you would have to warn them, of course. It might scare away a lot of people. But some will stick around.” She smiles at Azula. “But I think you’re being a little dramatic.” She frowns. “Unless- is this about Katara? Do you know something?”
Azula shakes her head. “No.” Honestly, she doesn’t. She just assumed, when Katara disappeared...
That doesn’t matter now.
She takes a breath. Ty Lee has always been her conscience, the one who tells her what is right or wrong. If Ty Lee says that she should be honest in this case, well, she will be.
She starts out vague. “I had a friend,” she says. “She- she was the nicest person I ever knew. She always tried to see the best in everyone. In me, too… I didn’t deserve it.”
Ty Lee sits down with her. Azula knows for a fact that Ty Lee has a class now. (She has Ty Lee’s schedule memorized.) Ty Lee doesn’t seem to mind, though. She just listens.
“She died,” Azula says, after too long a pause.
Ty Lee takes Azula’s hands. “I’m sorry,” she says.
“It’s my fault,” Azula says. “She was doing something dangerous. If we hadn’t been friends, she wouldn’t have wished…”
She is crying again. She does not bother to wipe her tears, because Ty Lee has her hands.
“This isn’t about Katara, is it?” Ty Lee asks, worried. ”If you do know something-”
“Katara is probably dead too,” Azula says, a little more harshly than she means to.
Ty Lee lets go of her hands, and looks at her sadly. “You can’t give up hope,” she says.
Magical girls run on hope as sure as cars run on gasoline. And Azula still has hope that Ty Lee will survive. She is going to find out why there are no witches around. If there’s another magical girl here, she’ll find them.
“Thank you,” Azula says.
Ty Lee just looks confused.
Katara’s witch shows up at the school the next day. She has shrouded herself not only in a labyrinth, but in the labyrinths of other witches, puppeteering the other witches so that Azula has to fight each one in turn before she finds Katara’s witch at the center of a vast ocean. There are no tricks here, not at the center. The water tries to attack her, forming pillars and waves and whips, but Azula expects that. It’s not hard to win.
At least three students drown in the final labyrinth, having apparently tagged along behind Azula as she cleared the way to their doom. Their bodies wash out of the labyrinth near the end of the battle, and so there is at least something to bury.
One of them is Ty Lee. Azula had thought that she was far away from the fight.
Azula allows herself five minutes. There hadn’t been a body last time to mourn. Azula uses the grief seeds she got from the battle- saving Katara’s for last- and resets.
Azula has a family, much good that it does her. She left them, the first time, when she was fifteen and became a magical girl. It wasn’t out of some misplaced sense of duty to protect them. It was because she genuinely disliked them, and she didn’t need them anymore. Her mother was clingy and emotional and weak, and her father was an abusive asshole- not usually to Azula, but in general. Her brother Zuko had ditched them years ago- one year ago, now, she supposes- to live with Uncle Iroh on the other side of town. Azula wasn’t a charity case like Zuko, though. She didn’t need anyone’s help.
She doesn’t talk to Katara. She knows where Katara lives, this time around, and where her usual hunting routes are. It’s easy to avoid her. Easier than looking at her and seeing Ty Lee, drowned and cold. Easier than remembering Katara’s grief seed as it pulled the last of the darkness from Azula’s soul. (Katara would want to be useful in death, Azula assures herself. She was- is- noble like that.)
A few weeks into the next timeline, Zuko finds her at school and drags her into an unwanted conversation next to her locker.
“Mom says you’re acting weird,” he tells her. “She’s worried about you, but she knows you aren’t going to talk to her. What’s going on?”
“Like she would know about ‘weird,’” Azula says, but honestly she’s just surprised anyone noticed. She must be slipping, if it’s bad enough that her mom noticed.
Zuko waits. He looks super pissed off already. Time with Uncle has not taught him to keep his temper, but apparently he has learned to keep quiet for a minute or two.
Because Zuko won’t believe it, Azula says, “I’ve traveled back in time to save a friend. I’m living this month over for the third time now, and I don’t have time for homework or chores when her life in in my hands.”
Zuko scowls even harder. “Like you have friends,” he says, as if that’s the most unbelievable part of what she’s just said.
Across the hall, Ty Lee comes out of her English class. Azula frowns and ducks her head. She’s been avoiding Ty Lee. She thinks, it’s less than three weeks until Katara turns into a witch. She has to keep an eye on Ty Lee until then. She has to go to school until then. After that, she’s a free bird. She’ll leave Ty Lee in relative safety.
Zuko says, “Come on. What’s really eating at you? I know something is wrong. Is it dad? Has he done something to upset you?”
“Is this guy bothering you?”
Azula looks up again, though she knows that voice without looking. It’s Ty Lee, of course.
“I’m fine,” Azula says, even though she can’t quite make it sound convincing.
Zuko lets out something that resembles an actual growl and walks away.
Ty Lee smiles at Azula. “I’m Ty Lee,” she says. “You’re Azula, right? My friend Mai is in your algebra class. Who was that guy?”
“Just my stupid brother,” Azula says. And then, before she can help it, she says, “Thanks, though. He’s- annoying.”
She ought to be cold and cruel, to drive Ty Lee away. She’s failing. She can’t bring herself to be mean to Ty Lee, no matter the circumstances.
“Do you want to get lunch with us?” Ty Lee asks.
Azula says, “I can’t,” and walks away.
Katara becomes a witch and attacks the school the next day. Azula should have had weeks, and she doesn’t understand what changed. And in the midst of the battle, when Ty Lee should have been safe outside, she rushes in and tries to save Azula. She ends up in the labyrinth again, and before Azula can get to her, she ends up dead, cut apart by deadly ribbons that should have come for Azula instead. (Azula could handle them.)
Ty Lee didn’t even know Azula.
This time, she befriends Katara earlier, and puts more effort into the friendship. When she notices Katara’s soul gem getting dim anyway, a few weeks later, she hands her a spare grief seed.
“You look like you need this,” she says neutrally.
Katara looks pathetically grateful as she uses it to pull the darkness out of her soul. “Still good for one more use,” she tells Azula, offering it back, but Azula just shakes her head. “Keep it,” she says. “I have another.”
She doesn’t care about Katara, she thinks to herself. She doesn’t care about anyone.
That hasn’t been true for a long time, though, no matter how much she might wish otherwise. (Magical girls only get one wish, and Azula has used hers up.)
She notices Katara talking to Ty Lee a while after that. She waits til the conversation is over, and then warns Katara, “Stay away from her.”
Katara says, “What? Why? She’s my friend!”
“She’s the one I’m protecting,” Azula says. “I don’t want her anywhere near any of this. She didn’t contract with Kyuubei for another year from now, the first time around.”
“You should warn her,” Katara says. “If she’s really your friend…”
“She’s not,” Azula says, too much bitterness leaking into her voice. “Not yet. Maybe not ever, now. But I’m still going to keep her safe.”
Katara’s family moves not too long after that, and while Azula wishes her well, she isn’t sorry to see her go. Magical girls only last so long, and they are dangerous to everyone around them when they become witches. Azula has already lost Ty Lee twice to Katara’s witch. She won’t let it happen again.
Twice, Ty Lee becomes a magical girl. Twice, Azula resets the timeline to fix that mistake.
The first time, she doesn't even know what Ty Lee wishes for. They aren't friends, though Ty Lee knows Azula's name, and they've spoken once or twice.
They meet in a parking garage, both on the trail of the same witch. Ty Lee's outfit is pink and cute, layers of frills- of course it is. It was the first time, too. Kyubey is with her, and Azula has never wanted to strangle it more than she does now.
Ty Lee doesn't have a weapon. She has never needed one.
It feels right to see her like this. It feels so wrong. Ty Lee looks like the girl she was when they started dating, not like the stranger she has been to Azula lately. (Ty Lee isn't safe.)
"I didn't know you were a magical girl, too!" Ty Lee says, all bright and cheerful.
"What did you wish for?" Azula asks, more harshly than she intended to.
"That's a little personal," Ty Lee says. She doesn't look offended, just a bit bemused.
"You shouldn't be here," Azula says. "Not yet- I should have had another year-"
Ty Lee says, "You want the grief seeds all to yourself." She sounds disappointed. Azula knows that tone well. Ty Lee had always believed Azula wasn't living up to what she could be. Azula could be nicer. Azula could be less selfish. Azula could try to warm up to people a little more.
It turned out she was right.
Azula shakes her head. "It's not about that," she insists.
Ty Lee says, "What is it about, then?"
This timeline is ruined. Azula is going to have to redo an entire year to fix whatever mistake she made this time around.
"I just don't want you to die," she says, and goes back.
It's clear, she realizes, when she wakes up at thirteen years old again, that just leaving Ty Lee alone won't stop her from becoming a magical girl. Ty Lee has other wishes- it's not entirely Azula's fault that she became a magical girl in the first place.
Once, that thought might have been freeing. But not anymore. It's not about how guilty Azula feels- it's about how Ty Lee could die. Will die, if Azula doesn't come up with a new plan.
She befriends Katara again. It's the only sensible thing to do, if she wants to make sure Katara doesn’t become a witch. And it gives her someone to bounce ideas off of.
"You could just tell her what's going to happen," Katara says, after Azula has been pacing and coming up with plans for a solid hour. "She's your friend. She'll listen."
"She doesn't even know who I am," Azula says. She doesn't mean it to come out so sadly.
"I didn't know who you were at first, either," Katara points out. "And don't pretend you haven't made friends with me before- you're not that good an actor."
"I'm a great actor," Azula says. She was once, anyway. She seems to have too many feelings these days. It's hard to hide them. Maybe it's because she's so young again. Her mind is older, but her young body and brain mean her emotional control is weak. Maybe it’s for other reasons.
Still- she doesn't have any better ideas. She can't dissuade Ty Lee from becoming a magical girl unless Ty Lee is willing to listen to her. And she can't get Ty Lee to listen to her unless Ty Lee is her friend.
She doesn't waste time. She carries her lunch tray over to Ty Lee's table the next day.
"I was- um. I was wondering," she asks after an initial uncharacteristic stuttering start, "if you'd like to eat lunch together?" Katara, standing next to her, tries hard to suppress a laugh.
She worries for a moment that Ty Lee already hates her. There is a blink. Ty Lee looks at Katara for a moment for confirmation- oh no, did Ty Lee think Azula was making fun of her?- but then she smiles, apparently reassured.
"Of course," she says warmly.
Ty Lee tries hard to make conversation. Azula keeps remembering her in pink and white frills with power in her hands, keeps remembering her dead and lifeless and drowned.
She hopes she comes across as shy instead of standoffish or strange.
They don't become friends right away. It takes weeks before Ty Lee seems to realize Azula isn't going anywhere. Another month, and she invites Azula to her house to do homework. Azula gets very little done- she finds it difficult to focus on work when it's so dull and when there's so much that's more important.
Ty Lee has six sisters, and all of them look a lot like her. They aren't as pretty as Ty Lee will be, one day. But then again, Azula is biased.
Sometimes Katara joins them, and they all study together. Mostly she doesn’t, though. Someone has to be out there fighting witches. Azula lets Katara take care of some of it, this timeline.
It's a couple months later when Ty Lee says, "Azula, I feel like you know everything about me by now. But you never say anything about yourself or your family, and you never want to hang out at your place. Is- is everything okay?"
Azula looks up from the homework she is pretending to do. "I'm fine," she says automatically. "Everything is... peachy."
She can see Ty Lee doesn't believe her.
Azula can't tell her everything. Ty Lee wouldn't even believe her.
"My mom left," she says, which is true. "Last week." Also true- one of the events that doesn't seem to change no matter what Azula does. Not that she’s tried.
"I'm sorry," Ty Lee says.
"It's fine," Azula says. More quietly, hating herself for all the feelings running through her, she adds, "I would have left, too, if I were her. My dad is a jerk."
She hadn't even realized what a jerk he was, the first few times. She'd been focused on school, and he'd never seemed to care what she did as long as she got good grades and didn't make trouble for him. This time around, her grades are suffering and he doesn’t like it. Her mom offered to take Azula with her when she left, but when Azula had asked, "Where would we live?" her mom had responded "Far away."
Azula couldn't leave Ty Lee. So that was out.
"Why didn't your mom take you with?" Ty Lee asks. "I mean- not that I want you gone. But if your dad is mean..."
Azula just shakes her head, unwilling to explain.
"It's fine," she says. "I'm fine. I mean, it's not like he's ever hit me or anything."
Ty Lee's face says a lot about what she thinks of Azula's standards. She looks so damnably worried.
"He doesn't like my grades," Azula mutters. "He thinks I'm not trying hard enough. And I'm not. I just- have a lot on my mind."
"You always ace the tests," Ty Lee comments. "But you don't turn in half the homework."
Azula only does homework when she's with Ty Lee. Tests are easy- being secretly sixteen makes thirteen-year-old work so much easier. She can't bring herself to care enough about the rest of it. She wouldn't even be going to school at all if Ty Lee and Katara weren't there.
She just shakes her head again. Ty Lee doesn't press anymore, but she does take Azula's hands and warm them in her own.
Katara's family moves a few weeks later. Katara hugs Azula goodbye twice- once at school, and once on the roof of Katara's apartment building. It's their de facto magical girl hangout spot.
"Take care of yourself," Katara says. "I hope for your sake that you never see me again. I don't want you coming back in time again, okay?"
"I'll do my best," Azula says.
She spots Kyuubei three times the next week. It's looking for a new magical girl to replace Katara. She's wise to it this time.
"You can't have her," she tells it, when she spots it in the shadows of a parking lot near Ty Lee's house late one night.
"Hmm?" it says to her, in her head. Its voice grates on her nerves. It is so calculated to appeal to young girls- but she's not a preteen anymore, and she never liked it to begin with. She'd only contracted because she was desperate. "Oh, a magical girl. But I didn't contract you." It sounds so curious.
She hates it so much. "If you touch her," she tells it, "I will spend the rest of my life hunting you down and killing you. I don't care how many of you there are- eventually I'll kill you all."
It doesn't seem to mind, though. It just flicks its tail at her and disappears deeper into the shadows.
A few days later, Ty Lee asks Azula, "What would you wish for, if you got one wish?"
"I don't trust wishes," Azula tells her. "Ty Lee- if anyone ever offers you a wish, be very, very careful."
Ty Lee shrugs this off. "You wouldn't wish for your dad to be nice to you? For your mom to come back?"
Ty Lee has a thing or two to learn about free will, Azula realizes. But then, she's thirteen. Almost fourteen, now. Azula's birthday was last week- she’s fourteen already. "No," she says. "There are reasons that my mom left. And my dad is a force of nature- no wish could make him palatable."
Ty Lee is unconvinced.
Azula says, "You talked to it, didn't you?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Ty Lee lies badly.
"It offered me a wish, once," Azula said.
"Did you take it?" Ty Lee asks.
Azula can't lie to Ty Lee. "Yes," she says, finally. "There wasn't much choice."
Ty Lee leans in, looking alarmed. "What did you wish for?"
Azula can't tell her. She can’t think about Ty Lee dying, not again.
"I'm sorry," she says, and bolts.
They don't talk about it again. Not that timeline. They both pretend that conversation never happened. Azula wishes she could bring it up again. But that means admitting that Ty Lee died so many times. It means (frills and chill beneath her fingers) telling Ty Lee about her wish. Both of their wishes.
She can't do it. Not now, maybe never.
She avoids Ty Lee for a few days. It's the wrong thing to do, and Azula knows it, but she can't talk to her right now.
The next time they meet, it's on top of the roof of Katara's apartment building.
"I called Katara," Ty Lee says. "She said you might be here."
Ty Lee is dressed in frills.
"I didn't want you to be alone," she tells Azula. “Don’t-”
Azula resets without even thinking.
Her soul gem is darker than it has ever been before. Azula thinks of giving up, but only for a moment. She throws herself into killing witches this time. She leaves home, which has always been miserable anyway. She stops going to school. It’s fall, and chilly, but not so chilly that a little magic can’t keep her warm.
She runs into Ty Lee a few days later. She’s dressed normally. Not in her magical girl outfit. Azula doesn’t understand why she’s even here, on Katara’s roof.
"Your mom has posters up," Ty Lee tells her. "Azula-"
"You don't even know me," Azula spits out.
"I know you," Ty Lee says sadly. "Katara told me a little, you know. She said- she said if I didn't know what to wish for, to wish for you to carry my memories with you through time, so that I wouldn’t forget anymore. I didn't know what she meant. But I wanted to be a magical girl, and it seemed like as good a wish as any. And then- I woke up, and I remembered a future that hadn’t happened."
"No," Azula says, and before she can think she is resetting, resetting, resetting. She wakes in her bed and resets again, but it does no good. She can't go any farther back than this moment.
She sobs into her pillow. Ty Lee is a magical girl, and Azula's powers can't fix that. Never again. Ty Lee is beyond saving. She’s contracted in a way that comes with Azula.
It is several more frantic resets later that Azula gives up and falls back asleep. Her mom thinks she's sick, and doesn't make her go to school.
There is a light knock on the Azula's bedroom door. Her mom again, probably.
"Go away," Azula says, but the door opens anyway.
“Don’t reset,” Ty Lee says, from the door. “It took a good two hours to sneak out of school and get here, and I don’t want to have to do it again.”
Azula says nothing.
“What did you wish for?” Ty Lee asks, from the doorway. “There’s some reason you become a magical girl, something you wanted. You keep coming back to this moment. What are you trying to accomplish?”
Azula just shakes her head.
“It doesn’t matter,” Azula tells her. “There’s nothing left here for me. I-”
Her nails are digging into her palms. She loosens her fists.
“I know it feels like that sometimes,” Ty Lee said earnestly. “But there’s so much good in the world! There’s so much worth saving! And, for what it's worth- I'm not a magical girl right now. Katara had a very specific way she wanted me to phrase that wish. I understand why, now. It's a freebie. I get my wish, but when you reset time, the magical girl power doesn't come with. Only my memories do. I remember a few timelines. I remember a few things from before I made my wish, even. Things you saw. It’s not everything, but it’s something..”
Her smile is soft. Azula can remember her dying half a dozen ways. Reality doesn’t match up to her memories anymore, and while she’s glad it doesn’t, is glad Ty Lee is alive and well, it still makes her feel like she’s going insane.
“I wished to save you,” Azula says, finally. She thinks, she’s ruined it now. Ty Lee is going to be upset. Ty Lee is going to be weirded out. And it's forever this time- Ty Lee won't forget, won't reset with everything else.
But Ty Lee just seems puzzled. “What did I need saving from?”
Azula says, “You died. You were a magical girl, and you… you didn’t make it. We never do, in the end.”
It’s too blunt. Azula should have eased into it. But she has Ty Lee’s attention, at least.
“I came back in time,” Azula says. “To stop it. It’s taken a lot of tries. It might take another dozen tries- you’re so stubborn. But I’m going to save you.”
“Why would you waste your wish on me?” Ty Lee asks.
Azula’s eyes are starting to water. It’s a matter of moments before she starts crying again. She hates this, hates feeling.
(She’d hated it worse when she didn’t feel. She just hadn’t known it.)
“It wasn’t a waste,” she says. “If anyone deserves to live, it’s you. You saved me first,” she says, and hates how it comes out half-sob. “You were the magical girl, you were the special one. I was just- Kyubey wasn’t interested in me for a long time. I was nothing. And you-”
Ty Lee looks stricken. But Azula has to finish this, has to confess, even if it means she redoes everything another time.
“You saved me, and I wasn’t even worth saving back then,” Azula says. “I was horrible to you, the worst friend possible. But you loved me anyway. You believed in me. And then you died.”
Ty Lee is afraid. Azula hates making Ty Lee afraid.
“Of course I loved you,” Ty Lee says, and Azula realizes that Ty Lee isn’t afraid of Azula. She’s afraid _for her. But- Ty Lee just smiles bravely. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” she asks.
“No,” Azula said. “Unless you have some kind of magic spell, love takes time. Love takes work.”
“I believe in it,” Ty Lee says seriously. She adds, “I fell in love with you the second I saw you. I hoped more than anything that you might love me back.” She adds, “It’s a good thing I’m not a magical girl like you. I would have wasted my wish on that before we even got to know each other.”
“You waited,” Azula says. Because that is the other half of the confession.
Ty Lee looks puzzled.
“Until we got to know each other,” Azula says. “You waited until you knew I didn’t love you- that I would never love you- to make that wish.”
Ty Lee’s puzzled expression slowly becomes one of horror.
“I wouldn’t!” she says.
Azula shrugs. “You did. A dozen times around, and I still love you.”
Ty Lee stands. She sways. Azula half-expects her to faint, but then, Ty Lee’s never been the fainting kind.
“It was a long time from now,” Azula says. “Things change. People change. When I said I came back a little while in time, I meant- I meant that it was a few years.”
“I need to think,” Ty Lee says. She grabs Azula’s hand. “Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t reset time. I’m coming back.”
Azula nods mutely.
She does come back, and sits beside Azula on her bed, and leans in against her.
“I want to wish to save you,” Ty Lee says, leaning her head on Azula’s shoulder. She looks hollow. Drained. “You did it for me. Maybe I can do the same- maybe we can live our lives over and over until we get it right.”
“Stupid,” Azula says. “You already saved me.”
Ty Lee says, “But it’s all my fault! In that other time line, that version of me started you on this path. She manipulated you, played with your feelings-”
“I’m so glad you did,” Azula says. “Ty Lee-”
Ty Lee looks up. Her face is tear stained. “What?”
“I wasn’t someone you would want to be in love with,” Azula says. “There was something wrong with me. I don’t think I was capable of love, until you fixed me. I had to learn how to love gradually, after you made your wish. None of it came naturally, except for you. Being a magical girl may kill me, eventually, but at least I’ll have been alive for a little while.”
Ty Lee’s eyes well up with tears again. “That can’t be true,” she says. “Don’t say things like that about yourself.”
“But it is true,” Azula says. “Did you know, Kyubey didn’t even have any interest in me before your wish? I wasn’t even a person to him, let alone a- a target.”
"It doesn't matter," Ty Lee says. "Azula- You saved me. Let me save you from this timeline nonsense. You're miserable."
Azula is so tired. She thinks, she can always reset this later. All she can do is nod.
Are you ready to make a contract with me? Kyubey asks, from far away.
There is some hashing out of terms, hypotheticals discussed.
“The next time Azula resets time,” Ty Lee says, “I want to make it so that her magical girl powers don’t come with her- just memories. Her memories, and mine.”
“You’ll live two timelines,” Kyubey warns her. “In this one, you’ll both be magical girls. In that one, neither of you will be.”
“We’ll have two lifetimes together,” Ty Lee says. “That’s what I want.”
And then Ty Lee makes her wish.
Nothing changes right away, except that Ty Lee is a magical girl.
“Come to school,” Ty Lee says. “Meet Katara and Mai and everyone else again.”
“We could run away,” Azula says. “Or- I could reset now.”
“Don’t,” Ty Lee says. “I wished for two lifetimes. Why not live both? At the very least,” she adds with a smile, “let’s memorize some lottery numbers and be rich.”
So Azula goes to school with Ty Lee. Every day, she thinks about resetting. Every day, Ty Lee convinces her to wait a little longer.
Azula’s mom moves out, and asks Azula to move with.
“I can’t leave my friends,” Azula tells her. “Ty Lee needs me.”
Azula’s mom says, “You’ll make new friends, honey.”
Azula shakes her head. “I can’t go,” she says. And then, hesitantly, “But I can’t stay here, either.”
Her mom waits for her to make up her mind. She looks worried, and soft, and kind. Azula would have hated her for that, once. Now it reminds her of Ty Lee, and she finds contempt impossible to muster.
“Maybe I could stay with Uncle for a while,” Azula suggests, quietly. “Zuko seems to like it there, and it’s close enough that I could keep going to the same school without having to live with Dad.”
Her mom says, “You and Zuko have never gotten along well.”
“I’m turning over a new leaf,” Azula says. She smiles. It’s not even fake. “Who knows what might happen?”
Her mom smiles back.
It’s hard to find enough grief seeds for both of them as well as Katara, and there is a while where all of their soul gems are constantly darkened. But somehow they make it through until Katara moves out of town, and then it’s smooth sailing.
They make it to Azula’s fourteenth birthday, and then to Ty Lee’s. Katara keeps in touch via email and text and phone calls. She meets a boy she likes. His name is Aang, and he gives Katara hope. She complains about her brother. She tells Azula, “I’m glad you got your wish.”
Azula says, “Me, too.”
Being a magical girl is still stupidly full of danger. Azula knows that one wrong move could kill both of them. But she enjoys it. She feels, sometimes, like she was meant to do this.
Eventually, they both turn fifteen, and then sixteen. Azula never expected to be alive at this age. Not again, anyway.
They have territory fights with other magical girls. Azula remembers them from the first time. Toph is the name of the intruder. But this time she moves on when she sees how slim pickings are in the city. It’s not a great place for magical girls.
Eventually their luck runs out. Azula is almost seventeen. It’s the same witch that weakened Ty Lee the first time around. The one that clouded her gem enough that she became a witch minutes after defeating it. It's not even a particularly strong one, though it does have a tricky labyrinth.
It’s Azula that’s injured this time. It probably won’t kill her, except that the witch is still alive and Ty Lee can’t touch it- it eats away at her hands like acid, and she doesn’t have a weapon.
“Go back,” Ty Lee says, looking grim. “It’s time.”
Azula almost doesn’t remember what she means. It’s been so long. But Ty Lee pulls out her last spare grief seed and clears Azula’s gem. She kisses Azula gently, and says, “I’ll see you soon.”
Azula resets for the last time.
"You're Azula, right?" Ty Lee says, on the first day of school.
Azula looks up.
"I'm Ty Lee.” She smiles like she has a secret, and Azula smiles back the same way. “I think we're going to be good friends."