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Heat Strategies

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It was, Azula supposed, something she should have predicted. Ty Lee had never spent time in a colder climate before, and the island their ship had been forced to make land on was less of an island and more of a slightly habitable rock in the middle of an ice plateau. Luckily, it was spring, and so there was a rock to land on at all instead of ice, especially as the ship was now long gone underneath the frigid water. Azula pondered saying as much to put an end to Ty Lee's interminable shivering, and immediately dismissed the idea – there were only so many arguments she wanted to have with Mai, and the relative good luck of their current predicament was not one of them.

Ty Lee currently sat huddled next to Mai across the small, one-room shack from where Azula stood. Mai bore the cold with rather more grace than Ty Lee, but Azula could still see the minute shivers moving up and down her spine. Mai looked up and met Azula's gaze, her mouth twisted slightly in displeasure.

"Just sit down, Azula," she said. "Ty Lee needs our body heat and it won't hurt you."

"I've made a fire," Azula pointed out, quite reasonably. "There's no need to pile together on the floor like dogs or Water Tribe peasants."

"And the fire is very warm," Ty Lee said between shivers. "But the wind is so strong it's blowing most of it away. I know you can stay warm without us, but we just aren't as amazing as you." Her smile faltered, her chin resting on her knees, and Azula felt a distant twinge of alarm when her own unmediated response would have been to immediately sink down to the floor and hug Ty Lee. Unlike some members of her family, however, she still possessed a modicum of self-control.

"The emergency flare will have alerted the nearest watchpost of our predicament by now," Azula said, purposefully not looking away from Ty Lee's scrunched up, miserable expression. The only way to control her own actions with absolute surety was to constantly test herself against new circumstances. "It won't be long before we can leave."

Ty Lee sniffed and tried to smile as she nodded to Azula, but Mai shifted closer to Ty Lee and rubbed an arm up and down her back, pointedly. Azula turned to face the fire burning in the center of the room.

Pragmatically speaking, there would come a point when she would have to lower her concentration on keeping the fire burning, in order to stay conscious and conserve her strength. They didn't have enough material to feed the fire conventionally, and there was no possibility of finding such material before being rescued. Azula weighed her options – freezing to death was obviously not a viable plan. Displaying any vulnerability in front of Mai and Ty Lee would have consequences, however. Were they consequences she could live with?

Instead of concentrating on an answer, Azula looked up and became distracted by the way the fire lit Mai's hair, the way it made Ty Lee's skin seem even smoother than Azula knew it was. Ty Lee was shivering less now, and Mai seemed as content as she ever was. It reminded Azula of the secret hideout they'd shared when they were twelve, a small unused parlor in the palace where Ty Lee practiced acrobatics, where all three of them had fled from the expectations of their lives. Mai had left more than one knife-scar on the chairs in that room, beside Azula's carefully placed scorch marks, and their old stash of fire flakes and stolen wine was most likely still there in its hiding place. Silly sentiment to think of that now, she knew, but a powerful feeling nonetheless.

Then Mai caught Azula's eye and smirked, making a deliberate challenge as she guided Ty Lee's head to rest against her chest.

Well. That could not be ignored.

Azula made a great show of letting the fire die, and sighed heavily. "I suppose," she said, "that I should save my energy for tonight, if our rescuers are as incompetent as one imagines they most likely are and don't manage to reach us before then."

"Are you okay?" Ty Lee asked, reaching out towards Azula with a hesitant arm.

Mai's eyes squinted knowingly, but Azula focused on Ty Lee's concern instead.

"I'm fine," she replied. "But I'm brave enough to admit that we will last longer together than apart. Scoot over."

Azula sat down on Ty Lee's other side and deliberately ignored Mai's silent superiority for all of their sakes.

"There," she told Ty Lee, putting an arm around her. "That's better, isn't it?"

"Much better," Ty Lee confirmed happily, snuggling into Azula's embrace and pulling Mai along with her. Mai pulled her outer cloak over all three of them, and her expression, though outwardly impassive, looked grateful to Azula's practiced eye.

They sat in a comfortable silence for a moment or two, broken when Ty Lee sat up, exclaiming, "oh! I know!"

Azula and Mai waited patiently.

"Sex!" Ty Lee announced, looking at first Mai, than Azula, expectantly. "If Azula can't keep a fire going indefinitely, orgasms are definitely the next best way to keep warm."

"An excellent plan," Azula said. "But not without a proper bed. I am not, I must remind you, a peasant."

Mai laughed out loud, and Ty Lee beamed with pride. That might, Azula allowed, have been her goal in the first place. That settled, Azula watched as Ty Lee fell asleep, then shared an understanding look with Mai, who shut her eyes to rest after being assured that Azula would keep watch for now.

Perhaps, Azula conceded to herself (very, very privately), combat levels of strategy were more than this situation quite warranted. She pulled Ty Lee, and by extension Mai, closer, letting her body breathe with both of theirs.

And for a bright, sparking moment, Azula felt… warm.


(This did not, however, stop her from brutally rebuffing Ty Lee's subsequent attempt to read her aura.)