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Towards the Sun

Chapter Text

Five teenagers should never spend a multiple of that time in an increasingly cramped war balloon.


"Oh thank the spirits," Suki said, flopping onto the sand.


Ty Lee, whose energy level had spiked in the confined space, somersaulted over her, presumably just because she could. The distinctive sound of someone splashing in waves followed. "It's just like Ember Island!"


"Watch out for the unagi," Suki said, on reflex. The clouds above were fluffy and far apart, the sky endlessly blue, and if she didn't turn her head she could pretend all that infinite elbowroom applied to her, too. 


There was a rock outcropping not far off, and a tide pool full of spiky things. Sitting at its edge apparently suited Mai much better than flopping in sand or splashing in the surf.  


"It's better than jail," Mai allowed. 


"Arguable," Azula said, leaning against their faithful transport's basket, helpfully supervising her brother as he wrangled its rapidly deflating balloon. 


"I could use some help here," he said.


"I'm sure you could," replied his sister.


"You were in jail?" Suki asked.


The Fire Princess rolled her eyes. "We were all in jail. Though I suppose mine was a sanatorium."


Yeah. Suki was just going to keep watching her clouds and not think about how high the sky went, or how many hours she'd spent trusting that girl to keep her and her friends from plummeting. Maybe the balloon's basket would have floated. Maybe.


The prince had wrestled the fabric to the ground, and was now attempting to fold it. This came close to infringing upon Suki's flopping spot. It did infringe upon her uninterrupted view of the sky. Also, he was definitely trying to do things mostly one-armed. His sister continued to not help him. 


With a sigh, Suki rolled back to her feet, and grabbed the fabric opposite him. "Ty Lee. Mai."


Things went a lot faster with four. Or three and a half: between the prince's injured arm and his apparent confusion about the sudden backup, he didn't completely count. Azula kept leaning against the basket, not helping. 


"Thanks," the Fire Prince said, when the balloon was stowed and Ty Lee had followed Mai back to her tide pool.


"Thanks for getting us out," Suki said. "Still not forgiving you for burning down my village, though."


"The Avatar can waterbend."  


"He couldn't then."


"Yes. He could." (Large-scale, deck swamping quantities of waterbending, Zuko did not add.) "You gave him shelter; he was obviously going to help you."


"That doesn't negate the part where you lit my peoples' houses on fire. Personal responsibility is sexy, you know."


"I don't want to be sexy. I just want to," he waved his good arm in a way that probably meant something to him, "to be on an abandoned island with my sister, on my way to another nation, and everyone can just forget I ever existed, including the people whose houses I lit on fire."


"Is this an apology?" Suki asked. "Because I'm starting to see why you write letters."


"It's not an apology," the prince scowled. "I'm done apologizing."


"Are you," Suki said, narrowing her eyes.




"Funny," she said, "from where I'm standing, it feels like you've only just begun to be sorry."


"Oh, just fight it out," the princess said, with a dismissive flap of her hand. "You're both non-benders now, it's fair enough."


"Excuse me?" Suki said.


She received another hand flap for her efforts.


"Give me one of your swords," Suki growled.


"You can have two," the prince said, which is how she ended up with the swords he'd swiped off the prison guards while he pulled a sheath and dual dao out of nowhere, and oh, now he was using both arms. 




As the ensuing acrobatics repeatedly kicked sand her way, Azula huffed, and stalked over to the tide pool. There were clown anemones waving their many head-tentacles, and fire goby crabs darting about in sunbeams between mossy clumps of multi-hued seaweeds. A blue-ringed catopus kitten looked up at her and mewed a distorted, underwater mew. It was an idyllic microcosm of nature. She wondered how much heat it would take to boil.


"Our feet are in here," Mai said, correctly predicting the direction of her thoughts, as Mai was wont to do.


"I'll take that under advisement," Azula said, sitting on a rock. Not one so close as to be mistaken for being with them.


Ty Lee leaned back and back on the heels on her palms, and looked at her. Smiled at her. "Thanks for coming for us, Azula."


"It was Zuko's idea," she scoffed.


"Yeah, but you didn't stop him." 


She could scoff again. But that might be mistaken as caring about this topic. Instead, she lay a theatrical hand over her heart. "I am known for my indulgent nature."


Ty Lee laughed. Mai didn't.


"Why couldn't we find him?" the black-clad girl said. Speaking of clothing: why had everyone chosen Zuko's shirts over Azula's? Was it a fundamental failing in taste? The only one wearing anything of Azula's was Ty Lee and her pink coat, which Azula formally disowned —  


"Azula?" Ty Lee asked, her eyes crinkling in that smiling-but-worried way she'd developed before their little treason attempt, after Zuko's imprisonment, when Azula had to be more careful about thinking through her answers because father was seeing treasonous disappointing children everywhere. It wasn't that she was lost in her thoughts; incautious time-wasting delays like that were for other people.


"Zuzu?" Azula said. "Oh, that's simple. Stone prison. Dai Li. After our uncle broke out, father stopped believing in letting family members leave. He also stopped believing in doors. You went right past his cell, actually." She gave a little shrug, palms up, what was one to do?


"You know we were just worried, right?" Ty Lee asked, quiet as a snake-rat. "For both of you. We would have asked you to come rescue him, too, but if we were caught, Ozai couldn't know you were involved."


"I wasn't. And I wouldn't have been. Zuko was exactly where he deserved." She quirked her lips. "So were you."


"Wow," Mai said. "You are really bad at apologies."


"Excuse you, I would be excellent at apologies," Azula said, "if I ever had reason to give one."


"A real prodigy," Mai droned, nudging along a cleaner starfish with her foot as it tried to exfoliate her toes. It jet backwards on its arm-tails, so fast it shot from the water. Its pathetic flopping was an accurate illustration of Mai's attempts at making a point. 


Ty Lee rescued the thing, scooping it back into the water. "I would forgive you," she said. "If you did apologize."


The crustacean tumble-swam back to the bottom, no better off than it had been before her help.


"You choose him," Azula said. "Enjoy your choice."


"...Okay. Well, still; thank you for coming for us," Ty Lee said again, like it meant anything for either of them. 


By then her brother was on the ground with a sword at his throat, which provided ample reason to ignore her. 




"You have a death wish," Suki said, eyes narrowed. "Just apologize."


The prince shrugged. Shrugged. It shifted the sand under his shoulders and jostled the sword at his throat, and she had to pull back slightly to avoid drawing blood. If she did, when she did, she wanted it to be intentional.


"I'm done apologizing," he repeated. "But I'm also done being an asshole, so I can promise not to burn down your village again."


"This is you not being an asshole?"


"I might need some practice." Another shrug. The worst part, besides his mere existence, was how sincere he sounded.


His sister was watching from her rocky perch, toying with a little flame on her fingers. Mai and Ty Lee were watching, too.


Suki scoffed, and lowered her sword. She didn't offer him a hand up; just walked away, leaving him sprawled on the sand. She wished he didn't look so comfortable there. 


"How long are we staying here?" she asked, joining the tide pool viewing. A single glance was enough to tell her that Fire Nation animals had more tentacles than she was strictly comfortable with. She started to sit down next to a colorful little kitten, the only recognizably safe animal, but Mai wordlessly tugged her to a spot further away.


Everyone in their group, herself unfortunately included, looked to Azula for the answer to her question. She was their transport's only power source. A dependency Suki would like to rectify as soon as possible. 


Azula shrugged the shrug of a girl who could answer, but enjoyed having the prerogative not to.


"...Right," Suki said. "We're good on food for a while, but we should find fresh water before we make any kind of dent in the supply the captain gave us."


"Most of these islands have lakes," the prince said, and swung an arm up to point at the jungle pressing up against the high tide line, and the rocky plateau beyond. "We should have a good view from those cliffs."


It wasn't a bad idea. A better idea would have been paying attention on the way down, but the landing had been a little… abrupt. She still wasn't sure if it was because the princess was tired, or because she'd thought it was funny. 


"Who else is coming?" Suki asked.


Blank looks met her question. 


"Really?" Suki sighed.


"Cliffside views have lost their appeal," the princess said.


"I can see them fine from here," Mai said.


"Two auras can harmonize better than three," Ty Lee said. "Also, I really need a bath."


"You and me, then," Suki said, with accurate enthusiasm.


"If it helps," the prince said, "you could push me off and no one would know."


"Well now they will," Suki said, unclear on if she was joking. Unclear on whether the prince was joking, either.




(Zuko didn't have a death wish. He had a trust wish; it was a lot harder.)




(It was all right for Zuzu to leave Azula's sight here, in a way it hadn't been at the prison. This wasn't the important part of the dream. He was only going to get water; a blink and he'd be back.)




On the other side of cliffs, a ten-ton air bison landed. His two passengers departed, also cliff-ward.