Actions

Work Header

A Nice, Calming Coup of Tea

Chapter Text

“Master? Excuse me, Master?”

Zuko stirred, far too early, to the sight of a Dai Li agent shaking him awake.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, but I thought you and the Mistress would rather have an early start.”

“And what do you think her reaction would be? Who are you, anyway?” he asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“My name is Ping, Master. After she finished trying valiantly to set me on fire with her eyes, I’m sure she’d dismiss me and get started with her day, or in this case, returning to where she’s supposed to be so people can see her starting her day. After all, the main conspiracy theory between you two has a grain of truth to it…Yes, that’s the expression she’d have, Master.”

Grumbling and rising, Zuko waved his hand at him, “All right, fine. Now get out, Ping. I’m sure she’d rather I woke her,” he said with a smirk.

“Indeed, Master. Do try and avoid taking too long, though. A firebender like yourself would know better than I do how late it is,” the agent said as he left.

After checking the window and door, Zuko turned his attention to his current task of waking his sister up. And I know just how to do it, he smirked to himself. After all, it was her idea.

And with that, he crawled under the blanket from the foot, spreading her knees as he went, and set about repeating his performance from before.

***

Azula thought she was dreaming, feeling her brother’s tongue on her pussy again, especially since this time she had full range of motion, able to crush his head between her legs or grab his hair with her hands. The more he stimulated her, the more she thrashed about, gripping his hair and grazing his scalp with her claws. As she reached the climactic peak, she only vented a small plume from her mouth this time, but she also clamped down on his head with her legs like the jaws of a trap slamming shut.

As the haze faded and she became aware of her surroundings, she also noticed an unusual sensation on her thighs. Looking down, she noticed that, just like in her dream, Zuko’s face was lodged into her crotch and his hands were trying to spread her legs so he could breathe. While her first instinct nowadays was to release him, instead she fell back on old habits by stroking his hair, smirking, and asking “So, how long can you hold your breath?”

Hearing this, Zuko stopped his struggles and started drumming his fingers on her thigh, indicating that, while he did want to breathe, he didn’t necessarily need to for a while. Of course, when he heard her giggling at his response, he reached under, near the very top of her leg, pinched hard with his fingernails and twisted.

“Ow!” she yelped, jerking away and glaring down at his now smugly smirking face.

“Good morning. Figured I’d return the favor.” Sobering up, he asked, “Is there anywhere you need to be before dawn?”

“Not really,” she replied, rubbing the pinch site. “But I do have something interesting to show you,” she said, her expression brightening as she crossed her legs beneath her. “Look!” And she showed her brother her new trick.

“Wow,” he said, amazed. “How do you get the colored sparks?”

“Well, I figured out long ago that our tutors are stupid, saying that only anger can fuel our flames. It’s part of how my fire is blue, I use my determination and passion to be the best to fuel it, and I also make sure to use a smaller, more compact source, like my fingertips rather than a fist or open palm. Anyway, when you said to cauterize my clawmarks on your leg, I was thinking about…how much I…cared about you, and that I needed to fix you up.” She was, of course, blushing with that last bit, cluing her brother as to the true nature of her thoughts.

Sparing her dignity, he went ahead and didn’t bring attention to it, focusing instead on her words regarding her iconic blue flames. Bringing one finger up, he lit it like normal. Upon seeing his normal golden flames, he felt out how the energy was traveling down his arm, through his hand, into his finger, and out the tip, calling upon his uncle’s teachings about redirecting lightning for guidance. As he closed his eyes, he noticed that the channel seemed to thin down as it passed his wrist and even further as it split into the individual fingers, but it kept its size after that. Consciously controlling the flow, he…pinched the end of the path so it tapered more than normal.

“There, just like that.” Opening his eyes, he noticed a blue base to his normal gold. The more he narrowed the aperture, the more the blue overtook the gold, but it never stayed blue, always fading, no matter what he tried. “Think about what you’re feeling,” Azula said, noticing his frustration. Glancing at her, Zuko gave a short nod before focusing back on the flame at his fingertip. Instinctively, he reached for his anger and frustration, which he had become intimately familiar with over the past three years, but all that did was make the blue and gold fade to a more red-ish color.

“Zuzu, calm down,” she said, laying a hand on his arm. “Determination, not anger. Remember, our tutors are low-born fools who don’t know the first thing about firebending.”

“Grr, then what have I been doing my whole life?” he exploded.

“Failing,” she replied with a face carved from stone. “If you want to succeed, you’ll need to let go of this anger. Why are you so angry all the time? What’s holding you back?”

“I…I don’t know,” he admitted, looking down.

“You look ashamed. Why? Is it because of this?” she asked, gesturing to their naked forms.

“No! No, this is the first thing that’s felt right in years.”

“What then? Is it about Uncle? Keeping him in the dark?”

“No, he wouldn’t understand. It’s better he doesn’t know about this.”

“…Is it father?”

“…Maybe.”

“…Do you regret what you did?”

“No. It was wrong to sacrifice an entire division of teenagers just for a badgermole hill. Thousands of kids our own age dead when we really can’t afford to waste so many lives. We can’t win a war of attrition against such a large continent with so many people and wasting lives like that is just burning ourselves.”

“Father approved of the plan.”

Zuko was silent for a long time after that, the gears in his head almost audibly whirring, until “Father was wrong.” Having finally taken that first step, he took a deep breath and continued. “He was wrong to approve of the plan, he was wrong to punish me for speaking out against it, he was wrong to send Zhao to the Northern Water Tribe, he was wrong to favor Zhao in the first place,…and he’s wrong to still be fighting this war. We have enough territory, everything past Taku is just rebellious dirt.”

“And if he’s wrong about all these things, what have you to be ashamed of?”

“…Nothing. None of this was my fault. I’ve been in the right the whole time.” And with that, he drew in a deep breath, letting all the negativity gather in his core, and with determination to be worthy of his sister, not his father anymore, but the one person whose love he no longer doubts, he released them, purging himself with a puff of flame the color of a cloudless sky.

Opening his eyes, he saw only the dazzling, joyful, pure smile of his sister, a sight he had never actually seen before. The greed, ambition, and wicked cunning so eternally prevalent in her eyes was completely absent as she squealed and clapped her hands, throwing her arms around him as if she was Ty Lee.

“You did it!”

“Yeah…I did,” he replied, as a similarly happy grin crept across his own face.

“Now can you keep it up?” she asked, returning to her cross-legged position.

Extending his finger again, he summoned his flame like he always had, except now it was blue, base to dancing plume. Moving his hand so it looked like he was wrapping his fingers around an invisible ball, he set all five fingers alight. Since the other four weren’t calibrated like the first one, they still had some gold, so he pinched the channel the same way.

“Hold on, I feel like you’re not doing it right. What are you doing to your fingers?”

“Well, the chi flows through channels, like a river, and when those channels get to my fingers, they’re narrow enough I can pinch them almost shut.”

“What about when you have a palm or fist of fire?” she asked, cupping a blue flame of her own.

“You said to use a more narrow source.”

“Doing it like that is like taking a smithing hammer and banging on your finger until it’s flat. Not only does it hurt, it makes your finger useless. Now undo whatever it is you did to yourself. I won’t have my brother maimed again.”

Disappointed, Zuko restored the pathways to their original shape, letting gold into the upper portions of the plumes.

“What, did you think I was able to make my fire completely blue the first time I tried? It took me weeks of practice to turn it all one color, even after it leaves my hands. I may have been born lucky, but the only way I could properly make use of that luck was to build on it, otherwise I’d have wasted it and not only would I have lost the advantage, but I’d find myself going backwards.”

Raising his head, Zuko looked her in the eyes and said, “Then I’ll work as hard as I need to. One day, I’ll finally catch up to you.” Seeing the determined glint in his eyes, Azula was unsurprised to see all the gold vanish from the flames on his fingers. Progress, she thought, smirking.

“Well, now that we’ve spent a solid ten degrees of sunlight on that, do you want to try out this new rainbow fire?”

Excited, Zuko perked up, eager to learn more from the best teacher he’d ever had. This includes Iroh, since apparently infinite patience doesn’t exactly help when there’s an issue that honestly needs resolution or a question that doesn’t need an answer that takes all day to say, dances around the topic, and takes long enough to ponder that the student has forgotten the entire conversation and only learned not to ask questions that he wants an answer to or all he’d gain was a headache when he was already in perpetual achiness. Azula is also much more pleasant to look at, especially when she has nothing on, including jewelry keeping her hair up.

“Remember what I said about how our emotions and mental state dictate our flames, and what I used to make the rainbow?”

“Yup,” he replied, holding his hand out, focusing, and producing a golden flames with hints of color. Not the sparks she was able to make, but a good start, and she said as much.

“All right, so. I mentioned that I was able to fix what I did, so why don’t you try it?” she asked, then proceeded to draw a line on her arm, making it bleed.

“I just hold it to the wound?”

“That’s right. Go ahead,” she held her arm out to him. Seeing his hesitation, she exasperatedly said “Stop worrying. Focus on making it better.”

Glancing up at her, he did just that, making the colors more pronounced, making occasional sparks. As he held it to her arm, she winced a little, but it worked. His finger came away, leaving an unblemished, clean arm.

“Well, as you get more practice, you’ll get better at it,” she said, rubbing her arm.

“Did I hurt you?” he asked.

“Not more than I can handle,” she waved off his concerns. “The important thing is, now you can do both of those things. Maybe we can work-” she was cut off by both their stomachs growling.

“Or maybe we can get breakfast and pick up the training later. I think I know of a place, but I’ve never been there.”

“Yes. Shall we meet here or at the teashop tonight, and will this be before or after dinner?”

“I think we should stick to our schedule. Uncle might try and sneak a peek, but better he be curious than suspicious. And speaking of better safe than sorry, I think this is as far as we should go, at least until we’re older.”

“Hmm, yes. I have no intention of risking ruining my body out of impatience. We will continue at this level, of course.”

“Of course. Why would we stop?”

“There is absolutely no reason why we would ever stop doing this.”

And with that, they got dressed, had some comparatively bland breakfast, and parted ways at the teashop.

***

“You know, if you plan on taking a woman to bed, you should brew a certain tea first. I’m too young to be a grandfather,” Iroh chuckled as he noticed his nephew fail to sneak into his room.

“Why is it always tea with you?” said nephew grumbled as he stomped the rest of the way to his room.

***

“Welcome back.”

“Wipe that look off your face. And get out of my room, I’m taking a bath.”

“You need it.”

“You shut up, too, unless you have anything actually useful to say.”

“Only a warning to be careful. If he knew who you were-“

“That isn’t an issue.”

“What about physical maturity? Can your body withstand intercourse, let alone bearing a child?”

“No, it can’t. And that’s why we’ve decided to wait a while.”

“Do you have a while? Will you take him back to Caldera? Will he want to?”

“Yes, yes, and yes. I know what I’m doing. I appreciate your concern, truly I do, but you don’t need to worry, everything’s under control.”

And with that, Azula turned to the bathroom and started preparing a bath, prompting Mai to follow Ty Lee with a thoughtful frown.

***

He’s here. Zuko is here. The Fire Nation is here! It was all for nothing! No, I have to tell someone! The Earth King! He’ll do something about this! There’s the big door! “Suki! Thank goodness you’re here. This is terrible, the Fire Nation has infiltrated the city! I just saw Prince Zuko and his uncle, we have to tell the Earth King right away!”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll be sure to let him know,” Azula replied, stepping into the light. Realizing that the situation was infinitely worse than she thought, Katara tried to fight, but Ty Lee was too fast and Katara fell to the ground, paralyzed. “So, you found Zuzu. It’s really too bad for you I found him first,” Azula told her, prompting confused looks from her friends. If she found him, does that mean he’s the one she’s been meeting? Well, we certainly got something wrong, since there’s no way they’d be going on dates like we thought.

***

“The waterbender found you. She’s locked up beneath the city right now.”

“How did she do that?”

“Well, it’s not as though you’re particularly discreet, Zuzu,” she said, cradling his scar in her hand, prompting him to nuzzle it.

“What happens now? Isn’t this a little early?”

“Not really. It’s actually according to schedule. If anything it’s slightly later than I anticipated. I’m sure at some point in the morning her boyfriend will come to her rescue and then we can strike. I’ll send for you when he’s sighted.”

“I’ll be there.”

When they got to “their apartment,” they wasted no time in shedding everything, sitting her on his lap, and enjoying each other’s bodies.

“You know, this will probably be the last time we can do this.”

“What do you mean, Zuzu?”

“Well, you know Ozai doesn’t want me back, so-“

“You will be coming back with me. We’ll take this annoying city, kill the Avatar, and if Father doesn’t accept that as enough, well. He’s as fireproof as you are.”

Nothing was cuter to Zuko than his baby sister being her usual cunning, malevolent self now that it wasn’t him she was plotting against. “Still, will we be allowed to meet like this in a place where everyone’s watching us?”

“No one can watch us every second of every day. If that means one of us has to go sneaking through the passageways, then fine. And if that isn’t enough, we can simply disappear from the palace entirely. There is nothing that can stop this, remember.”

“Right. We’ll still probably have to take a break until we get back home. Sound travels far and wide on a ship.”

“Well then, we’d better make tonight count.” Where their activities the day before were a frenzy of newly-discovered freedom, tonight was a far slower, more tender affair, not only because of the anticipated break, but also because they knew that one of the biggest fights of their lives was tomorrow.

“We might not both survive this. While the Avatar is a pacifist, the Avatar Spirit is not so restrained, nor is the waterbender.”

“If they kill you, it’ll be the last thing they do,” she replied, baring her fangs. “Now stop thinking. Things tend to go wrong when you think too hard.”

“As your highness commands.”

***

When she returned to the palace in the morning, having gotten healing from Zuko and healing him in return, Azula rallied the Dai Li, ordering them to take the King and the Council of Five into custody. Looking the leader of the King’s loyalists in the eye, she dared him to raise a single concern about what they were doing, but he could feel the direction of the wind. “I will take the King into custody myself. He will be safe and secure.”

“I’m sure he will be. I think Chung will assist you in this,” she gestured to one of her devoted Dai Li with a knowing smirk.

“I‘m sure he’ll be a fine help,” the loyalist, Ghao, replied, chafing at the thought of the King being used against him in this manner.

After they left, a messenger showed up to inform the girls that the Avatar had been seen returning to the city with his earthbender and nonbender friends.

“Mai, Ty Lee, you know what to do.” As they left, she turned to a Dai Li agent in the shadows. “You, Ping, right?”

“Yes, Mistress. Do you wish for me to bring the Master?”

Narrowing her eyes at him, she asked suspiciously “Who do you call ‘Master’?”

“Your paramour, Mistress. I understand he’s also a firebender?”

“Yes. He also happens to be my brother,” she said, looking very intently at the agent.

“I see. So you have taken your brother as a romantic partner?”

“What’s it to you?”

“It matters not to me. That he is your brother simply means he is your equal in a way that few others are. If anything, it justifies my calling him Master. Would you like me to retrieve him?”

“…Yes. And be discreet about it, we don’t want my uncle to suspect anything or he might try and stop us.”

“I shall be as a shadow,” he said, bowing.

As Azula watched him leave, she considered how trustworthy he was. It was dangerous for anyone to know all her secrets, but he had kept quiet and discreet when he found them on the roof. If she had known about him waking Zuko up after their first tryst, she might’ve thought it worth silencing him, especially if he had already started taking orders from someone other than herself, but she only knew him from the rooftop, so she was simply quietly suspicious with little reason to trust or distrust him.

***

As Zuko was cleaning tables, he glanced outside and noticed something odd about the shadows on the other side of the courtyard. Recognizing the form of a Dai Li agent, he handed his rag to a colleague and went behind a neighboring building, trusting the shadow to find him.

“Master, the Mistress summons you. The Council of Five and the Earth King are being apprehended as we speak, and the Avatar has been seen approaching the Inner Ring.”

“Good. Where is the waterbender being held?”

“In Old Ba Sing Se, deep below the palace. Shall I take you to her?”

“Not quite. I want to be in position for when the Avatar rescues her. She is bait, right?”

“I don’t presume to understand your sister’s mind, but that sounds reasonable.”

After a long look due to the “sister” comment, Zuko nodded. “Bring me just above the roof of the cavern. I want to be able to see when he arrives. We’ll stalk them like a panthersnake in the branches of a tree, waiting for the opportune moment to strike.”

“As the Master wishes,” Ping said, opening the ground beneath them.

Meanwhile, Iroh was asking the staff where his nephew went, and when he failed to find him nearby, started planning on how to rescue him from Azula’s clutches, since obviously she used the Dai Li to kidnap him.

“Hey, Uncle! How’s it going?”

“I need your help. May I enter?”

Sokka and Toph rushed into the throne room to warn the king, but he wasn’t alone.

“Mai! Ty Lee!”

“Oh, hi Toph! And hello to you, too, cutie,” Ty Lee leaned in very close to Sokka.

“Uh, I’m kinda involved with Suki.”

“Who?” Suddenly she found herself getting launched into the air, landing on a wall decoration.

“You two aren’t Kyoshi Warriors!”

“Did we ever say we were?”

“Give it up, Mai. It’s over.”

“Yes, it is.” Suddenly Azula had all attention on herself as she held the Earth King at flame-point. “Now hold still for a moment,” she said as Ty Lee dropped down and paralyzed them both.

“Sorry about that Toph. Can you still see?”

“Of course I can’t fucking see, Ty Lee! You blocked my earthbending!”

As the prisoners were being escorted away, Long Feng walked in, with the bulk of the Dai Li behind him. “Now comes the part where I double-cross you. Dai Li, arrest the Fire Nation Princess…I said, Arrest her! What is wrong with you?”

But Azula knew better. She hadn’t spent the past week doing nothing but play with Zuzu, after all. She had also been busy securing their trust. Those who didn’t trust her, she made them respect her. And those who failed to respect her learned to fear her. When faced with the choice between their old leader, who schemed and manipulated from the shadows to keep what he had, and the Princess, who also schemed and manipulated, but did so to gain power and did it on her own, not relying nearly as much on others, the choice of who to follow was no longer as cut-and-dry. Now, with the agents conflicted, it fell to the leaders to walk the walk rather than simply talk the talk, as they had been doing.

And while Long Feng, sedentary and comfortable in his position, was taken by surprise at the changing of the winds, Azula expected it with all the anticipation of a brush fire waiting for the wind to carry it up the mountain and engulf the entire face of it in flames. And so Long Feng bowed, the common peasant realizing his place in relation to one who was born in greatness and fought her entire life to be even greater. The tigerdillo cowering before the dragon.

“You’ve beaten me at my own game.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, you were never even a player.”

***

“Aang! I knew you would come.”

“What is my uncle doing here?” Zuko muttered to himself.

“Perhaps he thought you were captured, too? If you kept him uninformed of the truth of your activities, he must have suspected your sister to see you as either a threat or a target.”

“And so he joined an enemy of the Fire Nation in direct opposition to its designs.” Seeing the Avatar drag his waterbender down the tunnel he had dug and Iroh looking around for him, Zuko stood up. “Stand back, I’m breaking through.”

“Master, that’s almost a foot of soli-“ Ping was interrupted by an explosive impact on the stone floor as Zuko took a small hop, spun, and brought his heel down, sundering and expanding the hole he had been using to spy and maybe peek a little.

“Ungh!” Zuko made sure not to land particularly well, or at least appear to, and glare up at Ping, who plugged the hole back up, making another spy hole elsewhere just in case his assistance was needed.

“Zuko! Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, uncle. What are you doing here?”

“I’m helping the Avatar rescue you and young Katara.” Ah, so that’s her name. Noted.

“Why, uncle?”

“You are not the man you used to be, Zuko.” What happened to calling me by my title, anyway? Am I not worthy of that little respect? “You are stronger and wiser and freer than you have ever been.” You have no idea. You think it was your efforts, but you just wanted me to exchange one mold for another. “And now, you have come to the crossroads of your destiny. It’s time for you to choose good.” What?

Suddenly the green crystals started erupting around Iroh, trapping him. “The traitor commits treason, who could’ve guessed? At least I know you’re not a traitor, Zuko. Come on, let’s end this,” Azula said, dismissing the agents with her and going after the Avatar and Katara.

“Zuko, I’m begging you, look into your heart and see what it is you truly want.”

“I could use your help, by the way!” Azula called out from down the tunnel.

I already know what I truly want.

“Ping!”

The summoned agent dropped down from the ceiling. “Yes, Master?”

“Go get a dozen agents to guard him, then come back and sink him into the ground.” Turning back to Iroh’s shocked face, he said “Coming to a crossroads implies a choice, multiple paths I would want to take. You say to choose good, but you never told me what that meant. I’ve already made the only right choice: my sister. Azula has taught me more in this past week than you have in three years. All you ever did was tell me meaningless proverbs, and whenever I asked a question I genuinely wanted answered, all you would give me was a headache. At least she gives me straight answers, tells me what I’m doing wrong, helps me improve, and is honest with me.”

“Zuko-“ was all Iroh could get out before he sank to his chin.

“Master, perhaps you should assist the Mistress?”

“Good work, Ping. Everyone keep an eye on him, try and keep him from breathing too deeply.”

“I taught you that,” Iroh mumbled as Zuko walked past.

Meanwhile, Azula was discovering that she truly was outmatched, for once in her life. The reality of fighting two waterbenders, one of whom could earthbend, next to an underground lake was quickly turning into a losing battle, only stalled by their uncertainty and fear-based hesitation.

Suddenly, Zuko dropped down right on the Avatar, almost cracking his skull with a falling kick, which Aang only managed to dodge at the last moment. Panicking, Aang started running, his worst nightmare coming true: Zuko was right in front of him and there was no one who could stop him. Every time he tried to bend the earth under Zuko, he would simply jump, bouncing off stalactites and crystals. Every time he would gather water, Zuko would cut off the stream and flash-boil the collected water with precise blue flames, which unnerved Aang in ways he didn’t have time to think about right then. Any time he tried attacking with air, Zuko would either dodge around it or block it and use the momentum to launch a fireball back. After all, Aang hadn’t been the only one learning from the other elements. Whenever he got far enough away, a blazing blue whip would lash out, grabbing his leg. And through it all, Zuko was constantly getting closer. Always advancing, always pressing, never relenting.

Eventually, Aang glanced over to Katara, who was managing to hold her own, and realized that holding on to her wasn’t doing any good. In fact, without the Avatar state, she was doing much better against her opponent than he was. So, finding himself overwhelmed, he used the tenting move Toph kept demonstrating to hide himself from the Fire Nation Prince so he could meditate in peace. Since he had already done most of the work at the Eastern Air Temple, all he had to do was let go of his earthly attachments.

First, Appa. It was hard, letting himself let go of his closest friend, and he did feel somewhat lesser without that bond, but Bison don’t live as long as humans, so Aang would’ve had to do this at some point anyway.

Next, Bumi. The only human friend he had left from Before. But this Bumi was a different Bumi than the one he had known. Sure, he still loved his pranks and was still mad, but he had a different way of looking at the world now. And, just like with Appa, Aang would outlive him by a significant margin.

Next up was Sokka, Toph, Momo, and all the other friends he had made. While he was very fond of them, he had only met them all within the past year. Much like the wind, friends come and go, and as a nomad, he would eventually leave each of them behind at their sedentary homes.

Finally, there was Katara. His forever girl. The girl he was basically promised would be there at the end, ready to reward him with her love for stopping the Fire Lord and saving the world, who would go with him wherever he wanted to go, taking care of him just like she does now. Can I really just give her up like this?

Is one girl worth the entire world? Would she want you to sacrifice your potential because you couldn’t let go of your selfish wants? Is that what the world needs?

…No, I suppose not.

And with that, the Avatar awoke. Many times he had stirred in his slumber, but for the first time in over a century, the Avatar displayed his glory, rising up out of the crystals ready to unleash the wrath of a god on the blood-soaked monster before him, unfettered by human restraint. Had Aang practiced beforehand, learning control, he would’ve been able to avoid a repeat of the massacre of the North, but once again the human was swallowed up by a Spirit with no sense of restraint, only 10,000 generations of battle-hardened warriors.

***

When he saw the Avatar go into his crystal cone, Zuko smirked, knowing that he wouldn’t have to worry about chasing him anymore, and figured he and Azula could handle him. Especially since the Avatar was alone while Zuko and Azula had dozens of Dai Li ready to step in if they needed numbers. Looking over to an alcove, he called to the agents “Gather all available forces. We have the advantage down here.” Satisfied by them turning and heading through the wall, he turned to witness his worst nightmare: Azula getting impaled by an icicle in her chest.

Time stopped, his heart with it. His sister, the one he spent his whole life trying to catch up to, the one he hated with a passion, the one he had spent the last week falling in love with, the light of his life, who he had given up what little he had for, was dead. All sense of reason left his mind, all color faded from the world, leaving only shades of red, and all feeling left him, leaving a void, quickly being filled with a single sensation: rage. Then the savage dared to take a step towards her, gathering water to her hand, ready to confirm the kill, and he snapped.

***

Oh, no! I didn’t mean to kill her! I thought she would block that! I gotta heal her now, before she bleeds out! As Katara started running to the princess, wrapping water around her hand, ready to heal the deep wound, she suddenly stopped, the hairs on her neck standing up as she heard a low rumble. Most would think it an earthquake, or around here they’d think it was an earthbender being loud, but she had honed her senses alongside her brother to be able to instantly recognize when a large predator was around. But this was confusing, since the only large predator within the walls of Ba Sing Se was Bosco. Unfortunately, her confusion wouldn’t last.

Looking around, she witnessed a terrible sight. Standing next to a small peak of crystal was Zuko, except…it wasn’t. As she watched, his fingers curled, nails lengthening and sharpening into claws, teeth doing the same, turning into fangs, his hair turning into a mane longer than her own hair, but his eyes, focused, determined eyes she had seen so many times before were still focused, but it was all on her, and there was no longer a human behind them. No longer was this the boy who was willing to make deals, no longer was this the young man who showed mercy to a fallen foe, who only fought as much as was necessary and limited collateral damage as much as he could. Now, the only thing behind those eyes was a dragon. A dragon who clearly wanted one thing: her corpse.

***

Ping watched from afar as the Master…changed following the Mistress’ severe wound. He could feel nothing but pity for all three of them as flames erupted from the Master’s feet, propelling him at the young waterbender, who couldn’t dodge quickly enough for his claws to shred her left arm, carving flesh from bone and drawing a pained screech from the girl. As she turned it away from him, covering herself with a water-wreathed arm, he put his hand on it, heating the water so that it seared her skin, then yanked it hard enough to hear a pop as her shoulder disconnected, twisting the flesh so as to make that arm even more useless than the one practically sliced in half. Somehow, she still managed to gather enough water to carry herself across the cavern and past the Avatar’s hiding spot. Ping also noticed the skin on her left arm actually stitching itself back together somewhat and he even heard a second *pop* as the seared arm repositioned itself. Unfortunately, it also distracted her enough that by the time she noticed how close the Master had gotten to her, his claws were already raking across her entire torso, lit with flames of every color imaginable and seeming to cause agonizing pain if her screams were any indication.

The blood pouring out of the slash marks were another indication. Him crushing her left hand with a rainbow-enflamed boot was almost an afterthought at this point, simply serving to make both her arms similarly ravaged. As the Master stood above her, burning claws held above his head, ready to take hers off, suddenly the cavern was filled with light. The Avatar had awoken.

***

No, no, no! I failed. I failed my father, not being able to bring back the Avatar, I failed my nation, not stopping the Avatar from being able to do whatever he wanted to them, I failed my sister. My sister is dead, my honor is lost to me forever, my nation will shortly fall to ruin, and the Avatar is about to kill me the way he killed thousands of my countrymen. I have nothing, I am nothing, my world is cold, dark, and empty. All hope is lost, the only thing I can do is try and bring him down with me.

With an empty heart, Zuko extended two fingers and drew them in a circle, the way he did dozens of times weeks ago, trying and failing to produce even a hint of a spark of lightning. But this time, the sparks positively dripped off his hand as he prepared one final strike, the desperation of a man already dead with nothing to lose.

As he extended his hand, his world filled with light as the Avatar suddenly jerked in place where he had been floating, arms moving away from his torso, providing a clear path from Zuko’s fingertips directly to the Avatar’s heart, where his lightning struck true, sending the Avatar to the ground. Looking to the source of the strange light, he felt the color return to the world. Azula was alive! As he rode on a wave of many-colored flame to his sister, he completely missed the waterbender do the same to catch the Avatar. Focused on his sister as he was, he utterly failed to notice Iroh burst into the cavern fighting Dai Li so the two could escape. As the Dai Li took Iroh into custody, some taking him to a cell while the others gathered around the siblings, Zuko was concentrating on the euphoria of feeling Azula breathe, feeding that into his flames as he pressed his hand to the gaping wound in her chest, feeling her breath strengthen as the hole closed.

When she finally started breathing easy without any blood coming out, he looked up for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. “Take her to her room,” he growled, not realizing how his voice sounded. “I want her guarded at all times, no one other than me in or out. Now, what happened?”

As Ping organized her transfer, Chung told him about how Iroh allowed the waterbender to escape with the Avatar’s body, as well as the situation upstairs, where the Avatar’s allies managed to free the Earth King and escape, somehow managing to bust down the metal door to the metal cell as if they earthbent without any earth available.

“Round up any Dai Li that are loyal to the King or Long Feng and bring them to me. Also, execute the Council of Five. I don’t want them leading anyone against my people ever again.”

“Of course Master. Would you like the execution to be public so it can be turned into a show for the masses?”

Hearing this, Zuko paused. “Dammit, fine, no executions until I can be there to officiate them. And Azula needs my attention, so just hold the rebel agents for now. Now, I’m going to tend to my sister. Guard the door, I don’t want any interruptions except when I summon food.” With that, he followed the ones carrying his sister to her room, where he undressed her, bathed them both, and curled up with her on her bed, joyous smile on his face and tears streaming from his eyes as he clutched her to him, eventually falling asleep to the sounds of her soft breaths.