Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar
The curtains were all drawn around the Princess' large bed. It was early in the afternoon and she still had not gone up or eaten. She has yet to change from her sleeping clothes when she stood up and called on her handmaidens.
"Run me a bath," she ordered.
"Yes, Princess Azula," the handmaiden replied.
Azula heated the water herself. She was in her connecting bathing chamber that was about the same size as her bedroom. It was exceptionally hot; the fireplace was alit and steam was clouding the mirrors. The tub was situated on a wooden platform and it was quite large. It was made of gold and had engravings of intricate dragons on its side. She liked the water to be scalding. It was pleasurable for her but would probably be painful to someone else.
She had not gone to the training grounds that morning or the morning before. The last time she had been there was with Sifu Xing. Her secret grief brought on by his abrupt departure was becoming an inconvenience. Azula decided that this would not hinder her anymore.
After having supper in her room, Azula headed to the training grounds with her weights in hand. It was dark out, the lanterns were all alit, and she found that someone had already beaten her to the vast courtyard. Two ceramic vases of water were on either side of the figure, she saw that he was bending a ring of water around himself. As far as the Princess knew, there was only one waterbender currently present in the royal court.
"Isn't it a little past your bedtime?" she remarked.
"I'm waterbending, Azula," Aang explained, "We waterbenders rise with the moon."
"I knew that," she shot quickly.
"What are you doing with those?" he asked, referring to the metal spheres in her hands.
"It's really none of your business, Avatar," she replied calmly, "but since you're here I suggest you make yourself useful."
"Okay," he drawled out, "how?"
"Let's spar," she placed the metal spheres on the ground.
Aside from Ozai, Azula was the most powerful firebender Aang had ever gone to battle against. He knew her technique well. She was the only person who had actually defeated him. Although with unusual tactics and some might say in an unfair situation. But since his defeat at her hands in the Battle of Old Ba Sing Se, Aang had grown immensely more powerful, having become Fully Realized at age thirteen. Could he have taken her on? Maybe. Did he want to? No.
"Really?" was all he could say.
"Was that an insult?" she asked, irked.
"No, uh, I didn't mean─" Aang stammered, "Okay, let's do it," he resigned with a sigh.
Her painted lips formed into a smirk. "There's only one rule to this,"
"Just…one?" Aang wondered anxiously, his eye twitching.
"Since it's hardly fair for you to use all the elements, I suggest you only firebend."
"Sure," he replied. This wasn't going to end well.
"Ready," he bowed.
Azula's first strike was not unexpected, but it was not easy to evade either. She conjured up a wheel of blazing blue fire and hurled it straight at Aang. He brought both arms forward and the savage, spinning wheel dissolved into a fizz of smoke.
"Woah," he breathed.
They circled each other before Azula lunged forward, fireballs darting from her two outstretched fingers. Aang twisted and turned dodging every single attack.
"Are you really just going ducks and hide?" she sneered playfully after awhile.
"No," he released a jet of seething orange fire and sent it barreling towards her.
The Princess countered with a series of kicks, dissipating the flames before it seared her flesh. He released another assault of fire whips. The lengthy flames lashed at her almost singing the skin of her face. He knew her well but she was new to his firebending technique.
They charged at each other, jets of orange and blue fire erupting from the soles of their feet. Expecting the gathering discharge of energy, Aang flipped through the air and landed lightly behind her. The spot where he had been standing on moments before was charred and black. Quick to react, Azula twisted at her heel and launched herself at him again. He did the same and the momentum sent them both to the ground. They fumbled on the dust floor and grappled for the upper hand.
The jumbled mess of limbs ended with his frame hovering over hers. Azula's hand grabbed for his throat, seconds away from setting it ablaze while he held up a scorching red fire dagger to hers.
The pair was drenched in sweat from the heat and exertion. Azula's thin training clothes were plastered to her body while Aang's was in a similar predicament. She was breathing so heavily, Aang could feel her chest as it gasped for air. Her breath sent a cooling breeze to his damp skin.
"You lost, Avatar," Azula stated unfazed by their closeness, casually tossing him off of her.
He landed beside her with a grunt. "What?" he wondered, rubbing his side, "I was thinking it was more of a draw?"
"You broke the one rule we had," she said simply, "you airbent."
He groaned and brought a palm to his forehead. "Oh right," he told her, "Sorry…I didn't mean to. It's kind of a part of me, I guess."
Azula flipped her hand dismissively before picking up the metal spheres from the ground.
"Well, that was quite an exercise," she announced.
She turned to leave the training grounds when Aang called out, "See you around, Azula!" excessively cheerful as usual.
"You're…staying?" she wondered.
"Yeah," he nodded and smiled. "I'm still going to practice my waterbending," he brought the water from the vases around him again, the same technique she saw him do when she first entered.
"You're not tired?" she asked, curious.
"Nope, not yet!" he replied lightheartedly.
"Oh," her eyes narrowed slightly, "I wasn't going yet," she quickly covered up, walking back to him. Her competitiveness was getting the best of her.
"Alright," he told her, "do you want to spar some more?"
In reality, Azula was already quite worn out and would rather not but she didn't want to admit that. "I'd just rather practice alone," she told him instead. "You stay on that side, I stay on this side."
He nodded in response.
"And do not splash me with water," she warned.
Aang snickered to himself. "I'll try."
She watched him from the corner of her eye.
It took few more hours before Azula spotted that Aang was about to finish. He dried the soaked ground and bent the water back into their vases. Azula, who was by then completely exhausted, was relieved. Her arms and back were sore, her legs were cramping up. She sensed him walking toward her so she quickly recovered to display an advance set of firebending, her flames dancing around her.
"Wow," he said, "I can never get over how surreal your blue fire looks."
She hid a forming smile at this. "Oh, you're finished?" Azula turned to him.
"Yeah, I'm beat," he stretched out his arms, "I can wait for you though. Do want me to walk you to your room?"
"Do you think I can't protect myself?" She said with a sly smile. She was baiting him.
"Uh, no, of course you can Azula," he replied in a panic that his simple friendly offer had offended her.
"I have my guards to walk me back," she said bitterly, motioning to the men in armor by the pillars that appeared to have dozed off.
"We can always walk together," he suggested innocently.
The walk was a quiet and awkward one. The Princess was too exhausted to engage in any form of decent conversation while the Avatar was very persistent in starting one. After awhile, he gave up which greatly relieved the Princess. The heavy footfalls of her guards were the only sounds in the empty corridor. They reached Aang's guest room first but he insisted that he wanted to drop Azula at her chambers before heading to bed. Azula found this odd but she didn't have the energy to argue with him.
"Well here we are," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow, Azula."
She entered her bedroom without another word.
The very next day, Azula had found, to her extreme irritation, that the Avatar had beaten her to the courtyard yet again. Of course, there were many more training grounds to pick from littered across the grand palace but this was Azula's favorite one and she was too stubborn to give it up.
"You have to leave."
"Good morning to you too, Princess," Aang greeted good-humoredly, to her annoyance.
"You have to leave," she repeated.
"Where am I going?"
"Anywhere but here. You can train elsewhere," she told him. Azula preferred peace and quiet.
"Oh, but I like it here."
"So do I. And that's why you have to leave," Azula said.
"Why can't we train together?" he asked. "I mean, this place is big enough for the both of us," he gestured to the vastness of the courtyard.
"Because, Mister Avatar, your mere presence is a pain to me," she told him, feigning politeness.
"But we had fun last night didn't we?"
"Fun?" she asked, genuinely confused.
"And I heard your master left. You have no one to spar with. I think we should train together from now on," he suggested with a huge grin plastered across his face. "I'm a pretty good bender, if I do say so myself."
She rolled her eyes at this and simply said: "You stay on that side, I stay on this."
"It's a start," he replied.
Before long, the Princess and the Avatar became constant sparing partners. Azula found that Aang's strength was a welcome challenge that she did not know she had been looking for. Soon enough, she declined Zuko's proposal to find another master for her to train with stating that the Avatar was suitable enough for the position.
Zuko had argued that Aang already had other duties and adding one more might tip him off balance but Aang assured him that he actually wanted to do this.
"Avatar, you should use air instead of fire for our next session." Azula found air to be one of the more difficult elements he had used against her in their shared history in battle.
"Sounds good," he told her. The day was ending and their sparring session was over. "I'll walk you back."
She never argued with this anymore.
"Good night, Avatar," she told him.
"Good night to you too, Azula."