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A Nice, Calming Coup of Tea

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“Oh, Zuzu…”

“Yes, Lala,” he replied, playfully.

“No, don’t stop!” she whined.

He chuckled as his mouth returned to her nipple. As his teeth gently nibbled, one hand focused on rolling the other nub while the other kept her hair taught, making sure there was at least some light pain in her scalp.

“Ah, Zuko!” she exclaimed when he bit down, pinching hard at the same time.

He grinned as he felt her start to wri-

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

“Aah!”

“Rise and shine, Nephew! I’m surprised you weren’t already awake.”

“I-uh, I was-“

“Heh, no need to explain yourself, it’s perfectly normal to have those kinds of dreams, especially after a day like yesterday,” Uncle chuckled as he left Zuko to his needed privacy.

About Azula? My own sister? But that question was increasingly becoming a mere token resistance as he had already decided to arrange a dinner date with her next time they saw each other. The City Watch cleared out a gang den a couple days ago. I’ll check it out tonight.

That settled, the determined waiter set out his “date uniform” ready for noon, dressed in his work uniform, braced himself, and made his way downstairs to another miserable morning.

***

“Well, well. How nice of you to show up, Princess Azula. I trust your…date went well?” Long Feng smirked, as confident as a man in a cage could be.

“What do you want?!” demanded said princess, rattled from being dragged into the dungeons and locked in a cell with a man who certainly had, if not impure then certainly uncharitable intentions toward her.

“Want? I want your cooperation. I know you’re planning on conquering this city for the Fire Nation, but if I am granted full autonomy within these Walls, then maybe I could be of assistance in your goal.”

“And why should I let you out of here?”

“You don’t need to free me. I could walk out of this cell any time I wanted. But a mere handful of agents is not nearly enough to control the entire city. You need someone with my experience and expertise in order to properly rule this city. A mere girl like you would never be able to gather the support and power needed to govern Ba Sing Se. I am willing to be your governor and pledge my agents to your cause, but only if you are willing to do the same.”

“I-I’ll think about it,” she said, trembling slightly.

“You do that.”

And with that, the cell door was opened and she was dragged to her room, which was where she had been headed, to brief and debrief her friends.

“Azula! Are you OK?”

“I’m fine, Ty Lee.”

“What did they want?”

“He played his hand,” she looked up with a smirk.

“Right into yours?” Mai asked with a smirk of her own.

“Naturally. After all, who would suspect a ‘mere girl’ like me?”

“Ooh, did you act for them? It’s always so much fun when you put on an act for people.”

“Of course I did. He wanted to see a helpless little girl in over her head, so that’s all he saw.”

“Well, enough about that. How was your date?”

“It went well. We had an interesting lunch, walked by a fountain, took a nap-“

“So, you slept with him?” Mai with her deadpan, of course.

“I DID NOT-I did not sleep with him. We took a nap.”

“All alone, from noon to sundown. Was it on a bed, snuggled up against one another?”

“It was on a roof. One of my agents found us and woke us up.”

“And you headed back here immediately, right?”

“Well, no. We had the single most disgustingly bland noodles, then some frozen sweet thing.”

“Ooh, ooh! So after sleeping with you, he treated you to breakfast?”

“It was just a nap! And it was terrible dinner made up for with dessert.”

“I don’t suppose that dessert smudged your lip paint, did it?”

Panicked, Azula rushed to the mirror, checking her makeup for Zuko-induced flaws.

“So you DID expect there to be a smudge where your mouth should be, that means you kissed him after dessert!”

*sigh* “Yes, we kissed.”

“A simple meeting of the lips wouldn’t smudge anything.”

“Fine, we kissed deeply. We sucked face for a good 20 seconds…He was a good kisser.”

Pause for squeals.

“So how was your day?”

“Threw some knives, chatted with the blind girl.”

“Toph also made an obstacle course for me. It was fun, especially when she started making the columns move.”

“Is she able to predict your movements?”

“She’s getting better at it, but only because she already knew I was there. If I can sneak up on her, she’d never see me coming.”

“So you can neutralize her if necessary.”

“Yup!”

“Well, it’s time for bed, so go away.”

“All right, we’ll leave you alone to think about your boyfriend while you take a bath.” Complete and utter deadpan.

“Just get out of here!” Azula said, blushing. And then she took a bath, with her brother at the forefront of her mind while she rubbed herself all over.

***

“So, what do you do all day, when you’re not taking orders from uppity snobs?”

“Well, there’s always some kind of cleaning to do around the shop, from keeping the floor clear of debris, to wiping down the tables, to dusting the decorations. In my free time after closing, I dress in dark clothes and take to the rooftops.”

“Ooh, anything interesting happen?”

“Eh, mostly just gossip. Get this, the snobs think you’re some noble’s daughter having a scandalous affair with a lowly common waiter. You should hear the way they talk about how I dragged you out of the shop that one time.”

“I’m sure they very much enjoyed themselves making up some fantasy they themselves could never experience trying to find some meaning in their uneventful, worthless lives.”

“Wow, Azula. So, how do you spend your days? Smirking your way into the vulnerable hearts of big, strong, lonely men?”

“As a matter of fact, I spend my days clawing my way into their hearts through back alley whispers, convincing them to abandon their beliefs in their former leader. First comes the doubts that he was acting in the best interests of the King and Ba Sing Se at large, helped by the Avatar’s actions, then wondering if a new leader should be appointed, then presenting myself as the best option, or one of the agents already in my pocket.”

“How successful are you?”

“I’ve managed to secure the explicitly stated loyalty of half the organization. The blind earthbender isn’t helping, but she has limits, including not being able to sense someone in the air.”

“Ty Lee?”

“Naturally. Thank you for your input,…Lee,” she called him, not trusting the other diners to not be listening in. Which, one of them was, so it was completely justified, but for an entirely different reason.

“It’s always my pleasure to help you. Um, I was wondering if you’d be able to make tomorrow’s date dinner rather than lunch?”

“Of course. Why?”

“Oh, I just wanted to show you something I’d found during my nighttime walks. It’s easier to get to at night.”

“Sounds like fun,” she replied, looking down at her empty plate. “Any plans for after lunch today?”

“Not really. We could wander again, see what kinds of stalls this area has.”

“All right,” she said, standing.

They then walked aimlessly through the winding streets, eventually finding a dead end to get mugged in. Of course, they had noticed the hungry gaze on their backs so they were prepared. It was seven on two, so they really never stood a chance. Fortunately, it wasn’t very far from a more respectable region, where they ran into a familiar face.

“Lee!” Jin threw her arms around him in greeting. “Who’s this?”

“Uh, t-this is my girlfriend, Qing.”

“And who, exactly, are you?” You wouldn’t think a firebender’s voice could get that arctic, but there you go.

“Oh, I’m Jin. Lee and I went on a date a few days ago. Your uncle said you were sick. You look better.”

“I am better.”

“Well, good. See you around!” And with that, she waved off, cheerfully not-quite-retreating from the fire coming out of Azula’s eyes.

“See you.”

“You will not pursue any other girls while in a relationship with me,” Azula basically growled, dragon’s teeth and claws emerging.

“Of course not. Why would I?” Zuko asked, utterly baffled as to what she was talking about.

“Good,” she replied, calming down.

A certain blind girl walked off, chuckling as she went to report her findings.

***

“Anything interesting happen today, nephew?”

“Not really. A couple idiots tried to corner us, I ran into Jin, nothing exciting.”

“A young lady never enjoys being called ‘nothing exciting’, nephew.”

“But it was just Jin. What’s exciting about seeing her around?”

“Did your lady friend react…strangely around her?”

“Well, she told me not to ‘pursue any other girls’, whatever that means.”

Uncle chuckles. “And what’s this about getting cornered?”

“Eh, like I said, a couple idiots. They didn’t bring nearly enough backup for a fight with us.”

“‘Us’? You never told me your lady was a fighter.”

“Yeah, she is. It was fun to watch her trash them,” he said with a soft smile.

“Well, as long as neither of you were hurt.”

“We’re fine, Uncle,” Zuko whined while putting on his apron, turning to get back to work.

“If you say so, Nephew.” “A couple”? More like a handful, from what I’d heard, Uncle thought to himself. This ‘Qing’ doesn’t sound like any ‘noble’s daughter’ I’ve ever heard of before, at least not outside-no. She couldn’t be Fire Nation. For one thing, the Fire Nation can’t get in here, I should know. For another, no Fire Nation girl, especially one of higher birth, would want a scarred, banished nobody like my nephew. She must be a daughter of a more progressive family, or a situation like young Toph’s, where she learned in spite of her parents’ wishes. Yes, a young rebel. Possibly going through some kind of phase where she discards her family’s belief system. And with that, most of Uncle’s suspicions were allayed, though a sliver of doubt remained. What kind of girl could possibly inspire such adoration from Zuko, as well as be possessive enough to growl at him like Toph said she did? And then there was their “first meeting” where he dragged her out of the shop without even finishing his introduction? But Iroh wasn’t thinking about that right now. All he was thinking about was how nice it was that Zuko was in a loving relationship with a girl who wanted him. And making sure none of the tea was mis-brewed.

***

“What could he possibly see in a peasant like her? Her hair is a ferret-rat’s nest, she has no sense of propriety, or personal hygiene, and she’s Earth Kingdom!”

“Did he show any interest in her?”

“Well, no-“

“Was he defensive when you confronted him?”

“Not re-“

“Did you see any evidence that he was anything less than devoted to you?”

“…No.”

“Then it sounds to me like you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“Mai’s right! And besides, what was her personality like? Was it like yours?”

“No. She actually reminded me of a lesser version of you, but without any of the abilities.”

“And is he the kind of guy that would be into me?” she asked with a splitting grin.

“No. Maybe Mai, but not you.”

“Oh, should I follow you on your next date, try and steal your boyfriend from you?”

Azula’s eyes darkened and narrowed, her fingers curled into claws, and her voice turned low, gravelly, and dead. “Try it and I’ll rip your eyes out.”

“Okay, okay. I was only joking,” Mai raised her hands, backing away into her sofa and making herself as small as possible, genuinely scared for the first time in a very long time.

“Don’t worry, Azula, No one’s going to take your boyfriend away from you. It sounds like even if anyone tried, he would never leave you,” Ty Lee tried to mollify the feral dragon in the room, trying her damnedest to tamp down on her natural reaction to an apex predator appearing right in front of her.

In all her years of being on edge around Azula, there had always been some minor reassurance that she was dealing with a rational, meticulous, and non-wasteful, if a little cruel, girl that never actually intended any lasting harm, especially so long as her demands were met and she was kept happy. There was no such reassurance here and now. For the first time dealing with Azula, Ty Lee felt genuine terror.

Fortunately, Ty Lee was right about her nature and the rational girl returned to prominence in her own body, dragon returning below the skin and behind the eyes where it belonged, all evidence of her more animalistic nature wiped away beneath the mask of Princess Azula.

“Good. I don’t like sharing, or losing what’s mine.” And with that, both her friends vowed to never leave her side. Not for the Fire Lord, not for status, not for any boy, not even for their own life. Because they never ever forgot what happens when a dragon is threatened with the loss of its hoard.