And for Dragon Age maybe Meredith x Orsino or Morrigan x Alistair for that good ol mage templar dynamic
Or surprise me
I went with the first for Azulaang and I'll save the second for another time (it's a good one; Morristair my beloved).
🌧️24: "We should stop talking, people might start to think I like you."
Send me a prompt and a pairing.
Azula turned the old bronze comb over in her hand, running a thumb along the familiar jade embellishment in the shaft. It was the first time she had stood before this mirror since returning to the palace, its proud gold frame climbing the wall of her chambers. Abstractly it called to mind the gilded trim framing the curtained door of the palanquin that had brought her here not two weeks ago.
The first word that had been spoken as she’d sat in the jostling quiet next to Zuko, the asylum shrinking in the distance. The healers had formally pronounced her fit to be discharged, and Azula had been momentarily stunned when it was he who had arrived to pick her up.
Not a servant sent at the Fire Lord’s command.
Why. What an absurdly small question, she mused now, to hold the tumble of thoughts and feelings and more questions stuffed into it.
“Is there somewhere else you were thinking you’d go?” he had responded, and Azula would have accepted that as answer enough. She would have figured something out — she always would — but it had all happened so fast, and if she were honest, Azula wasn’t sure in that moment where she might have gone.
But then, Zuko had said, “I wanted you to come home. It’s where you belong.”
The mirror’s face she had shattered on her last night here, a lifetime ago, had been repaired sometime during her absence. Her mother, Ursa, used to sit her down at this mirror with this same comb. If Azula concentrated hard enough, she could almost smell the perfumed oils she used to favor, jasmine and sandalwood and orange blossom. Could almost feel her mother’s gentle touch, combing her hair a hundred times smooth, even as she’d griped and jerked away.
“I love you, Azula.”
Words she had never been able to receive, then. Love was something you had to earn, and she would never manage to compete with Zuko to win it. She wouldn’t even try. He was her perfect child, and she was her father’s.
Azula watched her reflection lift the comb languidly to her hair, but stopped short, her gaze snagging on a deep, brittle crack in the bronze along its once-perfect, polished edge. When had that happened? She didn’t remember it being there before.
The old her would have tossed the thing away with a sneer, ordered it replaced just as quickly with something newer and shinier. Something perfect.
Now, she was struck by the odd sort of beauty in her hand. The imperfections all resolving together to create a piece of art with character and history, unique unto itself, and despite it all, or perhaps even on account of, she found she admired it all the more.
For fourteen years of her life, Azula had believed that if she only tried hard enough, if she could be perfect enough, if she never failed or lost or made a mistake in any way, she could earn her father’s love. The last time she had seen him, Ozai had named her Fire Lord — an honorific she now knew had been as empty as his affection for her, a way to leave her behind — that star-crossed night when he had been power-drunk and endeavored to burn the Earth Kingdom to a cinder.
And for all her years of effort and grueling training and silent desperation, in the end, the worst had come to pass. She had failed. She had lost that fated Agni Kai to Zuko. And there was not a single soul in the royal court, or the city, or her father still in his cold iron cell, who did not know of how she lost and came apart that night.
In the days and weeks after, bitter and numb and stewing in the seclusion of her personal safety room, Azula had sworn she would never let anyone see her cry again. People saw tears and they stopped seeing you, stopped seeing the armor you wore, stopped listening to your words, your expression, or anything you might have to say. It made no difference whether the tears were frightened or frustrated, angry or sad. All they saw was a fragile girl crying.
Tears burned behind her eyes now, threatening to fall. The comb’s teeth scraped gently against her scalp as she ran it through her hair, wincing a little as she hit a tangle and smoothed it out. Azula breathed in slow and deep, watching her chest rise and fall in the mirror, the line between her brows melting away on the exhale.
For perhaps the hundredth time in recent days, Azula found herself turning her brother’s words around in her head, this way and that, like a sculpture, trying to catch every subtle detail, every hidden nuance.
“I wanted you to come home. It’s where you belong.”
Some buried part of her stirred, whispering that she had mistaken his meaning, that he hadn’t really meant it.
But Azula had long since stopped trying to earn anyone’s love or approval. She had already unraveled, had already hit rock bottom, and everyone knew it, so what was the point? Fourteen years of striving, and her father’s love had turned to dust the moment she’d slipped. She was done trying to be anything for anyone other than herself.
The thing with Zuko though, she had come to understand, was that she never had to be any of those things. In spite of all her wrongs and flaws and failures, in spite of having done nothing to deserve it and for reasons she couldn’t understand, Zuko loved her anyway.
It had been Zuko — weak, lucky-to-be-born Zuko — who never gave up on her. The one who saw her through years of therapy and reconditioning and growth to come out the other side, and never once made her feel ashamed or abandoned or not enough.
Something cracked inside her, a soft, hitching breath.
The tears spilled over then, cleansing and hot. She didn’t try to stop them.
What would she say if she were to face her father now, to stand tall and look him in the eyes with tear-stained cheeks? She wanted to tell him that a true phoenix does not rise amid the flames, wild and fierce, but only in the cold, dark nothing that comes after. Born from its own ashes, forged through hellfire and suffering, through its own unmaking, to become something else, something better and stronger and resilient.
She straightened, sniffed, and set the comb down on the table with a tick, giving only a cursory wipe to her eyes and face. There was no such thing as perfect. Only beautiful versions of brokenness.
The halls were still relatively quiet, pale light leaking in through the windows with morning’s muted chorus, drifting just at the edge of hearing. It had become her favorite time of day during her stay in the asylum, that bird-soaked hour before sunrise. She had spent many mornings roaming the asylum’s gated garden, or seated at its window on drizzly mornings. The flowers always looked a shade brighter in the rain, the birds always singing louder.
Funny, how for so long defeat had echoed like a door slammed shut, a resounding end to her life and all that she was. What might have become of her, if Zuko had never risked treason to do what was right, if Katara hadn’t been at the Agni Kai that night to save him, and without knowing it, Azula, too? If the Avatar had not beaten the odds to bring an end to the Fire Nation’s tyranny and Ozai’s power-hungry ambition?
How she had loathed the Avatar, back then, for his part in the ruin of it all.
Now, gratitude expanded in her chest, filling her near to aching.
“A closed door might be an ending, but it’s also a beginning,” he’d said during their first accidental encounter upon her return, “a different way forward. A death, and a rebirth.”
Azula couldn’t quite say why she had opened up to him in the first place. Her mouth had let the words escape before she could stop them, but she never found herself wishing to take them back. It was comfortable with him. Odd for her to make a connection so quickly, to give her trust so easily, tentative though it was. There was something in the way he smiled, a genuineness, a softness of spirit so unlike her own. When she talked, he listened like he was absorbing her words, as if there was nothing more important in the world at that moment.
“The monks used to say our stories don’t have one beginning or one end, but that each moment is a microcosm of beginnings and endings all knitting together, crossing each other, breaking apart. One closed door, the end of one chapter, is simply the beginning of the next.”
She had watched him, sifting his expressions, and glimpsed the boy in his face, the one who had lost everything and everyone he had loved. The one she had killed that night in the catacombs. The thought still made her wince. Was resilience something he was born with, or had he, too, learned how to nurture it?
Aang, he had been insisting she call him. She hadn’t yet, if only for the reward of his banter and that tenacious smile, the one that carved a dimple into one cheek.
Azula’s steps faltered with a soft breath of amusement. Really, it should have come as a surprise. After all, once was an accident; twice, maybe even three times, a coincidence. But four, five? It was almost comical now, which was why it no longer surprised her. Azula had come to expect, maybe even hope for, these unintended rendezvous.
She turned smoothly on her heel and felt a contented tug at the corner of her mouth as he approached.
“Hello, Princess,” he replied, coming to stop in his weightless way before her. Azula’s eyes flicked down.
Thin plumes of steam curled up from a pair of teacups, one in each of his hands. Her eyes returned to Aang’s with an arch of a brow to catch a hint of that dimple showing as his lips quirked.
“Tea?” he offered, holding one out to her.
Reflexively, she accepted it, the porcelain pleasantly warm against her palms. Azula fixed him with a look of wry incredulity. “There is no way you could have known I’d be walking this hall at this very time.”
“Who says I made it for you?” shrugged Aang, the corners of his eyes kissing slightly. “I made two cups in case I ran into someone who looked like they could use one. Just so happens here you are.”
The steam bore an inviting aroma she knew well, fruity and woodsy with honeyed notes.
“Hmm. Well, the day I turn down a cup of oolong is the day the assassins have succeeded and replaced me with an imposter, so…” She took a sip, savoring the velvety smooth richness on her tongue and the sweet-bitter aftertaste. “Thank you.”
They strolled aimlessly together, and for a little while neither spoke, the halls beginning to fill with the rustles of a palace waking.
“They wouldn’t fool me, by the way,” he said at length, and Azula looked up at him. He had grown over the years, nearly a head taller than she was now. “I’d be able to tell.”
“The real you from a counterfeit.”
It took her by surprise, his words as much as the color rising softly in his cheeks. Azula ducked her head to take a long sip of the tea, locking eyes fleetingly with a servant passing by. The woman’s gaze skated to the floor, but not fast enough to hide the twinkle still bleeding through her expression.
“You know, we really should stop talking,” said Azula once the servant had gone, dragging Aang’s eyes askance to meet hers. “People might start to think I like you.”
The words rang hollow though, and she made no effort to mask the telling tilt of her lips.
“Oh?” he responded, taking the bait. “Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…” Aang leaned closer with an exaggerated grimace, mock-whispering the rest as they went. “I’m pretty sure people already suspect that I like you.”
It was her turn to blush, the rush of heat having little to do with the temperature of her drink. Azula feigned solemnity in spite of the butterflies rousing sleepily in her stomach.
“How unfortunate. We should definitely stop talking then. Already halfway there, we can’t have that.”
“Yeah. I hate to say it, but I think we might be fighting an uphill battle around here. Maybe it would all be easier if you just admitted you do like me.”
“You think so?” The gold rim of her teacup winked in a shaft of light as they passed a window. “Maybe you should go first.”
“That seems kind of weird, but, okay…” There was a subtle gleam to his expression as he took a breath, making a show of composing himself, and finally said, “I think you like me, Azula.”
She scoffed, opening her mouth with some retort when he cut in, “Now it’s your turn.”
“Fine. I think you like me, Avatar.”
Shaking his head good-humoredly, he let his gaze wander ahead of them down the hall. “You don’t have to keep calling me that. You’ve had all these years to learn my name—”
“Names are for people you like.”
He glanced back at her, and she bit her lip, a poor attempt to hide her enjoyment, and for the briefest of moments, just an instant, his grey eyes were drawn down, alighting on her lips. One of those butterflies seemed to escape her stomach, fluttering dizzily in her chest, and she looked away.
“Fair,” Aang conceded with a shrug of his head. “And what if I said, hypothetically, that the rumors are true. That maybe I do like you.”
“I suppose, hypothetically, I might respond that for a bald, attention-whoring, goody-goody monk… maybe you’re okay, too.”
The morning’s rays had saturated to a rich amber, igniting the crimson halls wherever it touched, and the lopsided grin that broke across his face rendered it pale by comparison. She couldn’t help the echo of it that dawned on her own face.
“Coming from you that might be the nicest compliment I’ve ever received. I’ll be sure to keep that one right here,” he said, placing a palm flat over his heart.
Their languorous steps eased, and when Aang came to a stop, Azula turned to face him. The oolong in her cup had begun to cool and she warmed it again, watching the feather of steam rise to dance over it.
“So,” was all he said at first, shifting his weight.
“So,” she returned in kind.
“Here we are again.”
“It does seem as if our paths are determined to keep crossing.”
“Some people might call that fate,” ventured Aang.
“I call it living in the same palace.”
Murmurous laughter trickled toward them, quieting to a hush as a trio of servants rounded the corner, bowing humbly before vanishing through an adjacent hall.
“So, I’ve been thinking,” Aang continued. “People already assume the worst, and we keep bumping into each other. Maybe we might as well, I don’t know… hang out. Like, officially. Since, you know, that’s what everyone expects anyway.”
The thought had wandered into her own mind a handful of times, though of course she didn’t say that.
“I suppose there is no sense in trying to dissuade the ones who’ve already made up their minds. What do you imagine two people who don’t like each other might do together?”
“Hmm…” His mouth pulled to the side in thought. “A Kuai ball duel?”
She replied with a soft, flippant snort. “Sure, if losing is your idea of fun. I’m undefeated, you know, Kuai ball reigning champion.”
“Oh, but you’ve never competed against the Avatar.” His voice retained the buoyancy she knew, but there was a spirited edge to it, of someone equally sure of their own skill. “Should we put that record to the test?”
It was the sanest kind of madness, this unlooked-for attraction between them.
Azula straightened, lifted her chin, and smiled with an almost defiant kind of joy.