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A Nice, Calming Coup of Tea

Chapter Text

“Hello, welcome to the Jasmine Dragon. My name is Lee and I’ll be your server today.” Ginseng, two sugars.

“Hello, welcome to the Jasmine Dragon. My name is Lee and I’ll be your server today.” Oolong, extra cream.

“Hello, welcome to the Jasmine Dragon. My name is Lee and I’ll be your server today.” Jasmine with one sugar, Jasmine with two sugars, lots of milk, and two scoops of honey. Is it even tea anymore?

No new customers. Grab a broom. Sweep the porch. Have to keep it looking nice.

One of the spoiled brats spilled its tea and is screaming about it. “I’m terribly sorry about this, let me clean it up for you.” That was me, of course. Can’t expect the kind of snob that would produce such a howling spider-monkey to have any manners, or know how to clean up after themselves. No tip. Because the little bastard didn’t want the—honestly underpriced—tea Uncle so painstakingly made. He really should charge them more.

*sigh* Another monotonous day over. You’d think that my “new outlook” would make things at least seem better, or even different, but everything’s still exactly the same. By Agni, I wish something exciting would happen, or I might consider burning this city to the ground just to shake things up. Oh well, it’s not as though anything new will happen tomorrow.

I wish Azula were here. She’d know how to make things interesting.

***

“We are your humble servants.” Yes, little puppet king. Dance on my strings. Oh, they found out about the eclipse? Probably from the University. It’s not like anyone else has the know-how, or the interest, to predict the motions of the sun and moon in the sky. How did they know it was a weakness? Did the waterbender figure out that the Sun is the source of our power, since the Moon is hers? Oh, the talking head is still flapping its gums. “Perhaps we could discuss this later, Your Majesty? With a smaller audience?” Oh, now you realize that such sensitive information should not be shouted for anyone to hear. This will be too easy.

The puppet has a puppeteer. Because of course he does. Or did. It’s impressive that a peasant could find a way to control royalty, but now it seems he thinks that a Fire Nation Royal, born to rule with Power, could ever be as weak as a mud-born fool with a fancy hat. He thinks he’s subtle because he can outwit someone he raised and a few people less than half his age, none of which are as sharp as a rock on the riverside. This will be interesting, like figuring out which side of Zuzu’s sand castle I should push it from.

Zuzu…I wonder where he disappeared to? It was fun playing with him again, but he’s got uncle fatso trying to make him weak. I could use him here, to bounce ideas off of. I wonder if he’d still fight me without the Avatar as an objective? Would he fight alongside them if uncle was still there? Would he side with me? Not without reason, not after I tried to bring him in as a prisoner. I shouldn’t need him, not when the Avatar has already left. Where? Doesn’t matter, Zuzu will find him. He always does, apparently. I can handle the Avatar’s hangers-on on my own. The only reason why I retreated was because he and uncle were there. What reason could I give him, just in case? I know he wants to go home, but without the Avatar,…wait. If we kill the Avatar, Ba Sing Se will automatically surrender and if I share the credit with Zuzu, the Fire Lord will likely not pay much attention to the specifics of Zuzu’s terms of banishment. It’s not as though he was serious when he gave them, right? Well, that’s enough idle thought for one night. It’s a moot point anyway so long as Zuzu isn’t here and the Avatar is half a world away. Maybe I’ll ask the idiot where he is tomorrow.

I wish Zuko were here. He’d be able to make things interesting.

Chapter Text

Another day dawned over Ba Sing Se, much the same as any other. Shop-tenders prepared for the inevitable rush of customers, craftsmen organized their instruments as necessary, guards did anything they could to make their endless patrols anything but monotonous, and full government takeovers proceeded on schedule.

Unfortunately for the princess in charge of this coup, she’s only 14 years old and having to take complete control over several dozen men loyal to another, highly dangerous and deadly man who still commands their respect from prison. While other teenaged girls would chat with friends, or sit at a pond or in a park, or go shopping or some other fun activity, a Princess in the middle of The Impossible has no such vices. However, her resident Imperial Interrogator and Torturer (Ty Lee) managed to acquire information regarding (gossip) a tea shop not far from the palace that claims to serve better, more relaxing tea than anywhere else (“It’s the best tea ever!”). So what was a princess to do but indulge? After all, it’s not like anyone would notice her. Even if they noticed her, she made sure to wear the clothes of a courtier. Nothing bad could possibly come from this.

***

Same shit, different pile. More snot-nosed, spoiled brats to clean up after, probably even less gratitude than yesterday, not that anyone actually expressed any, and even more stuck-up bitches giggling at me for NO DAMN REASON! And now some powdered, painted courtesan has ground up a perfectly good bread roll and scattered the crumbs on the floor under the table as if she wants pigeon-rats to make themselves at home here. Stupid whore, making me get on my knees like some common servant with a brush. Oh, another customer. She—is it a she? The hair looks like Azula’s, so I guess so. Doesn’t matter, it’s not like women tip any better than their muscle-headed admirers specifically copper-pinching to “show how much of a man they are” as if any peasant was worth more than the dirt I just threw away. “Hello, welcome to the Jasmine Dragon. My name is—”gold eyes, perfect eyebrows, light makeup, enough to make her look even more gorgeous but not so much that she looks fake, Azula?

***

Where is the staff? Oh, that must be the servant, on his hands and knees where he belongs. Where to sit and wait for them to finish whatever meaningless task they’ve been assigned? Here we are, against the wall, but close enough to the rear exit in case I need to sneak out, and a menu to swipe on my way to my seat. Head down to watch the door without looking like I’m watching, glancing at the options so I don’t look like a buffoon when the peasant comes to serve me, “Hello, welcome to the Jasmine Dragon. My name is—” my head pops up. Gold eyes, scruffy hair that looks like it’s been growing from nothing over the past few months, a scar in the shape of a comet as it blazes across the sky, healed enough to look striking and intimidating rather than ugly, Zuko?

***

The other customers think nothing of a lone girl sitting and looking at a menu, and they don’t even notice their waiter introducing himself, but they do take note when the extremely polite and proper, most certainly trained, waiter grabs a customer and half-drags her out the back door. Since she went quietly, was keeping up with him, and was cooperating fully with this course of action, they assumed the teenaged boy and teenaged girl were having a rendezvous scandalously early in the morning, and in front of everyone, too! What would her parents think if they knew their daughter was having a tryst with a common waiter? Just look at what she’s wearing, obviously her father is part of the king’s court. Did anyone get a good look at her face, does anyone know who this girl is, that she would so brazenly delve below her station?

Of course, these gossipers know absolutely nothing of either of their stories, both the true ones and the false ones. And these stories led the banished Crown Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation dragging his little sister, Princess Azula, behind the tea shop owned by General Iroh, the Dragon of the West, and demanding to know what she’s doing here. Of course, Azula’s just as outrage-baffled as her brother, so she’s doing exactly the same.

“Uncle and I are just trying to live a peaceful life and now you have to come and ruin it all—”

“A peaceful life?! What is wrong with you?! Don’t you know anything about what this place is like?”

“Of course I do! As long as we keep our heads down and don’t draw attention to ourselves, no one bothers us and we’re free to live out Uncle’s dream.”

“‘Uncle’s dream’? What about you? He’s having you work as a servant!”

As Zuko glares at her, he notices something. Something only one who has spent a lot of time looking into her eyes would be able to tell.

“Azula, are you okay?”

“Of course, I am, dumdum. I’m just plotting to overthrow the local national government is all. It’s nothing for someone of my stature.”

“You came in for calming tea, didn’t you?” He asks because he knows his sister, knows to ignore the words she’s saying and listen to her tone, the deceptive smirk on her face, and the evidence of stress.

Affronted, she asks “So what if I did?”

“I’ll bring out some ginseng. Wait here,” he says, going back in to place the order, grab a tray, and take ginseng for two out to where he knows she stayed.

“What if I had left?”

“You came here for tea and anonymity. Not to make a scene and walk away thirsty.”

“You’re the one who made the scene,” she grumbled, taking one of the cups.

That first morning tea was spent silent, both siblings eyeing each other and trying to figure out what’s really going on, not noticing themselves and each other relaxing for the first time in over three years.

Chapter Text

“Yeesh, what made her think I’d be any use at all?”

Wandering around the Inner Ring was a blind little girl looking for anything to catch her attention. And it just so happens that she heard a familiar voice coming from a building filled with tea scents.

“Gramps!” she exclaims to herself with a grin, walking in. Of course, since she willfully ignores all social norms, she bursts open the doors, smirking ear to ear, hollering “What’s on the menu, old man?”

“Ah, fancy seeing you here, my young friend. Would you like some tea?” the old man turns in her direction, offering a friendly greeting with a fondness his regulars recognize from whenever he addresses his nephew.

“Sure, whatever you think I’d like,” as she walks over to a table and refrains from putting her feet on it. A rare expression of respect, showing the ultimate restraint.

“So, what brings you here? And I’m afraid in my old age, I’ve forgotten your name.”

“Actually, I don’t think we introduced ourselves. I’m Toph Bei Fong, and I’m the greatest earthbender in the world!”

“Ah, an ambitious title for a prestigious name. I’ve been called many things over the course of my life, but I prefer to be called ‘Uncle’.”

“Okay, ‘Uncle,’ did you manage to find your nephew?”

“I did, and it was very fortunate, as well. We managed to help each other get here safely, and I think he’s even managed to find some female companionship to settle down here with,” he whispers with a gleam in his eye.

“Oh, he’s found a girlfriend? Are they on a date right now?” she asks, leaning in.

“They seem to be. I managed to get out of him that he’s having lunch at Madam Tu Peng’s Grill. I’d appreciate someone keeping an eye on him, if you’re willing to offer your services.”

“Heh, sure, I’ll spy on your nephew. What does his voice sound like, what’s his posture?”

“Ah, I was about to give a visual description. Hmm, his voice is very gravelly, and he’s a sword master, if you’re familiar with them.”

“Yeah, I think that’ll work. I’ll also keep a nose out for someone who smells like this place.”

“That’s a good idea, you obviously know how to navigate on your own.”

“Yup. Have to. Of course, my being able to act like I don’t need eyes makes my friends sometimes forget what I can’t do,” she says sullenly.

“You never said what brought you here. From your demeanor I imagine your friends are looking through a library or something?”

“Yeah, Katara’s searching a corrupt official’s office for anything interesting, not that I’d be any help there, Aang flew off…somewhere, I never got where exactly, and Sokka went to join up with his dad. Aang was his ride.”

“And now you find yourself without anything to do,” he nods.

“Yeah. So, Tu Peng’s Grill, your nephew has a gravelly voice, a sword master’s posture, and a tea shop’s smell?”

“Yes. I don’t know anything about the girl he’s meeting with, though.”

“Well, that’s what I’m here for. Later, Uncle!” she waves as she leaves.

“Good luck, Miss Toph!” Uncle chuckles as he processes the information he managed to acquire. Not very useful at the moment or by itself, but he did find it interesting that the Avatar and his companions practically scattered to the four winds. Such a thing was not unheard of, since an Avatar learns from and makes friends in all four nations, but none of them were ready for this separation. Only when all the companions managed to gain an understanding of at least one, if not all three other nations were they supposed to lead the world with the Avatar’s advisement. Thing is, not only were they still children, but the Fire Nation had no representation in the group. Only when Zuko finally found himself and joined them would the group be complete, and only when he taught them everything about his nation could they have the knowledge to be good world leaders.

But that was a thought for another time, when he didn’t have several orders for tea awaiting his attention.

***

“This meat is too bland.”

“Yeah, it could use more spices.”

“So, you managed to sneak into Ba Sing Se?”

“Yeah, Uncle knows some people and they got us in on the ferry as refugees.”

“Ferry? Do tell,” she says, resting her chin on interlocked fingers.

“On the far side of Serpent Pass, there’s a hidden cove where refugees can get into Ba Sing Se. It’s terribly crowded and the only way to get a ticket is if you have a passport. I have no idea how any real refugees are supposed to not only know how to find the little port, but have the documentation they need.”

“Eh, they’re Earth Kingdom peasants. Why should we try and understand them?”

“Well, if we can understand them, we can more easily integrate them into our nation when we conquer it.”

“What if we simply burn the city to the ground?”

“Well, for one thing, there’s more people living in the Lower Ring than there are in the entire Fire Nation, but also remember that every time we gain territory, that’s another mountain we know nothing about. For example, that cove I mentioned. If Uncle didn’t know some locals, we’d never have been able to find it. There’s a lot, and I mean a lot of holes like that on the continent. If we tried to find them all, not only would it take a million soldiers, but it’d probably take a hundred years and we’d still have insurgents bursting out of holes we think are empty. And that’s not even thinking out of what earthbenders can do.”

“So what do you think we should do?”

“If we can take control of the government and avoid making their lives miserable, and even improve their lives compared to what they experience under the current regime, then the common opinion will be that of complacency.”

“Like you, Uncle, and that shop?”

“Yeah,” his shoulders slumped.

“Well, I’m already making progress on that front,” she says, leaning back with a triumphant smirk, ready to bask in his admiration. Or his bitterness, that’s almost as satisfying.

“Really? How long have you been here?” He says with some amazement.

“Yesterday.” Now she’s also smug.

“Wow. What’s your plan on handling the Dai Li?”

“I haven’t quite figured that out yet. I know I need to wrest their loyalty from Long Feng, get myself a loyal, powerful, dangerous small army.”

“Well, everyone in the Earth Kingdom is supposed to be loyal to the Earth King. Maybe make them think he was putting the king in danger and helping you could keep him from harm?”

“Hmm, maybe you are related to me after all. Thank you, brother,” she says and impulsively kisses him on the cheek. And then pulls back, blushing because she’s not supposed to ever show anyone affection.

“Um, you’re, um, welcome,” he stammers, just as flustered.

“Well, perhaps I’ll be at the shop tomorrow and you can take me to lunch again,” she says forcefully, accidentally raising her voice enough so a certain spy was finally able to hear the words spoken rather than just the tone.

“Uh, that-that sounds good. Um,” he leans in. “What should I call you? I go by Lee.”

“Hm,…Qing.”

“Kwing?”

“No, like ‘Ching.’ I thought you’d know this, what with how long you’ve been in this kingdom.”

“Well, why should I try and understand a bunch of Earth Kingdom peasants and their pronunciations?” he asks with a grin.

“Humph. Well, in case you’re wondering, it shares meaning with my real name.”

“Of course it does. It completely negates the purpose of making a disguise if it tells everyone exactly who you are anyway.”

“You’re simply not cultured enough to understand.”

“Whatever. I gotta get back to work, and I’m sure you have work of your own to do.”

“Indeed. I imagine I’ll see you tomorrow,” she says, leaning in for another kiss, deliberately this time.

“Tomorrow,” he responds, kissing her back.

Neither of them notice the spring in their step as they walk away, but a certain blind earthbender does, and so does everyone who looks at them. Not that any of them would bring it up.

Chapter Text

“So, she’s sarcastic, doesn’t know how to show affection, basks in his admiration, and is as awkward as anything I can think of.”

“Hm. And how did he respond to her? She sounds like him, but female.”

“They’re basically the same person, personality-wise. The only difference is she wants attention and he’s more than willing to dish it out.”

“Hm. I’d prefer someone with a more cheerful personality, but…did she manage to get him out of his shell?”

“Oh, yeah. The more time they spent together, the more comfortable they got around each other. Get this, they even kissed. Twice!”

“Oh my. Usually my nephew is far too reserved to display such affection.”

“Yeah, they were suuuuuper awkward about it the first time. They even scheduled a second lunch date for tomorrow. She’ll be here waiting for him to go on break.”

“Very nice. How were they at the end of it?”

“By the end their hearts were racing as they kissed goodbye. I’m sure you noticed how he’s basically walking on air.”

“Yes, it was delightful. Will you be here tomorrow for their next outing?”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

***

“So, did you try the tea? I heard the waiter is suuuuuper cute. What’s he like?”

“It was exactly what I needed. The waiter was…”

“Ooh, I like the colors in your aura. He was hot, wasn’t he?”

“I-I didn’t come here to gossip about lowly waiters with you, Ty Lee. We have work to do.”

“So did you ask him out?” This was Mai, taking rare interest in the world around her.

“If you must know, we had lunch. The meat was unsatisfactory. We will try again elsewhere tomorrow…Ty Lee, stop squealing. We really do have work to do.”

“OKOKOK, I’ll stop. But when we finish here, I expect a full debriefing on the nature of this man that has caught your interest,” she says, acting all formal like a commanding officer. It was the least she could do, since Azula’s blush and happy smile were plain for all to see.

“So what do we do now?” Mai’s interest had dried up, so she stuck with simply finding out how she’d be spending the next, probably week at the most.

“Well, as Earth Kingdom, the Dai Li are loyal to the Earth King and sworn to protect him and the city. As long as we can hold him hostage, he’s our bargaining chip with them.”

“What’s stopping them from just freeing him?”

“Well, the two of us are even more lethal than they are, Ty Lee can render them helpless, and we’re in a prime spot to destroy the heritage of this place. Once they understand that trying to remove him from our grasp is more dangerous than leaving him there, they’ll use that earthbender stubbornness to make sure he doesn’t move from his spot.”

“Cool. So...what do we do now?”

Azula shoots her a sideways glare. “Right now, we need to identify the hierarchy and whose ears we should whisper in.”

“Ooh! That’s my job, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Ty Lee, that’s your job. Mai, I guess you might as well just practice your knife-throwing skills. Do it out in the open, or at least so some of the agents can see and spark the rumor mill.”

“My job in this whole operation is just to stand there and look scary, isn’t it?”

Azula looks at her for a long moment, looks at Ty Lee for a moment, looks back at Mai. “Maybe talk to the Earth King? Get to know him?”

“And stand next to him, twirling my knives, looking vaguely threatening.”

“…Sorry.”

“Eh, it’s what I’m good at.”

And so the three girls parted ways, each conducting their own brand of espionage.

***

“You know, Nephew, while I have no problem with you helping out a lady in need, I’d appreciate some warning next time you drag one away.”

“It was an emergency, okay?”

“An emergency that took two hours and two cups of ginseng?”

“She needed to calm down,…and I took her to lunch.”

“Ah, so you treated a fine young lady to a lunch encounter? How did it go?”

“…It was good,” Zuko said with a happy grin and a blush, neither of which escaped his uncle’s notice. “We’re doing it again tomorrow.”

“Always a good sign. So, what can you tell me about her?”

“Uh, her name is Qing, she’s got business with the King, and she likes her meat spicier than most Earth Kingdom.”

“An auspicious name. Did you know, a recent dynasty of Earth Kings was named Qing?”

“I didn’t know that.”

“And by ‘business with the King,’ surely you mean her family does?”

“Oh, yeah. She just knows a lot about her father’s plans for her family and explained it as if she was the one in charge. She’s rather…intense.”

“I’m sure she is. I’d like to meet her at some point.”

“Ah, sure. At some point. Not yet, though. Maybe in a week or so.”

“I can hardly wait. I’m sure you’re eager to get back to work, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Uncle,” he says, walking off with a happy grin on his face.

***

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to leave you alone like that!”

“Hey, no worries. I found a project to work on out in the city.”

“Oh? What’re you doing?”

“Helping an old man spy on a younger relative.”

“Um, I know you don’t like rules, but-”

“Hey, it’s nothing bad, just a teenager on a date. I’ll do it again tomorrow, unless you’ve got something more interesting going on,” Toph says, crossing her arms.

“Well, nothing different from today.”

“Cool. I’ll go beat up some Dai Li for a bit. Seeya-round!”

“Bye.”

As she goes to find the training grounds, she notices the thumping of projectiles against targets, providing an obvious beacon to her destination.

“Hey, whatcha doin’?”

She notices the spike of the other person’s heartbeat, but it was obviously the rightful fear of having Toph Bei Fong suddenly show up behind you.

“Practicing.”

“Uh huh. Training in the training field, how original.”

“Heh, yeah, who’d have thought? I’m Mai.”

“Toph Bei Fong. Greatest earthbender in the world,” she replies, striking a pose.”

“Really?” Mai audibly raises an eyebrow.

“Really. In fact, Hey, You! Stop trying to be sneaky and get over here! The other’s, too! I’ll take you all on!”

Mai looks around at the Dai Li agents she figured would be there but didn’t see before they got called out. If she can scare them more than Azula and I can, this could be a problem…Yeah, there’s basically no way for us to make them fear us more than her. Not without killing half of them.

“Impressive.”

“Thanks. Once you figure out their tactics, it’s a simple matter to get around them. Not exactly easy, especially when there’s five of them, but simple.”

“Good to know. What brings you to the palace? I haven’t seen you here before.”

“I’m training the Avatar in earthbending. Of course, he’s not here right now, leaving me in this boring city of walls and rules, but he’ll be back soon enough to help prepare for whatever plan Sokka is scheming up.”

“Good to know.”

***

“So, what have we found out?”

“I think I know the ones that the others will follow.”

“Good, then all we need to do is convince them. I don’t suppose you managed to see or hear anything interesting, Mai?”

“Actually I did.”

Chapter Text

“Ah, your lunch break is coming up. Perhaps you should clean yourself up?”

“I’m fine, Uncle. She knows me like this and it’d be weird to dress up on our second date.”

“Oh ho, so it is a date!”

“Shut up, Uncle!” the waiter storms off to change into something more presentable, rather than something intended to get dirty.

His uncle chuckles, tapping his foot twice, followed by a harder stomp, prompting a certain badgermole to sprout up out of the ground.

“Will you be able to follow them?”

“’Course. I could track a pair of squirrel-mice if I get their footprint.”

“Excellent. He never told me where he was going. His lady friend will be here shortly.”

“I’d better get down below, then. Later!”

She disappeared as stomping footsteps started coming down the steps.

“Uncle, I’m leaving! Don’t ask questions!”

“Of course, Nephew. Make sure you enjoy yourself!”

“I will,” he says with a soft grin, the kind which only started showing up yesterday.

“I’ll see you later, Uncle.”

“Don’t want to keep a young lady waiting!” He says to his nephew’s retreating back.

Upon reaching the back alley, Zuko started looking around the hiding spots he’d mapped out long ago.

“Boo!” Azula whispered in his ear as she landed on his back after jumping off the roof.

“Ahh! Az-Qing!”

“What? I couldn’t very well let anyone see me here, could I?”

“Well, get off of me so we can be on our way.”

“Hmm, no. I quite like it up here.”

*sigh* “Fine,” he says, resigned to having to tolerate his little sister’s antics.

***

“So, what is this stuff?”

“It’s from the Taku region, they call it ‘tofu’.”

“It looks and tastes like fake meat.”

“Well, they had enough traffic from the Air Nomads that they would’ve wanted to find a compromise.”

“Well, at least they know how to make it spicy enough.”

“Yeah.”

“Want to walk around?”

“Why would I want to waste time in the city when I have business in the palace?”

“So you can spend more time with me?” he asks with an exaggeratedly dumb grin.

That got a laugh out of her. “Oh, well, if you insist on making this a real date, then I suppose I would spend more time with you, lover.”

Blushing, “Uh, yeah. *ahem* Shall we?” he asks, holding out his arm.

“We shall,” as she puts her own arm through his, resting her head on his shoulder.

Meanwhile, a certain spy grins and returns to base to report to her handler. Too bad she didn’t stick around to listen to what the young couple talked about, or she could’ve prevented utter disaster.

***

“Any updates on that business?”

“The Avatar has left with the Water Tribe boy. The waterbender is holed up in Long Feng’s office, ripping it apart for anything of significance. That’s probably the only reason why we haven’t been tossed out already.”

“Long Feng’s the Dai Li leader, isn’t he?”

“He was, until the Avatar and his hangers-on informed the King that there’s a war on.”

“You’d better keep your voice down about what happens outside the walls. I watched a man get dragged off for shouting about it. Never saw him again.”

“Hm. Interesting. Anyway, he’s still got loyalists that follow his commands from the prison cell.”

“Naturally. That sounds like a power vacuum. How are you doing filling it?”

“I’ve managed to sway a handful of agents so far, but about half of them are still loyal to him and the rest simply follow the King around like lost turtleducks.”

“Has Long Feng tried to sue for an alliance?”

“Not yet. He probably will soon, especially since Mai and Ty Lee have been referring to me by name when there’s ‘nobody listening’.”

“Mai and Ty Lee are here?”

“Who else would I take with me?”

“Point.”

“Anyway, you keep sidetracking me.”

“Sorry.”

“The last member of the Avatar’s little group is a blind earthbender that apparently uses her feet to sense vibrations in the earth and can take on 5 Dai Li agents with little trouble.”

“Will she be a problem?”

“Maybe. If I can convince Long Feng to grant me control over his forces, they should be enough to overwhelm her, probably the waterbender, too.”

“I wouldn’t recommend underestimating her. Tricks don’t work on her twice, and she tends to get a lot more powerful with time.”

This gets Azula to raise her head to look at him. “Admiring another girl while on a date, Zuzu?”

“No. Just trying to look out for my girlfriend,” he says teasingly, bringing his face close to hers.

“You’re sweet,” she chuckles with a light lip-kiss.

After a short PDA, sitting them down at a fountain, he asks “So, you never told me how you got in.”

“Oh, yes. I found some Kyoshi Warriors to beat up and took their identity,” she responds, putting their foreheads together.

“Facepaint and fans?”

“Yup. No one suspected a thing and the King even outlined the entire plan for the eclipse.”

“Oh. Wait, are they expecting it to take us by surprise?”

“I hope not. Otherwise I will have vastly overestimated the mental capacities of the locals.”

“The ones you think are bumbling primates?”

“The very same.”

“Come on, I’ve got something to show you. Climb on.”

“On what? You don’t intend to carry me, do you?”

“Not if your roof-running skills have improved. Have they?”

She silently mounts her brother…not that way, yet. Calm down.

Upon securing her to his back, he leaps up onto a nearby roof and runs for a few minutes, finding himself enjoying the experience more than he thought. The sensation of a female pressed up against his back probably had a lot to do with it. If he let himself, he’d probably find part of himself horrified at the concept of finding enjoyment in his own sister’s body, but it’s a part that was slowly getting silenced.

“Isn’t this a good spot?”

“It is a rather nice view.”

“Yeah, it is,” he replied, looking down at where she was sitting, practically lying on him. “It’s best when the sun is just below the horizon.”

“I’d like to see that,” she said, wrapping her brothers arms tighter around herself. The fact that it also pressed his arms more firmly against her breasts was a complete coincidence, of course.

“I love you, Zuzu,” she whispered, closing her eyes to bask in the sensation of being enveloped in her beloved’s arms.

“I love you, too, Lala,” he replied, pulling her closer so he could position his mouth next to her ear.

With a sigh, he closed his eyes as well, basking in the sensation of having his beloved in his arms.

***

“Miss? Miss, wake up.”

Azula found herself struggling to open her eyes, but when she did, it was to a pair of green eyes beneath a conical hat, a set she recognized as belonging to one of her Dai Di.

She then jerked awake, startling Zuko into wakefulness, and finding a nearly dark Ba Sing Se around them.

“Dismissed,” she urgently whispered to the agent, who left with a bow. “Zuzu, we weren’t supposed to stay out this late!”

“No, we weren’t,” he replied, standing up and smoothing down his hair. “Will this set you back?”

After a moment of thought, “Not particularly. In fact, this might be better. If he thinks he can use you as blackmail against me, then he’ll be even more willing to give me control, since he thinks he can control me!”

“Well, we’d better get back.”

“Yes. Now turn around so I can climb on.”

Complying, he remarked “I wonder what I’ll tell Uncle.”

“The truth. You took me to lunch, we went for a walk, you took me sightseeing, lost track of time-“ Her stomach growled. “Should we have dinner instead of going straight back?”

“There’s a noodle place nearby. Let’s go.”

After the most bland noodles they had ever choked down, “Let’s never go here again.”

“Agreed. Hey, how about something sweet for dessert?”

“Anything to wash out the taste, or utter lack thereof.”

“Come on,” he said, grabbing her hand and dragging her to a stall where a waterbender was handing out frozen balls of flavored cream.

***

“You can find your way back from the shop?” he asked, a couple blocks away from it.

“Naturally. I did find my way here, after all.”

“Right,” he said, stopping and looking her in the eyes. “Azula, I had fun today. It was probably the best day I’ve had since…I can’t remember when.”

“I did, too. This is the most relaxed I’ve been that I can remember,” she replied with a smile.

“See you tomorrow?” he asked with a smile, his face naturally moving closer to hers.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” she replied, matching him.

And with that, the prince and princess of the Fire Nation shared a deep, intimate kiss under the starlit sky of Ba Sing Se.

***

When he heard the door finally open, Iroh knew his nephew had had a better afternoon than any he could’ve provided. With one look at his face, the wondrous expression and swollen lips, all he said was “Go to bed, nephew. Sweet dreams.”

“Goodnight Uncle. I’d rather the day last longer, though.”

His uncle chuckles “Naturally, but if moments weren’t fleeting, we wouldn’t value them as much.”

Zuko smiles. “Goodnight,” and goes up the stairs.

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

“Hey, look at this!”

“I’m sure it looks amazing. Captivating, even. I’m sure it’s something that inspired people, despite being flat and textureless so I have no way of seeing it.”

“Uh, right. It’s a letter from your mother.”

Toph perks up. “Go on…”

***

“So, how far along are you?”

“The only ones who won’t follow me over their boss are the ones directly loyal to the King, but you already helped me get around that.”

“So everything’s ready?”

“Yes. It feels nice to be ready, simply waiting for my enemies to fall into my trap.”

“Why not simply move on them?”

“Well, only the waterbender is here, and she’s not that big of a threat.”

“Where’d the earthbender go?”

“Home. Apparently her parents missed her. Can’t relate.”

“Right…Back to the Avatar. How do you propose you get him here?”

“I remember reading that the Avatar is prone to visions of the future when he meditates.”

“Oh, yeah. It’s when he’s meditating, trying to open the Thought Chakra, and the world is trying to give him reasons why not to let go of ‘earthly attachments’. How long were you planning on waiting before sending him a vision of his ‘earthly attachments’, and how were you gonna do that, anyway?”

“Well, I think a week after his departure, which was five days ago. So the day after tomorrow I think I’ll take the waterbender by surprise and do something to her. That’ll get his attention.”

“Do you think you’ll need my help?”

“It would help to have you there, yes.”

“Okay. Just send an agent or two to collect me and I’ll be there.”

“I’m glad I know I can count on you,” she said with a soft smile, cupping his scarred cheek with her hand, to which he closed his eyes and leaned into it.

After about ten seconds of the two of them instinctively enjoying the experience, they both cleared their throats, realizing where they were, and collected themselves.

“Anyway, you said there was somewhere you wanted to show me?” she asked, standing.

“Yes, let’s go,” he replied, grabbing her hand and leading her away. Upon reaching the street, they started running in the direction of a slightly more seedy part of the ring.

“All right, hop on,” he said, turning away from her, prompting her to jump on his back, wrap her legs around his waist and press her entire front against him.

“Take me wherever you want,” she whispered in his ear. Blushing, he proceeded to hop up to the roofs and towards the abandoned apartment, though not as steadily as he normally would.

“Here we are,” he said, climbing in the open window. The room was sparsely decorated, only a few candles, a rather large bed, and some broken furniture scattered around.

“So, what’s so special about this place?”

“The company.” Hearing this, she turned back to her brother, standing in the darkness in front of a closed window. Light suddenly illuminated his face, which was intently focused on his sister.

“Zuzu?”

“We both knew this was coming,” he said, slowly walking towards her.

“Zuzu…”

“We both want this,” he reached for her face.

But he wasn’t fast enough. Azula was further along this path than he was, with none of the inner conflict, so she knew exactly what she wanted and pounced on it, or should I say, on him. Because he was right. They did both know it was coming.

Suddenly he found himself with an armful of little sister as she started forcefully kissing him, a lifetime of competition and jealousy turning into insatiable mutual lust. With their mouths occupied, their hands started to roam, searching for buttons, ties, knots, anything to remove the inconvenient garments keeping them from each other’s flesh. With an impatient growl, Azula shoved herself out of her big brother’s grip and, maintaining eye contact, started disrobing herself, watching him immediately take the hint and doing the same.

Upon being presented with his sister’s unobstructed flesh, Zuko had to pause for a moment, gazing at her long enough for her to get a little self-conscious, which is obviously a sensation she’s highly unfamiliar with. As she started to squirm under his gaze and move to cover herself, he reached out and grabbed her wrists, pulling them to the side.

“Zuzu?” she asked, uncertain.

“Perfect,” he whispered, moving a hand to caress her breast, making her close her eyes and sigh at the sensations. After a moment, he leaned in, replacing his hand with his mouth and moving his hand to her waist for stability, using his other hand to stimulate the neglected breast.

“Oh, Zuzu,” she breathed, basking in her brother’s attention. Realizing in the back of her mind that her knees were buckling, she absently started looking around for a more suitable place than the middle of the room. Barely noticing the bed, she grabbed her brother’s head, keeping it to her chest as she maneuvered her way over to it, sitting on the edge.

When he felt his sister’s hands grab onto his head and drag him along, Zuko went ahead and let her lead him wherever she wanted. Upon reaching their destination, he looked up to her and smirked, using his teeth and fingers to pinch her nipples, eliciting a gasp from her. Then he pulled on them, earning himself a whine, followed by a moan as she found herself enjoying the pain.

The more Azula found herself ravaged by her own brother, the more she found she enjoyed it, to the point where she lost conscious control over her limbs, hands grabbing his hair, his shoulder, his wrists, anything they could grasp. Eventually, her body started simply shaking in place as the tension wound itself in her loins, coiling, getting ready for rele-

“Uhngh! No! Get back here!” Her evil, sadistic torturer of a sibling pulled away right when she was about to reach the climax of her experience.

Chuckling, he simply picked her up, set her at the center of the bed, pushed her back down when she tried to sit up, and simply said “Stay.” Pouting, she lied back and watched as he revealed the chains attached to each of the bedposts.

“Uh, Zuko?” she asked as he secured her wrists and ankles. Testing them, she found she couldn’t really move her limbs. “What are you doing?”

“Playing with my baby sister,” he replied with a malevolent smirk that confirmed his parentage beyond any doubt. He then advanced on her, looming over her helpless body. And she was helpless, she realized, for the first time in a long time. But for some strange reason, she didn’t find herself minding this situation one bit. Instead of her upper half this time around, he took advantage of the fact that she couldn’t close her legs to move his head between them and started running his tongue up and down her slit. Needless to say, this drove her crazy, immediately justifying the effort he put in to constructing the bondage rig. As he spread her lips apart, he noticed a certain hood at the top. Spreading it, he found a bead of flesh that seemed even more sensitive than her nipples.

“You like that?”

“Nghn,” she panted incoherently.

Smirking, he started sucking on it, lightly pinching it, manipulating it with his tongue, and when she was sufficiently worked up, started nibbling on it, quickly crossing the line between pleasure and pain, but between him making sure not to hurt her too much and using his fingers to stimulate the cavern below, she was quickly approaching the point she had been at before he cruelly removed himself from her body. When he realized that her point of climax was approaching, he began his abuse on the flesh around that bead, biting so it hurt, but still pairing it with lots of pleasure. As she continued her approach, he resumed the abuse on the sensitive nub, providing both pain and pleasure, enhancing the experience until finally, with a final tremble and explosion of sound and fire, she collapsed onto the bed, practically sinking into it as Zuko hurried to put out the flames.

When he released her from the chains, she reached for him and curled into him, looking for a safe space to recover from the experience. “In a few minutes, it’ll be your turn lying here.”

“As you wish,” he chuckled, stroking her hair, which had come loose at one point. “But only if you leave your hair down.”

“OK,” she mumbled as she started falling asleep. With another light chuckle, Zuko maneuvered into a more comfortable position on the bed and closed his eyes, falling asleep himself with his sister’s taste in his mouth.

“Nhn,” he mumbled, waking up and trying to move. As he flexed his arms and legs, he found his range of motion limited by hard circles around his wrists and ankles, as well as an unusual wet sensation on his groin. Opening his eyes and looking down, he saw a head of black hair bobbing up and down just below his waist. “Azula?”

“Told you,” she replied with a lecherous grin, sticking her tongue out and running it along his length.

***

When she woke up and found herself in her brother’s arms and noting that she hadn’t been asleep for particularly long, she realized that she could, in fact, return the favor. Stealthily removing herself from his grasp, she started maneuvering him into the same position she’d been in a couple hours ago. Upon securing him in place (and checking the key), she started fondling his manhood. Since her fingers weren’t doing much, she started using her tongue, licking its length, exploring the sack below it, and when it started to rise, she went back to licking its new length.

As she went, she payed attention to what made him wriggle the most, what made him wince, and what made him start moaning her name. When she figured she had enough information, she started using it, pinching, rolling, and licking to get the most reaction she could. Eventually, she wrapped her lips around the head of his shaft, courteously keeping her teeth out of the way (for now), and started bobbing her head up and down, fondling the sack. “Azula?” she heard, signaling Zuko’s return to coherent thought.

“Told you,” she replied with a lecherous grin, sticking her tongue out and running it along his length. As she replaced her mouth with her hand, she said “Now let’s see if you can take it as well as you can give it.” And with that, she gave an equally malevolent grin and started sucking on one of the balls in his sack, lightly nibbling, licking, and threatening real pain with her teeth, but following her brother’s example of making sure there was also pleasure at all times, primarily by continuing to stroke his shaft. She also made sure there was some amount of pain at all times elsewhere, running her claws down his chest and legs, drawing blood.

When she noticed him start to really thrash, she moved her mouth back to the head of his shaft, bobbing her head, and started using her claws on his balls, increasing the pain to match the pleasure, until suddenly she had a mouth full of a weird salty substance. Due to the suddenness and the fact that it kept coming, she found herself gulping it down until it stopped, then went ahead and applied a little suction to the tip to drain the last of it.

Lifting her head, she noticed that she had dug her claws into his leg and now it was bleeding. “Uh, Zuzu?” she asked, slightly panicking.

Looking down, he said, slightly delirious, “Eh, just cauterize it. I can take care of it later.”

Concerned at his mental well-being, she glanced at his face, but he was already sinking back into sleep, so she focused on the wound and produced a small flame at the end of her finger.

And then stopped, because this wasn’t her blue flames. This flame was golden, with little sparks of color flashing through it. Not just one color, but all the colors she’d ever seen, with the subconscious hint that there were even more colors there that she, with her human eyes, couldn’t see. As her excitement rose, she turned to her brother. Seeing his sleeping form reminded her of why her finger was on fire in the first place, so she called upon the care she had for him, her joy at being with him, and the concern she was feeling for his well-being and pressed her little flame to one of the wounds. When he didn’t flinch at the heat, she looked to his face to see it completely relaxed, as if she wasn’t searing his flesh. Removing her finger and looking at the damage, she found…nothing. No burn marks, no scab, even the blood that had already leaked was gone. Encouraged, she kept going, focusing on all the positive feelings she had for him and erasing all traces of what she had done to him. She even took care of some older wounds that had scarred, leaving smooth, clean, unblemished flesh behind.

At this point, she looked to his face, set her entire palm alight, and hesitated. What if it didn’t work on that one? What if it did? Does he want it gone? I’m sure he does, but…I won’t do it right now. Not while he’s asleep.

And with that, she unlocked him, grabbed a blanket, and lied next to him, draping one of his arms over herself, and fell asleep.

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.

Chapter Text

Groaning, Zuko was very tempted to just stay right where he was. Then he realized that he was more comfortable than he had been in years. Three of them, in fact. Opening his eyes, he saw the expected expanse of black hair, but looking around he realized: this was Azula’s room. As he lied there, the memories of the previous day came flooding back. Uncle, the Avatar, the…Katara, Azula dying at her hands, her almost dying at his, Azula still being alive long enough to stun the Avatar so Zuko could kill him, her staying alive long enough for Zuko to heal her, and the administration issues he’d have to deal with. Because he certainly wasn’t about to let her out of bed for any reason until he was satisfied she was fully healed.

With that in mind, he rolled out of bed and went to the other side so he could stand over her. Lifting aside the covers and rolling her on her back, he paused for a moment to admire her form, including her nipples pebbling in the sudden breeze, before he began his inspection.

Remembering what she told him about how much his mindset mattered, he focused on the “why” as he was carrying out the “what.” First, he thought to keep her comfortable through cleanliness, so as he passed his flames across her entire body all the grime and other filth was purified from her skin. Next was comfort through grooming, so the flames burned away all the hair on her body besides what was on her head. Her eyebrows were properly straightened by the movement of the plumes, strays getting burned away, eyelashes properly fanned out and curled the way he remembered them being on their dates, and any unsightly fuzz was burned off, leaving her skin silky smooth and perfect. Figuring that if her own sweat qualified as filth to be burned away, then surely the more gross bodily functions would also qualify. Sticking a finger in her slit, he focused on giving her “relief” and let the fire do its thing. Looking at her face, he noticed her wince momentarily as if she was feeling something go up a tube that was never designed to have anything inserted into it, then her expression smoothed out, corresponding to how he noticed the flame consuming something. After a moment, he noticed the flame die out as if it had consumed everything he had told it to, so he withdrew his hand. Then he hesitated and winced, igniting his claw as it approached her rear entrance. He really didn’t want to do this part, but needs must, so he rubbed the entrance with a flame-coated claw until it managed to slip in, going until the tip of his actual finger made contact, purifying flame going first and consuming all it could find that was in that cavity. When the chamber was empty and the flame went out, Zuko withdrew his finger, inspected it, found it to be clean, and washed it thoroughly anyway because he was very much not comfortable with where it had just been.

Since the “housekeeping” that would become a morning routing was complete, he started fondling her chest. Or at least, the area on one of the peaks where the ice went through. Sensing the way her body’s chi flowed, he used the flames fueled by his care for her well-being to repair the damage caused. Noticing that it was happening only in one direction, he started wondering if he could heal her from the inside. After contemplating it, we positioned one hand over her chest and one over her mouth, sending a stream of fire into her mouth, down her throat, keeping it insubstantial enough to pass without issue, and down into her lungs. As the flames were traveling, he noticed them doing…something in her air passageway, but since it physically couldn’t harm her, he let the thought fade from his mind. (It was healing a lifetime of smoke inhalation. They live surrounded by fire at all times, especially in the Fire Nation, after all.) When it got to her lungs, he found himself breathing much heavier. As he noticed this, he also noticed her chest stop moving, informing him that not only was he breathing for himself and feeding his flames entirely from his own energy, he was also passing breath into her lungs. Extinguishing the flame on the outside, he focused his efforts on the inner damage, hoping to finish this as quickly as possible so neither of them would suffocate, but his greater concern was doing everything he could to keep the fire healing so he wouldn’t cause far more harm than he was trying to heal.

After a mercifully short time, he noticed the fire wasn’t doing anything except providing air to Azula, so he withdrew it the way he inserted it, getting somewhat lightheaded as his breathing returned to normal. As he rested his face against her breast, the softest pillow in all the world, to catch his breath, he wasn’t quite able to tell if her breathing was any easier, but he was willing to make that assumption. As he extended his hand again to continue from the outside, his stomach rumbled, prompting him to look out the window at the sun that was already almost a third of the way to its zenith. A little sheepishly, he covered his sister, put a robe on, and went to the entrance chamber. Opening the door, he saw Mai and a Dai Li agent standing on either side of it.

“Mai?”

“Hey, Zuko. They told me you were in there. How is she?”

“I’m working on it, but she can breathe without any weird sounds or expressions.”

“So that’s why you’re only coming out so late,” she nodded. “What finally brought you out here?”

“Hunger. Did they tell you about what my fire can do?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t sound natural, but then again, it’s you. Tell you what, go back in there and take a bath. I’ll get a servant to deliver breakfast,” she said, walking off.

“Shall I knock when they return?” asked the agent.

“Yes. I still don’t trust a single person here, remember,” Zuko narrowed his eyes.

“Indeed,” the agent replied, facing forward.

Closing the door, Zuko did as he was told, allowing water in the basin, heating it up, shucking the robe and basked in it for a moment before cleaning himself. If Azula were awake, I wouldn’t have to do this. She could just do for me what I did for her. Climbing out, he found one of Azula’s Earth Kingdom disguises and put it on, noticing that she had shifted slightly, breath still the deep, easy sighs of sleep. After a short time, he heard a knock at the door. Opening it, he found Mai leading a servant with a tray, who he let in to the entrance room.

“So-” Mai started, but Zuko was noticing the servant try and balance the tray while she also tried to fold out a table she had brought.

“Here,” he said, taking the tray to the bafflement of both females in the room. After a moment’s shock, the servant finished with the table, took the tray, and set it on it, also bringing a chair over from against the wall. “Thank you, that will be all,” Zuko waved her off, not realizing that she had been about to grab a chair for Mai, having brought enough food for two.

As she bowed and left, Zuko dug into the food, devouring it faster than Mai thought proper, especially since he took less time eating the whole tray than she would’ve taken on just her own helping. The disgust she was feeling at his atrocious table manners helped her get over the weird sight of a royal helping a servant.

Sighing, Zuko leaned back, having not wasted a single crumb, and started talking business.

“So, what has the Dai Li been up to while I’ve been in here?”

“They’ve been doing as you’ve asked, rounding up the loyalis-”

“They’re traitors, Mai. We are the new rulers of Ba Sing Se, Azula and me. When we’ve sufficiently cowed or won over the populous and brought in enough Fire Nation troops, we’ll make it official. In the meantime, the previous ruler has abandoned his throne. I understand he came into the throne room and left on the Bison?”

“That’s right. You also bring up something concerning: you and Azula.”

“What about us?” he narrowed his eyes.

“Are you her boyfriend?” she asked bluntly.

Zuko blinked at how upfront she was. “Uh, yeah. What about it?”

“You do know that that’ll cause a lot of problems, don’t you? For one thing, I doubt these peasants would tolerate a king and queen who are siblings. Neither will anyone in the Fire Nation.”

“Azula is the only person whose opinion I value. Everyone else can just deal with it.”

“That attitude won’t fly with anyone. You know that. Better than I do, probably.”

Zuko turned away, growling lightly. Unbeknownst to him, it was enough to make Mai shiver at the reminder of what he really was beneath the skin. What his sister was. And that reminded her of what happened when she had insinuated getting between Azula and what Mai had thought was just some random boytoy. Now knowing that it was Zuko, she found the princess’ reaction made more sense, but it also disappointed her, slamming home that Zuko was forever out of her reach. Oh, there were ways around Azula. Even through if need be, but if what happened yesterday was any indication…Mai shuddered. No, the moment she decided she wanted him, everyone else lost him. With a sigh, Zuko finally responded. “They don’t need to know about it. At least not until our hold over this place is completely under our direct control, and by then their spirit should be broken enough that they’ll either accept it as a “Royal Quirk” or they’d never accept our rule anyway. Anyway, your report?”

“Well, for one thing you won’t both be able to rule, especially before you come out about your relationship.”

“Hmm, I think it’s better if Azula took this throne, since I’ll be Fire Lord. Better to avoid one person having multiple titles, for bureaucratic reasons if nothing else.”

“Right. So, they’re rounding up the…traitors and keeping them in a holding cell. Long Feng and the five old generals are each in their own private cell. The only thing people are whispering about regarding recent events is that the Jasmine Dragon is missing a certain tea maker. Most people don’t know the Avatar even showed up, never mind got killed. And of course the king’s absence made no difference to the city.”

“Hmm,” Zuko rested his elbows on the tray, found it unstable, almost lost his balance, because it’s still Zuko, and started pacing. “All right, let’s see here. I want all the Dai Li to gather, loyalists and traitors, with the traitors in the middle, and have Long Feng chained up on a wooden platform.”

“Execution?”

“Yeah. I’ll give some presentation about the ‘New Order’ or something, then kill him, which should either provoke them or make them submit, depending on their individual attitude. Then I think I’ll do the same with the two most senior generals on the Palace steps in front of the Inner Ring people, then each of the other three in various districts around the Lower Ring. After that, I’ll take a couple dozen Dai Li to the Outer Wall and bring it down, allowing troops outside to march in. Hopefully a battalion or two of red-clad soldiers marching through the streets will be enough to quell any rebellion. If Earth Kingdom peasants feel hope, they’ll act on it to the death, but if we can smother that hope, they won’t do anything. Hmm, I think I’d better include an announcement that the Avatar died at my hand to remove the figurehead they’d gather around. Eh, I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, let whoever’s nearest the wall know to get a lot of troops ready to march. I should be done by sunset, so have them ready a dozen or so degrees beforehand.”

“Do you want my advice?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Use Azula as your sounding board.”

“Uh, right. Did you get what you should do?”

“Yeah, get Long Feng to his semi-public execution, dress up the generals for theirs, and send a letter to the nearest general to get a parade ready. See you later,” she waved as she left, letting the servant back in for the tray.

After the servant left with the tray and table, Zuko went back in the bedroom, giving Azula an inspection. Thinking about how full he was, he was reminded of how his fire was able to “breathe out” into her completely opposite of what fire is supposed to do, as if healing wasn’t, so he decided to try the same with energy. Poking her stomach with one hand, his own with the other, he concentrated on feeding her, hoping that it would give her actual energy rather than the physical food in his stomach. Suddenly he felt a little melancholic, which he interpreted as success, especially since her face gained some more color. Satisfied, he left, closing the curtains and making a fire barrier on the bedroom side of the windows and doors, fueling the fire out of a desire to protect her, trusting that anyone foolish enough to wish harm on her would cease to exist the moment they tried to enter the room.

***

Ty Lee and a loyal agent escorted him to the chamber where Azula made her own speech, meeting up with Mai, who was standing just outside it. “The traitors are front and center. Ping and Chung are flanking Long Feng, who’s chained to a wooden pole on a wooden platform, nothing from the ground anywhere on his person.”

“Very good, Mai. Thank you,” he said, walking in and proceeding to the stage.

Ty Lee leaned in to Mai, whispering “It’s like we still have Azula, even though she’s hurt, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. More than you think.”

“Well, he is my brother, after all.”

Both of them jerked away, hearing Azula’s voice right in their ears.

“How are you up and about so soon? I thought the waterbender nearly killed you?!” Ty Lee shout-whispered.

“Well, Zuzu left his fire burning in my room, so I helped myself. Now be quiet, his speech is about to start.”

The girls turned their attention to the prince onstage preparing his performance.

***

What am I doing? This is Azula’s job. She’s the one who can sell dirt to a badgermole. I’m not one for speeches, what if I mess this up?

“Remember Zuko, you have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Always, remember who you are.”

I am Zuko, son of Ursa, son of Agni, Crown Prince of the Fire Nation and heir to the Dragon Throne. These peasants will bow to me and obey me as they would my sister.

With that, he took a deep breath, enhancing the green flames, opened his eyes, and began his performance.

“Dai Li of Ba Sing Se. For centuries your duty has been the preservation of the culture of this great city, spiritual guidance to those who need it, and the enforcement of peace and the will of the High King of the Earth Kingdom. You have failed this sacred duty set forth by the Avatar herself, Kyoshi. For twenty years, you have enforced order and the will of the Grand Secretariat while suppressing the spirit of the people within these mighty walls. As Avatar Aang has demonstrated, order is not the same as peace, nor is the will of the Grand Secretariat in line with the will of the High King. The people fear you and would never come to you with their troubles of a spiritual nature because they fear what you would do to their minds and spirits if they said or did anything that could be construed as ‘violating the order as set forth by the Grand Secretariat’. Crime is supposed to be dealt with by the city watch so the trouble doers can be punished or shown the error of their ways, as seen fit by the judges and magistrates, not wiped clean into a submissive drone by the ones they should be able to trust.

“All these issues can be laid at the feet of one man. One ambitious man who cared nothing for the city he was born in, the city he was supposed to protect from all enemies, foreign, domestic, and spiritual, nor the people he grew up among, who looked to him for guidance, comfort, and protection, nor even you, the Dai Li, who trusted him to lead you, who looked to him for direction, who did everything he asked because he was the one asking. He even cared nothing for the very King that every official within these impenetrable walls is sworn to serve. You all know better than I the condition the High King was in before the Avatar set him free, what a puppet he was, ignorant of the truth of anything outside the walls of the palace.”

He turned to Long Feng. “But I am not interested in attacking a man in chains. Long Feng, Grand Secretariat, leader of the Dai Li and chief advisor to the High King of the Earth Kingdom, what have you to say in your defense?”

Long Feng raised his chin, looking Zuko in the eye. “I have nothing to say to a banished prince of a foreign nation. You have desecrated my city with your ash and these traitors deserve whatever comes to them for siding with you and your brother-loving whore of a sister.”

Zuko waited for a moment to see if he would say anything else, but he seemed to be finished. Meanwhile, his vision was turning crimson at the edges. “Very well. If you will not respond to the accusations then I am forced to accept them as true. And for that, you shall burn.”

And with a flex of his will, he defended his sister’s honor, setting the Grand Secretariat alight in golden flames laced with every color. Immediately, the man started screaming as if tortured by a thousand demons of Hell, for the flames of a dragon are hellfire to their enemies and Long Feng made himself Zuko’s personal enemy.

When the screams faded, leaving absolutely nothing but a set of rusted shackles sitting on bare stone between the two most loyal Dai Li agents, Zuko turned back to the larger group. “The Grand Secretariat ordered you to obey my sister and her orders as if they came from him. Without him, those orders still stand, for Princess Azula of the Fire Nation is to be the High Queen of the Earth Kingdom in two days. She has taken this great city and made the previous High King flee, all without shedding the blood of a single Earth Kingdom citizen.” He looked Ghao in the eye. “What say you?”

Ghao held eye contact for a long time, but eventually his eyes and head lowered as he knelt. “I serve the ruler of Ba Sing Se.” Seeing their leader kneel, the others did the same, some reluctantly with sour looks on their faces, some with broken hearts, a few with relief, but the majority simply looked lost as their entire world turned upside down.

“Good. I want five more displays like this one set up around Ba Sing Se. Two of them in front of the palace doors where everyone in the Upper Ring can view them, and the other three dotted around the Middle Ring. Tomorrow morning the two senior generals will face an execution similar to the Grand Secretariat’s before the palace, throughout the afternoon the other three will do the same. When the last general has burned, you will take down a section of the Outer Wall within sight of the final execution, through which the army of the Fire Nation will enter the city. The morning after, the Princess will become Queen. Now make the preparations.”

As they all left, Zuko took a deep breath. Turning to Ping, he asked “So, how did I do?”

Any answer Ping could’ve given was interrupted by slow clapping as Azula stepped into the light saying “I think you did wonderfully. Not the way I’d have done it, but it seemed to get the point across. You even managed to finagle the loyalty of all the Dai Li, which I hadn’t managed to do yet. All in all, a very nice showing for something you planned all by yourself, with no input whatsoever from me,” she finished with narrow eyes.

“Azula, what are you doing up?”

“Well, I woke up all alone feeling like you ran your hands all over me while I slept-”

“It wasn’t like that!” Queue the flustered blush.

“-And noticed that there were a couple rainbow flames handy, so I pressed what was left of my wound to one and it healed. And now here I am.”

Zuko brought up a flaming hand to inspect said wound (“In public, Zuzu? How perverse.”) and found it to be, not exactly healed, but healed enough. Especially since she wasn’t likely to be doing any weird acrobatics in the near future.

“Well, I suppose you can walk around, but I don’t want you getting in any fights for at least a week.”

“Aww, not even a little spar?” she pouted.

“No. The Dai Li are your bodyguards and you will let them do their jobs.” Here he leaned in close and started whispering, “Or I’ll chain you to the bed again, but not in a way you’d like.”

She pouted harder, but sighed and walked off. Zuko turned to the agents on the stage and gestured for them to follow her. As they did, he turned to Mai and Ty Lee, who were still in their Kyoshi Warrior uniforms.

“Well, I like them, and we’re not supposed to reveal ourselves as Fire Nation yet.”

“We also didn’t bring any of our own clothes.”

“Hm. Well, you can help me pick out her royal outfit then, since we don’t have anything else to do ourselves for the rest of the day. Ty Lee, please lower your pitch before you start shattering glass.”

After grabbing lunch from the kitchens, Zuko and Ty Lee started arranging an outfit for the soon-to-be Queen, experimenting with various styles of dresses and armor of varying levels of functionality while their mannequin contemplated the virtues of clawing her own eyes out to relieve the boredom.

Eventually, they went with a more simplistic approach.

Azula's canonical armor

Using her customary armor as a base, they replaced the red underclothes with green ones, stylized a blue flame on her belt instead of the golden one, kept the black with gold and pink trim armor, and gave her a long, flowing red cape with green trim, the only actual red left in her outfit, other than the pink trim on parts of her armor and the background of her belt ornament. Noticing how little red there was in a Fire Nation Royal Outfit, they also went ahead and designed a gold circlet with a red stone to go across her forehead in addition to her topknot. (Based off Suyin’s circlet)

With the design in hand, Zuko looted the treasury for enough gold for it and a large ruby, then went with Ty Lee to a blacksmith where he could craft it, using the skills he learned from Piandao and then from sneaking into other blacksmith shops to watch them. Meanwhile, Mai wrote that letter with the final plans to whatever general decided to fail at surpassing the firstborn son of Azulon this month.

“Why are you putting the fire out?”

“I don’t want it to pollute this project. I’d much rather use my own flame so it can actually protect her rather than simply being a lifeless chunk of metal.” As an added bonus, he could actually reach into the flames and manipulate the metal there rather than fight with thermodynamics, which cause the metal to cool when you take it out to work it. Since it was gold he was manipulating, it was soft enough he could do that, since even in his own flames he’d have to use a hammer and anvil on weapons and armor.

When the gold was formed to his satisfaction, he took it out, sapped the heat from it, and handed it to Ty Lee for her approval. Upon getting it, he put the ruby into the forge, infusing it with the same fire. Not all of the material survived, but that’s why he brought such a large gem. When it reached the proper shape and size, he fashioned it to the circlet on one side so when he put it on her head the circle would close snugly around it.

“So, what makes this so special, besides the fact that you made it yourself?”

“Well, because I lit the forge with Azula’s protection in mind, any time someone goes for a headshot or something could harm her head in any way, it’ll naturally gravitate towards the circlet, which will absorb all the impact.”

“So, if a Yuyan Archer aimed for her face,…”

“The arrow would always go to her forehead. It’ll divert anything going above her collar, even rocks falling naturally or her getting slammed into a rock wall. Impact-based disorientation will very soon be a thing of the past for her.”

“But not anything below her neck?”

“That’s what the armor is for.”

***

“What have you two been doing?”

“It’s a secret.”

“I don’t like secrets.”

“Well, don’t worry, you’ll find out soon,” Zuko said, hugging his sister.

Fortunately for Ty Lee’s mental well-being, that did manage to calm her down enough that she stopped growling and her fingers straightened out.

They then collected Mai and the four of them enjoyed a meal together, the first one in over five years.

Upon retiring to Azula’s rooms, the two siblings felt a tension in the air, far too thick for them to relax, even after shedding their clothes and Zuko checking on her wound. He sat there for a moment, stroking the site.

“You almost died.”

“It felt like it.”

“I thought you died.”

“So did I.”

“I don’t think I can risk losing you again,” Zuko said, looking up from where he could still see the gaping hole in her chest, even though there was nothing but smooth skin there.

“Neither can I. I know we said we’d wait until we grew up, but…”

Knowing exactly where she was going with this, since it was also where he was going, he picked her up and laid her down in the center of the bed, kneeling between her legs.

“Zuzu,” she murmured, wrapping her arms around his neck and bringing him in for a kiss. After a few moments of this, Zuko started moving down her body the same way he did several times before, but instead of bringing her to climax or dangling her off the precipice, he simply took her most of the way there before withdrawing. As he rose, Azula put her hands on his shoulders to ground herself, claws digging lightly into the flesh. Rubbing the head against her slit, he looked at her face for any regret, hesitation, or any other expression that signaled that she had changed her mind, but she opened her eyes long enough to say “Do it” before clenching them and her jaw shut in preparation for what she heard was a sharp, tear-jerking pain, but as her brother slowly entered her, all she could feel was the pleasure. Where she had heard that there would be some kind of barrier he would puncture, making her bleed, there was only a sense of fullness as her womanhood stretched to accommodate for the man it was made to service. Of course, secondhand hearsay from superstitious commoners isn’t the most reliable sources of information, so she didn’t have to worry about her brother hurting her, as if he ever would.

The deeper he went, the more pleasure they both felt, until they almost reached climax as their hips made contact and they felt his tip brush up against her deepest depth. After a moment to get used to the sensation, they made eye contact, which prompted him to start moving. Back and forth, building momentum until Azula started matching his rate, bringing her own hips up to meet his, prompting him to maintain that rate and increase the ferocity until they were slamming together, bruising each other’s pelvises, and carving deep claw marks into each other, clamping their jaws on each other’s collar. It didn’t take long for them to start panting and calling each other’s names until finally, making eye contact, they both released, allowing themselves to reach the peak of pleasure.

They still had energy to burn and no matter how much they enjoyed each other, neither of them was fully satisfied. It was well after midnight when Azula finally collapsed down from her perch atop her brother and they wrapped their arms around each other, falling asleep entwined and connected more deeply than any other set of siblings or lovers could be. And they slept with a smile on each of their faces because, even if the entire world turned to ash, or all their plans fell apart by noon tomorrow, they had each other. And nothing, not disloyal agents, nor scheming politicians, nor concerned friends, nor traitorous uncles, not even malicious Fire Lords could separate them now.

Chapter Text

As the sun rose over Ba Sing Se, the city came alive. Bakers, blacksmiths, newspaper services, vendors, and more began their day, still blissfully unaware of anything unusual happening over the past month. But we don’t care about them. We care about two teenagers currently stirring in their bed.

Since the normal morning wood kept Zuko’s manhood erect, any movement either of them made stimulated both of them, especially when they instinctively flexed their genital muscles. That stimulation, combined with the energy surge from the sunrise, set them both off for one morning round. One turned into three and would’ve turned into at least five if their bodies hadn’t started alerting them to their biological needs. Needs other than intercourse, that is.

“Hey, Zuzu? Why didn’t I need to use the washroom when I woke up yesterday?”

“I used my flame to not only clean and groom you, but it also got rid of your excrement.”

“Show me.” So he did, repeating all the steps and explaining them all, including washing his hands at the end. “Do you really need to wash your hands? It did clean everything, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, but it still feels weird.”

“Hm. Let me try.” She actually managed to pick it up immediately, grooming and cleaning him better than he had been since he was a child, getting bathed by servants. She even cleaned him out and, to prove a point, shoved her finger in his mouth.

“Ghah!” he sputtered, trying to get it out.

“Taste anything?” After a moment of consideration, he shook his head. “So it’s clean, right?” Hesitantly, he nodded. “So we don’t need to clean our hands after?”

“I guess not. It’s still weird.”

“This whole thing is weird. Fire that heals? That does everything we try and make it do? What’s next, an earthbender that flies?”

“Fire is more than we were taught. Clearly it’s more than just death and destruction, because if it wasn’t then how could anyone bake or forge with it? Baking is life-giving and both are creative processes and both also are only possible because of their respective fires.”

“Well, this isn’t a conversation to be had right now. Right now we’ve got some executions to carry out,” she said with a bloodthirsty smirk.

“No, I have executions to carry out. You are to be the new Queen, which means your hands should be clean of Earth Kingdom blood.” That earned him a pout.

“But I wanna have fun, too,” she whined.

“No. I am your executor in this city. That means I do the heavy lifting, I get my hands dirty, and my face is the one they fear…for multiple reasons,” he finished softly.

“Oh, Zuzu,” she reached out to cup his scarred cheek, which he instinctively nuzzled. “Well, if you insist, then I’ll sit on the throne. All alone. Bored. While you go terrorize the masses. But I should prove myself, to father if no one else, that I’m worthy to be a royal.”

At this, Zuko grabbed the hand on his face and glared into her eyes. “You stop that. You were the one to take the city. You succeeded where thousands of others failed, including our uncle.” He leaned in close. “And you have nothing to prove. If he hasn’t accepted you by now then he never will. You’ve done everything he’s asked, pushed yourself to mortal limit and beyond, doing things lesser beings could never even dream of, all for scraps of affection. He doesn’t deserve you.”

“He doesn’t deserve you, either. Not after what he did.”

“I’m finally realizing that. It’s all thanks to you that the thought even occurred to me, and already I feel freer for it.” a sigh. “Azula, what if we deposed him?”

It was a mark of how far Ozai had fallen in his children’s eyes that either of them would ask that and the other would honestly consider it.

“I…I think the only thing stopping us is our age.” Looking up with resolve in her eyes, she said “Give me a few years and I can have every one of Ozai’s loyalists in the palm of my hand. It’ll also give you enough time to grow up into the normal age of a Fire Lord’s ascension.”

Zuko sighed again. “Do we have that much time? The Comet is coming early autumn this year. That barely gives us five months.”

“What about the Comet?”

“Sozin used it to exterminate the Air Nomads, remember. That’s a hard act to follow.”

“You think he’ll do something drastic with the Comet’s power?”

“You tell me. Can his ego handle letting the Comet pass without incident?” He pressed her hand into his scar, punctuating his point.

“No. But how do we do it?”

“I’ll think of something.”

“You’ve already got something in mind. Don’t lie to me.”

“Until we get back to the Fire Nation, it’s simply idle thought. It would only distract us at a critical moment right now.” I always knew the Avatar was like Azula, always lucky. Is he lucky enough that the waterbender found some way to keep him alive? She was half-dead herself, but if she can keep him breathing long enough for them to make their way north, the healers at the Pole can work wonders, from what my research has told me. But that’s a thought for later. Right now, I have to secure my sister’s rule.

“Hey, Zuzu?”

He felt himself get dragged back to reality to see his sister with a thoughtful, devious, and deviant look on her face. “What are you thinking about, Lala?”

“Well, there’s one more orifice we can stick your manhood in.” At his blank look, she specified: “My rear. You did clean it out, so there’s nothing to worry about.”

“Wait, wouldn’t that hurt at least one of us? And how would this feel good to you at all?”

“We could never hurt one another anymore. If you’re that worried about it, just set your shaft on fire to make it easier or something. And don’t worry about my pleasure. If it really isn’t doing anything for me, I’ll make sure to complain at you.”

After considering her words, Zuko nodded. “All right. Turn around and kneel down.”

She did so with a smirk, presenting her rear to her brother, who was starting to simply accept how much his sister turned him on. Grabbing hold of her cheeks, he spread them to gain better access to her entrance, got frustrated at how he couldn’t hold them and finger her at the same time, and then realized that there was a second pair of hands he could use.

“Spread your cheeks for me,” he said, backing off. When she did so, she had to let her head and shoulders go to the bed to support her weight, arching her back further. Now, with unrestricted access to her rear opening, Zuko slowly inserted his claw, easing it in. “Let me know if it hurts, okay?”

“Yes, yes. I know. Get on with it.”

When his claw was fully buried, he started wiggling it to get her channel to expand. Noticing the strained look on Azula’s face due to the uncomfortable sensation, he used fire along his claw to ease the sensation and give a layer between her flesh and its unyielding hardness. This also had the benefit of making her flesh more malleable. After a short while, he pushed further, allowing his fingertip to breach the entrance. This allowed for deeper manipulation and more range of motion, since now there was a joint on the inside.

After deeming her entrance prepared enough, he withdrew completely, putting his hands on hers and lining himself up for entrance.

“Ooh, finally getting to the good stuUUGHN!”

He cut her off by burying his fire-coated manhood in her anus, the flames fueled partly by his own hungry lust and partly by the need for her to get as much pleasure out of it as she could, essentially turning her anal cavity into a second vaginal cavity in terms of how it felt to both of them, just tighter.

As he pulled back and started to piston into her, he instinctively grabbed her wrists and used her arms as a way to more forcefully pound into her. She had no complaints, and even started moaning louder at the sensations of their hips slamming together, his sack slapping her nether lips, and her arms feeling like they might get ripped out of their sockets at how hard he was pulling on them. Naturally, it didn’t take long for her to climax, which signaled his.

Letting go of her and withdrawing from her, he leaned back panting while she did the same, her face still buried in the sheets. Noticing the mess in her anus and that her hole wasn’t closing to trap it the way her vagina would, he put a lit finger on her opening to clean it up. She clenched when she felt his finger, though relaxed when it didn’t actually go in and all she felt was the soothing warmth. Finishing with the cleaning, he pushed her rear to the side so she could lie down, which she didn’t resist.

“Should…should we get dressed now?”

Noticing that the sun was already at least twenty degrees above the horizon, he agreed.

“Don’t you have any clothes of your own?”

“Not really. And why would I need them when yours fit so well?”

“They shouldn’t,” she says with narrowed eyes. “You should be much bulkier than you are.”

“Three weeks on a raft with nothing to eat or drink except the seavultures feeding on the bloated corpses of La’s victims. Then a couple months as a starving, broke refugee wandering the continent until settling here where Iroh and I were underpaid, overworked employees of a copper-pincher who didn’t even give us enough money to buy food for a couple non-benders, never mind firebenders. Iroh only opened up that shop about two days before you walked in. You could very well have watched me eat more food during our dates than I’ve eaten since the Siege of the North.”

“…oh. Well, that’s a state of affairs that will not continue. You need meat on your bones.” With that, they left their bedroom and she went to the outer door. She was a little startled to see Mai leaning against the wall.

“Breakfast?”

“Yes. Lots of it.”

“I figured, after watching him eat yesterday. You know, there is a dining hall you can eat in. Your rooms aren’t exactly equipped for regular meals.”

After a moment of consideration, Azula looked back to see Zuko standing closer than she thought. After exchanging nods with him, she opened the door wider. “Lead the way. Will you and Ty Lee join us?”

“Maybe,” Mai shrugged. “We’ll sit at the table at least. I had breakfast before the sun rose so I could stand guard. Ty Lee had evening shift, so she might not be awake yet. Boyun, escort them to the dining hall,” she said as she split off.

“Yes, ma’am,” the agent said, moving in front of them. When they got there, Mai and Ty Lee were already seated, Ty Lee looking a little tired, for some reason. When she saw them walk in, she raised her head a bit.

“How are you two so awake? I was still hearing your voices when my shift ended,” she said, before resting her head on her arms.

“You…you could hear us?”

“I think there were a few guards on the Outer Wall that couldn’t hear it.” At that, the siblings’ faces turned crimson. Sitting at the table, they used the teacups to hide, drinking them faster than was strictly proper.

Busy trying to salvage a single drop of dignity, they didn’t notice Mai looking intently at them as they drank the tea. She was expecting some kind of reaction from the taste, but she underestimated just how little they shared in common with their uncle. After all, to them all tea is simply hot leaf juice, so they didn’t notice the medicinal taste of the contraceptive tea they were drinking.

Soon enough, the servants came in with the food and the two still-embarrassed siblings were able to focus on eating.

***

“Why are we bringing in so much food for these children?”

“One of them ordered it. You haven’t been here very long, Ming, but royals and nobles are always like this. They order more food than they can ever eat, and when they finish, we have to throw all the leftovers away.”

“That’s horrible. My cousin lives down in the lower ring and she can barely feel her children, yet these upper class mudholes are throwing away enough food every meal to feed a family for a week?”

“That’s just the way it is. Sometimes they don’t even touch some of the dishes that the cook spent so much time on.”

“Hey, girls, get this. Those kids apparently prefer food that’s spicy enough to set your mouth on fire.”

“Well, they are Fire Nation, after all.”

“No way, really?”

“Yes, Huang. The boy and the girl with chin-length bangs are apparently the children of the Fire Lord.”

“Oh, wow!”

“So, wait. Why are we hosting foreign royalty here? Royals of an enemy nation at that?”

“Because, Ming,” a Dai Li agent appeared as if out of nowhere. “These are our new rulers. Today Prince Zuko will be announcing to the city the crimes Long Feng committed against all of us and tomorrow he will crown Princess Azula as High Earth Queen. Now, they have finished their meal, so you should go collect their tableware.” With that, he walked off like some kind of ghost.

When Ming and Liang went to collect the remnants of the royal breakfast, they were amazed that the dishes were picked clean. “Bu Lin, what happened?” Liang asked a guard.

“It was almost all eaten by the two golden-eyed freaks. You should’ve seen it, they just attacked the meal like a pair of ravenous dogs.”

Liang glanced around before responding, “I’d be careful of what you say about them. Apparently they’re taking this place over.”

“Well, if this is any indication, they’ll eat us out of house and home.”

“Look on the bright side! I’m sure the Avatar won’t let this stand. I heard he went off to train, so when he hears what’s happening he’ll come back even stronger!”

“I hope so, Ming. I hope so.”

***

All morning, the residents of the Upper Ring were finding excuses to wander the vast courtyard before the Palace. It was a normal occurrence for them to show up there occasionally, simply to be seen or something, but this is the first time since Kuei’s coronation that everyone with the ability to be within sight of the Forbidden City spent the entire morning loitering. The reason? Two square wooden platforms, three steps across with a pole at the center standing as tall as a man. None of them had seen anything like it within the Upper Ring. The nobles that had homes outside Ba Sing Se might’ve seen something similar and spread the rumor that there was to be an execution, but the platforms didn’t look like any executioner’s stand they were familiar with. All the unknowns combined with what little speculation they could make made for a very popular pacing ground, to the point where every shop that could had set up a kiosk somewhere in the square, since that was the only place where they would get any business that day.

Unfortunately, their blissful ignorance only lasted to the fourth hour because at that time, the great doors opened and two dozen Dai Li agents marched out in two columns and lined up behind the platforms. Behind the main lineup came another dozen, three on each side of a pair of prisoners. Very familiar prisoners.

“Is that General How?”

“What could he have done to deserve this?”

“What does the Council of Five even do? It’s not like we’re at war or anything, right?”

“Maybe he attacked a foreign nation unprovoked?”

“I heard the Avatar came and disrupted things. Maybe something came to light?”

“Well then, it’s a good thing the Avatar’s arou-”

“Oh, that poor boy. It is a boy, right?”

“He doesn’t have the body type to be a girl, but what boy would wear his hair that long?”

“Well, considering what happened to his face, he probably doesn’t bother with proper styles anyway.”

Standing above the chained generals, Prince Zuko prepared himself for another speech. I go from being a nobody last week to the face of our takeover today. Let’s see, I don’t need their loyalty the way I needed the Dai Li’s loyalty, but I do need their obedience. Well, my plans never work anyway, and my last speech went well enough, so here we go.

“Citizens of Ba Sing Se. For nearly a century the Council of Five, along with the Grand Secretariat, has been lying to you. The Earth King, with the support of these generals, has been waging an unjust war against the Fire Nation, one that has devastated both the Earth Kingdom and my own Fire Nation.

“Yes, I referred to the Fire Nation as mine, because I am Crown Prince Zuko, son of the Fire Lord and heir to the throne. And I, with my sister Princess Azula, have led a coup to take over the government of Ba Sing Se, finally put an end this war, and bring peace and prosperity to our nations. The Earth King wished to conquer the Fire Nation and subjugate it, stealing our inventions and increasing the power of the King and his generals using the taxes they take from you.

“I’m sure many of you have had your lands beyond these walls stolen by the King and sacrificed in an attempt to stop us from retaliating, but no longer. With the Fire Nation in control of this city, all your wealth can be returned to you and these presumptuous few will no longer threaten the peace of our nation.”

With that, he sent a pair of green fireballs at the two generals, setting them alight, burning the wood, and leaving a pair of charred corpses.

“We shall bury them as generals, for they held that prestigious title, but that is all they shall get. Tomorrow, Princess Azula of the Fire Nation shall be crowned High Queen of the Earth Kingdom. That is all.” With that, he turned around and walked back into the palace, the original two dozen agents filing after him, leaving the last dozen to dispose of the bodies.

“Master? I’ve never seen you make green flames before.”

“I was practicing while Ty Lee was arranging my hair. I thought it more fitting than the normal gold or Azula’s blue.”

“Ah. The young miss has…interesting taste.”

That earned him a sigh. “She merged her own style with Mai’s and Azula’s to create a monstrosity, I know.” She had given him Azula’s bangs, braiding the rest into a pair of buns and making an intricate, yet not very aesthetically pleasing arrangement of the rest. “We’ve got more time until the other executions, so I’ll have her just make it into Azula’s style. It’s simple and actually looks good.”

“That sounds like a reasonable course of action.”

***

After lunch, the situation in the Lower Ring was quite different from the one in the Upper Ring. For one thing, not a single person had the time to loiter for even a single second, never mind all afternoon. They also had far too much going on in their lives to worry about what poor fool managed to piss off someone important enough to earn them a public execution.

All this meant that they weren’t particularly surprised at the summons to the district center, but they were surprised to see the Dai Li chaining up General Sung. When Zuko stood on a stone pillar, they almost rioted until he sent a wave of fire just above their heads and suspended it there for a few seconds before letting it fade away.

“Now that I have your attention, I’m going to explain a few things. The Avatar is dead. I killed him and sent the Earth King running. This means Ba Sing Se has been conquered by the Fire Nation, along with all the rest of the Earth Kingdom. To prove it, I will be crowning Princess Azula of the Fire Nation as Earth Queen tomorrow. I can see you’re not convinced.” At this, he set the general alight with a gesture. “You have spent your entire lives running from us, but we are willing to help you live better lives. The choice is yours: continue to resist and live in squalor, or submit, live your lives, and be happy under our rule.” He then nodded to Ping, who sunk the pillar and Zuko into the ground where he could travel with the agents he was holding in reserve to the second and third sites, where the situation played out essentially the same way.

***

At the eleventh hour, the citizens of the southwest region of the city heard a horn coming from the Outer Wall, where they saw their worst nightmare: a river of red and black flowing from a wide opening in the Wall towards the southern gate of the Inner Wall, which also opened, giving the citizens in the southern quadrant a front-row seat to the parade of invading soldiers ready to enforce Fire Nation rule upon the Earth Kingdom. Everywhere that word spread, hope died. The Avatar was dead, Ba Sing Se had fallen, and the Fire Nation was taking over.

“I must say, the sunsets in Ba Sing Se are very beautiful.”

“Heh, you’re not looking at the sky, are you?” Zuko wrapped his arms around her bare waist.

“What’s so interesting about the sky?”

Zuko chuckled and buried his face in her hair. “Big day tomorrow.”

“Do you have a present for the new Queen?”

“Yes. A piece of jewelry,” he said, retrieving it from a drawer. “Hold still.” Azula had been turning to look, but at his behest she stayed as she was. She felt him press her forehead with something, then drag it around her scalp under her hair. When it had circled her entire head, it suddenly was snug on all sides as some kind of clasp latched.

“Take a look,” Zuko pointed her to a mirror.

“It’s beautiful,” she gasped. When she tried moving it, nothing happened.

At her confused glare, Zuko explained how he was the only one who could remove it and that it had a hidden feature.

“…Well? What does it do?”

“It’s a secret. I’m sure you’ll find out eventually, but not from me.” He then laughed at and kissed her pout, leading to more intimacy, which led to them only sleeping for half the night again.

“Is it weird that I’m nervous about tomorrow?” Azula asked Zuko, nose buried in his collarbone.

“Of course not. You’re being given an official position, one you can’t simply walk away from if you want to,” he said with his scarred cheek resting atop her head.

“Will it be a real position? Not just an empty name for a wallflower?”

“I won’t let it be empty, and neither will you. These peasants will respect you if we have to cull half these vermin to convince the other half.”

She smiled at that. “I like it when you get all murderous for me.”

“And I like it when you get all scheming for me,” he said, nuzzling her.

“Good night, Zuzu.”

“Good night, Lala.”

***

“Behold, High Queen Azula of the Earth Kingdom!” Zuko announced as she exited the palace. When she got to the stairs, she stopped, positioning herself above everyone, or at least everyone visible to her audience.

Seeing the doubt and hesitation before her, she issued her first command, directed to the Earth Kingdom at large: “Kneel!” And with that, all the Earth Kingdom citizens in sight, both Upper Ring residents and workers, as well as the Dai Li agents, knelt. Within seconds, the only people still on their feet were the Fire Nation soldiers surrounding the square and her companions.

But her command had effects far more far-reaching than she thought.

***

“Hey, Toph, you okay?”

“I’m fine, Snoozles. I just slipped, is all. Not everyone was born on the water like you.”

“She has a point, son. Earth Kingdom people don’t take to the seas as easily as we do. Especially on their first week aboard.”

I don’t think it was a stumble. I got my “sea legs” yesterday and I’m grounding myself to the ship. My knees gave out. I felt an imperative need to kneel. I hope this isn’t related to what’s going on in Ba Sing Se.

But it was. Across the Earth Kingdom, each and every single citizen felt the urge, however small, to fall to their knees. Many barely felt a twitch, especially if they were sitting or walking, but everyone who had ever heard her voice found themselves on their knees, pointed at their new Queen. Only those within the walls, all of whom had been forced to obey, had any clue what the cause was: A new Queen had just been declared over the Earth Kingdom. The entire continent was now under the rule of High Queen Azula, first of her line.

Looking over the sea of devastated faces, she couldn’t help but look to her brother, who gazed back at her, her adoration and joy mirrored in his face. They had won.

Chapter Text

As word spread throughout Ba Sing Se, Zuko, the new Executor, wandered around each district, singling out individuals that caught his eye and sending them to the nearest Precinct House. What was he looking for? Town Criers. Individuals who would go to the Precinct House each morning to collect a list of decrees that the new Queen had decided on, go to the District Center, stand on a platform that was currently being constructed, and announce them to their district so everyone could hear them. The Queen’s brother, lover, and enforcer wasn’t taking any chances with the citizens claiming ignorance of his sister’s rule, so he was doing everything he could to spread her every word as far and wide as he could.

While his only thought was to safeguard against the belligerent, it was entirely unnecessary. Not that he or anyone else in the city knew that. The Earth Kingdom citizens could never rise up against their High Queen, but not out of loyalty, not directly at least. For you see, while the Earth Kingdom’s citizens tended to be as spiritually sensitive as rocks, there was one thing even their spirits couldn’t ignore: a decree from the Avatar.

When Kyoshi formed the Dai Li, she wanted them to preserve the culture of Ba Sing Se specifically and the Earth Kingdom in general. She also wanted them to be loyal to and enforce the will of the reigning monarch. Between this and her only choosing those sensitive to Spiritual matters, she inadvertently tied the loyalty of the Earth Kingdom to the loyalty of the Dai Li. As long as the Dai Li remained loyal to the Earth King, his will was absolute, preventing peasant uprisings like the one that inspired the organization’s creation. As more and more Dai Li lost faith in their weak rulers, the rule of the royal family weakened until, in 80 A.G., the title of Earth King was given to a child incapable of ruling or holding anyone’s loyalty. It was this lack of loyalty that finally split the Earth Kingdom into scattered city-states that could offer no resistance to the Fire Nation’s sudden focus, having recently made the Water Tribes a non-issue.

Over a decade later, enough Dai Li had been recruited and served at the Earth King’s side to feel some measure of loyalty to him over the Grand Secretariat that had thought himself a more capable and fit ruler than the one born to rule. These few Dai Li didn’t represent a significant portion of the agents, but it was enough for the soldiers to hold the wall for 600 days in the face of the Fire Lord’s own son, the fearsome Dragon of the West, General Iroh himself, who had managed to carve through the very heart of the continent to the mighty city.

Today, the loyalty of the Dai Li is split exclusively between Queen Azula and Prince Zuko. Normally, such a split would be just as disastrous as the previous century or so, but this was different. The Prince didn’t gain their loyalty to the exclusion of her, nor was he disloyal to her as Long Feng and his ilk were to their sovereigns. Prince Zuko valued her life and well-being above his own and that of everyone else. The others were selfish, letting their authority go to their heads and valuing their own ambitions above their loyalty, but, with Azula, Zuko was completely selfless and viewed the Dai Li’s loyalty to him simply as an extension of their loyalty to his sister. Sparing no thought to his own ambitions within the Earth Kingdom, he allowed himself to be a vessel of her will, just as much an extension of her as her fire.

All this being said, and there was a lot said, his efforts at collecting a cadre of criers weren’t going to waste. By ensuring that so many people heard her orders by word of mouth, he also ensured that they would obey them. When he finished selecting the criers, Zuko would draft a plan for every city still in Earth Kingdom territory to adopt a similar method of spreading her words: messengers would be sent out from the Palace to Precinct Houses or Town Halls where they would deliver a list of decrees. These decrees would be announced in a public square at the center of the city or district with the command to spread word to anyone who didn’t hear it. Thus would the will of the Earth Queen be obeyed by anyone and everyone who considered themselves Earth Kingdom. It wouldn’t work on those who rejected their citizenship, but before Zuko finished scouting, he would already be aware of that issue and write up a decree that shopkeepers and other service providers would only be allowed to serve citizens of the Earth Kingdom or Fire Nation and that citizens were ordered to persecute citizens of nowhere until they swore fealty to the Queen or Fire Lord. It wouldn’t take long to weed out the dissidents and establish order within Ba Sing Se and all its dependents.

While Zuko was on the prowl, he came across a familiar face.

“Lee?”

Zuko’s head snapped around at the familiar voice, his eyes dilating to near-human appearance out of surprise. “Jin?”

“Lee, what’s going on?” she seemed almost hysterical, having watched the Fire Nation invade her home yet again.

“Ba Sing Se has fallen. The Fire Nation is now in control of the Earth Kingdom.”

Jin took a closer look at the boy she took on a date, her eyes catching on the claws, the natural long hair, and the flame he wore comfortably on his chest. “Who are you, really?”

Straightening up, having been asked a question he had a resolute and absolute answer for, he took a deep breath and responded. “I am Zuko, Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, son of Agni and brother to High Queen Azula of the Earth Kingdom. I enforce my sister’s will and command those who keep the peace.” As he was speaking, he didn’t notice the flames puffing out of his mouth like steam on a particularly chilly day, but Jin did. And while Earth can be stubborn, it also settles when it finds itself in a rut, so she knew how to recognize when fighting would do more harm than good, especially when she trusted the person she would be fighting.

“Oh,” she said, looking down sad. “I’m sorry if I overstepped my bounds, your highness.”

“What are you talking about? Last week I was just Lee, a nobody who didn’t matter. Now my true form as a Fire Nation Royal has been revealed, and I’d like it if you wouldn’t turn your back on me.” As he finished, she looked up, noticing how his demeanor seemed to resemble Lee’s and realizing that this really was the same clueless, hopeless young man she had taken a liking to. So, while hope in victory over the Fire Nation had died, from those ashes emerged a new hope: Hope that their new overlords would be better than their previous ones. Hope that living under the Fire Nation wouldn’t be so bad. Jin didn’t know Queen Azula, but she knew Prince Zuko, so her countenance brightened. The first of many. As more people saw joy while under their new Queen’s rule, more people decided to try and see the good in it, making them feel that joy and spread it to others. Just as Zuko had planned long ago, when he and his sister were still tiptoeing around one another. But that wouldn’t happen today, or even this week. Today, Jin was alone in her hope.

“All right, but what could you need from me?”

“I’m looking for someone in each district who can go to their local Precinct House, pick up a list of new decrees, and announce them to their district every morning. Can you do that?”

“Sure. I’m part of the Spider Monkey South district, right up against the Inner Wall.”

“Great.” They then stood there awkwardly for a moment.

“So, who’s this?”

“Uh, this one’s the knife thrower, and this one’s the acrobat. I think I mentioned them?”

“Oh yeah! You’re able to pin a gnat-fly to a wall at a hundred paces, right?”

“After I warm up, yes.”

“And aren’t you able to walk on your fingers?”

“Yup!” At this, Ty Lee flipped over, landing on an index finger and making a “ta-da” motion, getting applause from her one-person audience.

“They’re also able to tear through a battalion of elite Earth Benders, leaving each of them dead on the ground or wishing they were that lucky.”

“…Oh.”

“Great, now she’s terrified of us. Thanks, Zuko.”

He sniffed and raised his chin. “The only person more terrifying than the two of you is Azula. And considering I was the practice dummy for your ‘freestyle acupuncture’ and Ty Lee’s ‘2-second massages’, I think I’m the one most qualified to make that statement.”

“Hey, I’ve been practicing those! Good news, now they don’t leave you in agony on the ground!” Ty Lee said from her upside-down position, earning an eye-roll from Mai at the two jokers.

“Well, we’ve still got work to do. Let’s go.”

As Zuko and Ty Lee walked off, Jin turned to look at Mai. “Is his sister the one he took for walks around the city last week?”

“As far as we’ve been able to find out, yes.”

“Are they, you know…” she made a vague “coming together” motion with her hands.

“Doing things no siblings should do? Yes.”

“I thought they looked awfully similar to be a couple. I guess that didn’t stop them, though, did it?”

“Unfortunately not. You’re not the only teenaged girl he’s managed to charm without trying.”

Jin gave her a knowing, sympathizing look. “I wonder how many of us there are?”

“More than you would think, probably, since two of us found each other,” Mai replied, touching the left side of her face.

Noticing Zuko turning to look for the other half of his escort, she decided to cut the meeting short, following him to the next district.

***

Searching for spokespeople wasn’t the only thing Zuko was doing during his tour of the entire city. He was also taking note of bad trends that he now had the power to do away with, rather than simply do what little damage control a masked vigilante could do. Things like not taking from sellers without the sellers’ permission or paying for what they’re taking was a relatively easy one, but the concept of extortion, gangs, and other such issues would take someone more clever than himself. As for easing the occupation, it was a simple matter to place the Fire Nation soldiers at the same level as the City Watch. Colleagues, even, making it clear that the two organizations were to work together to ensure smoothness. However, he also remembered the view from the other side, not only the hatred the peasants felt for his people, but how deserving some of them were of it. Fortunately, he already had a group set above the Watch and answered only to the Queen.

“Chung, I want the peace kept to the best of everyone’s abilities. The Watch, including the combined Earth and Fire forces, is to keep it among the citizens, but I want you and your faction to keep an eye on them. If there’s any infighting, you treat it as if it was a pair of Watchmen, no matter who they are, even if it’s two firebenders. If any firebender disturbs the peace, you are to punish him according to the crime. Same if he abuses his power in any way. If you deem it necessary, make an example of them to make things clear. Ba Sing Se is still your city, you know it better than we do, and it’s your sacred duty to maintain it. Understood?”

“Yes, Master.”

Interestingly enough, over time Zuko found himself being called that by more and more Dai Li, until that became his unofficial title among them. They called Azula “Your Majesty,” since she was their Queen, but him killing and making an example of their former master also made an impression in their minds, even beyond the effort Azula put into overthrowing Long Feng. After all, after seeing her lose the only fight she got into, they watched Zuko utterly dismantle the one who beat her and immediately start taking charge of them, taking the time to care for her and almost having her be his porcelain doll that he keeps safe while he goes out into the city. Not only that, but while Azula was born royalty and trained from the cradle to rule, she was not born to be the true ruler. She was born the spare of the spare, regardless of Azulon’s plans for her when she grew up. While her royal birth made her superior to the commoner Long Feng by default, her older brother was born with all the privilege she was, with the added benefit of being ahead of her in the line of succession. He only followed her because he chose to. It was certainly the right choice, given her capabilities, but he appointed her queen, with all the corresponding implications.

By the time a certain message arrived from Caldera, the Dai Li’s loyalty had turned into its proper form: The Monarch had their loyalty because they were royalty while their leader, their Master, had their respect for the actions he took. This is the way it had always been, with each aspect ebbing and flowing, waxing and waning, but for the first time in a while that ebb and flow didn’t matter because of the mutual trust, loyalty, respect, and even love between the Monarch and the Master.

***

“Joo Dee, anything interesting this morning?”

“Well, there were two messages that seemed to require your attention,” she replied, holding the first one out for Azula to take.

“Well?” Zuko asked, seeing her finish reading.

“Someone who calls himself ‘Lord Bei Fong’ has surrendered a place called Gaoling to the Fire Nation, requesting annexation and offering it as a base of operations to subjugate the area south of the Si Wong Desert.”

“Hm. Why haven’t we done so already?”

“Inaccessibility. There’s a swamp, desert, and a lot of mountains in the way, plus there’s pretty much only cliff faces along the coastline and we’ve never been able to gain control of the ocean beyond Whaletail Island, making any kind of sea-based assault on that region impossible. Our standing plan has been to take it by land piece by stubborn piece. I think he knows how generous this offer is and is probably hoping for something in return.”

“As long as the area obeys the rules and doesn’t cause a ruckus, is there any reason to refuse him things like general autonomy?”

“Not really. We’ll send someone to make sure Fire Nation interests are being kept, but if he’s this eager to be a colony, we might as well let him govern it…Wait. Where’s Mai?”

After a second of thought, Zuko summoned a guard. “Find Lady Mai and bring her here.” To Azula he asked, “What just occurred to you?”

“Something she said back when we were still undercover. Joo Dee, was this sent in response to our general message?”

“No, Your Majesty. You were only crowned two weeks ago and it takes ten days for a messenger to go that far south as the eagle-hawk flies. I imagine the Gaoling messenger only arrived a day or two ago.”

“I see. Mai, who was that earthbender you made friends with?”

“Toph Bei Fong. She calls herself ‘the Greatest Earthbender in the World,’ which doesn’t seem inaccurate. Why?”

Zuko and Azula shared a glance. “I wonder if they’re related.”

“Most likely. Mai, did she seem like a noble?”

“She didn’t act like one, but I suppose she didn’t seem like a commoner.”

“Probably his daughter, then. Or at least a niece.”

“Sounds like we’ll have an interesting conversation at some point, then. You can go now, Mai.”

“Thanks for your help.”

“You’re welcome, Zuko,” she replied to him specifically, leaving.

“You said there were two messages, Joo Dee?”

Silently, she held the other one out. It was quickly apparent why she waited and didn’t say anything about it.

Seeing the stress around Azula’s eyes, which grew as she read, Zuko was somewhat concerned. “What is it?”

“It’s from Ozai.”

Zuko immediately tensed up. “What does he want?”

“He says we’ve ‘spent long enough gallivanting across the Earth Kingdom and playing at being rulers.’ He wants us to return home immediately.”

Both of them have pursed lips at this point. “‘Gallivanting’? Is that what he calls it? ‘Playing at being rulers’? Who does he think he is?”

“He says he never told me to take any cities or install myself as its ruler. He only said to bring you and Iroh home.”

“So, instead of congratulating you for taking the two biggest cities in the entire Earth Kingdom, he’s scolding you for going above and beyond. Does he say anything about what we’ve been doing, or is it just ‘playing’ to him?”

“Just ‘playing’. He doesn’t say how to leave the city, just to come back.”

“Humph. It’s like he doesn’t want to win the War or something.”

“…What if he doesn’t?”

“…What?”

“He really liked the thought of sacrificing a division for a badgermole hill and doesn’t seem to care about how much he wastes, both time, money, lives, and destruction. What if all the death and destruction is what he’s after?”

“Then I think we’ve figured out his plans for the Comet.”

“Well, he better rethink them, because the Earth Kingdom is mine now. And I don’t appreciate others taking or breaking what’s mine.” Everyone except Zuko got nervous at this, because it was said in a dragon’s growl. Those who cared to look closely saw her claws and fangs get just a little bit longer.

Of course, Zuko was blind and deaf to anything unusual, since to him it was normal. “Don’t worry. We won’t let him do anything to your Kingdom, no matter what.” As she calmed down, he turned to Joo Dee, who was trying to regain her signature smile. “Will you be able to handle administration around here for a while?”

“Yes, Master,” she replied, her smile returning at having something to distract her. “I will send daily reports by dragon hawk.”

“Good. Chung, you’re in charge of security while I’m gone.”

“Yes, Master. All will be as if you were here. I shall include my own report when Joo Dee sends hers.”

“Good. Have the servants pack our things. Queen Azula, myself, Lady Mai, and Lady Ty Lee will be departing for Caldera at first light tomorrow. We’ll being our prisoner with us.”

***

“Master? I’m here to give my report.”

“I gave you that assignment weeks ago. What took you so long?”

“I had to confirm some things he said.”

“All right, fine. What happened?”

“Well, I gave him that password you mentioned and acted like I was an eager potential recruit that didn’t really understand what was going on.”

OoOoO                                                  

“Um, sir? I heard that the White Lotus opens wide to those who know its secrets. Are you alright?” she asked, making the “blooming flower” hand gesture.

Iroh smiled, returning the gesture. “You heard correctly. I’m afraid I’ve lost contact with the outside world recently. How goes it?”

“Sir, it’s terrible. Princess Azula was declared Queen of the Earth Kingdom! The Earth King has been driven away and the Council of Five has been executed by Prince Zuko!”

“That is terrible news. I thought Zuko was better than this, but apparently his sister has somehow corrupted him away from Good. Perhaps I’ve lost him. What a shame, I tried so hard to bestow wisdom upon him, but he was always too stubborn to listen.”

“What are we going to do about this?” the servant asked hysterically. “The Fire Nation Army has taken hold of the city and began repressing the population! The siblings have made mandates that disrupt our way of life!”

“Calm yourself. All is not yet lost. I have already made arrangements to gather the military forces of the White Lotus at the western region of the Outer Wall. When the Comet arrives, we will reveal ourselves and liberate this city from its oppressors.”

“But who can take this city by force when even you couldn’t?”

“The Grandmasters of the Order will gather. Master Pakku of the Northern Water Tribe, King Bumi of Omashu, and General Jeong Jeong and Piandao of the Fire Nation will be there to assist me.”

“Wow. All three nations?”

Iroh’s smile returns. “Yes. We will restore this city, abolish the colonies, and separate the three remaining nations as they are supposed to be. Only then will balance be restored.”

“Amazing. Do you need any messages sent out?”

“Not at the moment, but I think you should familiarize yourself with the other members. A servant within the Forbidden City itself will be useful in the future.”

OoOoO

“As I left, I heard him singing something about ‘leaves from the vine’ or something, and I’ve been an errand girl since then. I thought that, since you were all leaving, I should update you now.”

“That senile old fool,” Zuko snarled. The servant flinched at the sudden animalistic growl. “Who does he think he is?” It took a while for him to calm down, but eventually he was able to talk without snarling at the poor girl. “You did well. Do what you can to keep their suspicion off of you and give your report directly to Chung after we leave. What’s your name?”

“Tu Ling, Master. You’re not taking me with you?”

“No. The Fire Nation isn’t friendly to those of Earth Kingdom decent, especially the palace itself. It’s better for you to stay here among friends. I’ll give Chung your name so he knows to trust you.”

“Thank you, Master.” With that, they parted ways. She wasn’t as shocked at his restraint in not hitting her or his concern for her well-being as most would, since she had already experienced the Prince’s kindness once before. After all, it’s not every day that the person you serve a meal chooses to ease your burden and allow you to use both hands, if only for a moment. It was small moments like that that explained why, while Azula had their obedience, Zuko had their loyalty and love. After all, Zuko loved them first, in his own way.

Meanwhile, Zuko was still seething. “We achieve the most prestigious achievement in the world, one he failed at, and he immediately starts planning on tearing it down? Why can’t he be happy for me? And what about Master Piandao? He gives enemies and cowards the honor of their titles, yet ignores the blademaster? And what’s this about bestowing wisdom? If he wanted me to learn something, he should’ve told me. Did I not do the little things he told me to do when he told me to do them? ‘Firebending comes from the breath’, so I started using it. I can’t learn wisdom if he won’t teach me. And what’s this about the colonies? He speaks as if he’ll have any voice in the Fire Nation or control over its actions. ‘Separate the nations’? Didn’t he say something about how they weren’t supposed to be separate or something?” Sighing, he went to make certain arrangements with Chung. After all, he had already told them to punish belligerent firebenders. This would hardly need any special instruction, it would almost be…perfectly ordinary.

***

“Have you seen the Queen or the Prince?”

“No, my Lady. Um, should we refer to her as Queen? She’s not our Queen, just a Princess.”

“When I find them, I’ll ask her.”

Where in the Burning Pits could they have hidden themselves? It’s not like there’s that many secluded places on a ship like this.

Eventually, she managed to find a door near the Engine Room that, if she pressed her ear up against it, she could hear muffled moaning. It was a good spot, since it was an unused storage closet that no one ever went in and was close enough to the engines that any sound would be muffled enough as to be hidden.

She stood there for a moment, staring at the door, debating on whether or not to interrupt them. Eventually, she decided that she really did need to talk to them, so she went in. Opening the door, she stopped, startled at the sight before her: Azula, with her hands behind her back, on her knees in front of Zuko, with his cock in her mouth and his hand in her hair, yanking her head back and forth as he didn’t so much receive a blowjob as fuck her face. As Mai watched them, she couldn’t see a single scrap of clothing, nor any jewelry except that thin crown thing Azula never took off. This was Zuko and Azula as they truly were.

Her musings and observations were cut short when she noticed Zuko looking over at her. When they made eye contact, he beckoned her over. As she got close, letting the door close behind her, he broke his silence.

“Take it off,” he growled. As Azula looked around, trying to figure out why he suddenly spoke, Mai found her hands automatically moving to disrobe, clad only in her underwear by the time she regained control. “Keep going,” Zuko insisted, piercing her with his gaze. Before she could take off her weapon holsters, which she was hesitating doing, he gave her another order. “Get behind her.” When she was in position, he put his foot under Azula’s crotch and lifted, eliciting a muffled groan, and gestured with his chin for Mai to get under her. “Lick,” he ordered, removing his foot and letting Azula put some of her weight on Mai’s face when she positioned herself.

As Mai’s tongue started working its magic on her friend, Azula found herself very much enjoying being taken from both ends by her brother and someone under his control. The fact that it was one of her friends was the only reason why she tolerated a third member joining, but when she discovered how it felt, she found her objections fading as the pleasure mounted. The fact that she was able to submit to her brother and still be able to grind her feminine folds on someone’s face was pure ecstasy. As Zuko sped up his movements, nearing his release, she was also getting close, between getting overwhelmed by him and Mai’s ministrations. As she put all her weight on Mai’s face, smothering her, she groaned her release, triggering Zuko’s.

When Zuko calmed down and his sister managed to suck him dry, he pulled her face away and noticed Mai’s increasingly frantic movements, so he took mercy on her, pulling Azula up by the jaw so Mai could breathe. Gasping for air, not having the capacity of the two siblings, she extracted herself and stood up.

Finally being given a moment of reprieve, she remembered her whole reason for coming down here. Part of it was making sure they were discreet, but obviously they had that handled. The rest was details about their trip. “Well, if the two of you are done, we need to specify our route home. Clean up and meet me in the Command Tower with the captain.” And with that, she wiped off her face, dressed back up, and stalked out, leaving the siblings cuddling on the floor, Zuko having untied Azula and pulled her to sit on his lap.

“I rescind my earlier statement,” she said into his chest.

“Which one?”

“You can pursue other women. But only so long as you both understand that it’ll be the three of us, not you with a pair of concubines. I’m not letting anyone take you from me, even from my bed.”

“Heh, understood. Somehow I doubt there’ll be many others willing to be with both of us, though.”

“Good.”

Zuko sighed, knowing that neither of them would like the next subject. “When we get home, maybe we should say that Mai and I are a couple.”

Azula tensed, reflexively opposed to the idea, but she was smart. She knew as well as he did that they needed to be secretive. “All right, but only in public. And make sure she knows it’s just an act. I still want you between my legs every night, even if we wake up alone.”

“I will.” He hugged her tighter. “I’m sorry.”

“I know you are…I am, too.”

Chapter Text

Pain.

Constant, endless pain.

My arm can barely move.

My hands can’t grasp a door handle.

My chest is always bleeding.

My blood burns.

As I wake up, I look at the tub of water I slept in. It’s red.

Without my own conscious thought healing my wounds as they open, my blood oozes out.

Without my own conscious thought keeping my blood moving, I collapse like a puppet without strings.

As I wake up, I take control of my body in a way that humans aren’t designed to do. Not even waterbenders. I can only walk because I lurch my legs into motion. I can only grab things because I pull my fingers into fists. I can only move because I bend myself.

Everything hurts now. I’ve been awake long enough for my blood to return, seeping back into my body, and the water is clear again. I’ve gotten better at healing, now it doesn’t glow, so nobody knows that I’m not really okay. The bandages help. Everyone thinks I wrap red cloth up and down my arms to help with the disguise, but really it’s to hide the blood that escapes. Also, any time I try mending my tunic, the stitching melts. Just like my attempts at healing my chest. My arms don’t heal either. My right is still a shriveled, dry husk that doesn’t move without my bending and my left still splits to the bone if I let it.

I think it gets worse every day. At least my tub keeps me from dying in the night.

I feel like I’m floating everywhere, pulling myself by the knees to walk around. I’m getting better at my puppeteering. People have stopped noticing how stiff my movements are and they’re getting more fluid with practice. I open the door.

The Avatar. I must heal the Avatar. I woke him up so he could save us from the flames. It’s too late for me, I’m being consumed by the flames. Slowly. Drop by drop, I’m losing myself to his wrath.

The Avatar. I pull water from the bucket to use on his chest. It hurts. Any time I waterbend, I have to stop healing myself and the flames consume a little more. It’s too late for me, all I can do is stem the destruction elsewhere, and the only way to do that now is to restore the Avatar. Aang, wake up. The world needs the Avatar, now more than ever before.

He’s not waking. I can’t keep healing right now. I’ll try again at lunch. Maybe after. Where’s breakfast?

I open the hatch, it faces east. I rise with the sun. Every morning, I hear his voice. Everyone thinks I shudder at the sudden breeze. Let them. I miss how it was before, when Zuko was the worst thing we had to worry about. Well, he’s the worst thing again, but at least when he had that ugly hairdo, he was still human.

I’ve done a lot of thinking since he carved me open like the game Sokka brings back. I realized something. Aang hurt me more than Zuko ever did, until that day. I felt his strength, enough to crack open Sokka’s skull so long ago when we first saw him, but he didn’t. He could’ve destroyed my mother’s necklace, but he didn’t. He offered me a deal. A deal I could never accept, but still a way to ‘earn’ it back. Zhao was always reckless and wild with his fire, exactly as Jeong Jeong described it, but Zuko’s fire never left his control, except when Aang dissipated it. The more I experienced other people’s firebending, the less I feared his and viewed it simply as an extension of himself, the way my water is to me. I didn’t notice this at the time, but even when my back was turned and he got a free shot, he didn’t actually hurt me beyond slamming me into that tree. Did he even fight me before I found a master? He took me captive, twice, but he never actually fought me until the North Pole.

I honestly expected his sister to put up more of a fight. It took all of us, including Zuko, to corner her a couple months ago, but that day…it was easy. Was she even trying? I never thought I would miss her and her friends being my worst nightmare, but they’re human. That day, Zuko…wasn’t. It was like there was a predator hidden in his skin, a predator much larger than he himself was. I miss the old Zuko, the one who was angry all the time, the one who didn’t turn into a feral beast. I shouldn’t have killed her. I didn’t mean to. I should never have gone into that cavern. The Avatar could handle it, I was just in the way and all I did was unleash a far greater monster than any we’d faced before, human or animal. No human is that dangerous and no animal is that malicious and cruel.

I’m thinking of him too much, just like every morning when the sun rises. I think he’s on my mind more than Aang is. My wounds are bleeding again, I lost focus. I got lost in the thoughts of his eyes, golden as the sun on the Eastern Sea as he looks at me, unnatural slits filled with the rage of an offended predator.

I’m doing it again. Where’s breakfast?

***

Katara’s being weird. She thinks we don’t notice, but it’s been weeks since she last yelled at me. I think the longest I’ve heard her speak since the disaster in Ba Sing Se was when she calmly, almost absently told me to clean up after myself and organize my laundry so she could clean it. Told, not nagged or yelled or bugged, told. This is more than just losing Aang, even for a moment before she could revive him. Something happened down there. She won’t say a word about it, but every morning she stares at the horizon. I have no idea what she’s looking at or thinking about, but it must be big.

She looked injured when we got back to Dad. Her movements were all…jerky, as if she was really stiff for some reason. She still looks a little stiff, but maybe she’s healing? What could’ve hurt her so much that it’s taking weeks to heal? Surely she could just take a bath and let her magic water do its thing, right?

At least we managed to raid and commandeer this ship. With all the equipment, we should be able to fool any Fire Nation patrols that might stop us. Even if they get suspicious, Dad can smooth-talk his way past. This uniform is actually pretty comfy. I think I could get used to red. Sigh, I probably should, since the Fire Nation controls a lot more territory now. Unless the rest of the Earth Kingdom can hold out and resist the new government, the Water Tribes will be all that’s left. If we want to go anywhere, it’ll have to be incognito. I hope Aang will take it well when he wakes up. At this point, he really is our last hope.

But enough of that, I’ve been patrolling since false dawn. Where’s breakfast?

***

I’m glad to have my kids at my side. They’re far too grown-up for my taste, but that’s war for you. It turns babies into soldiers and children into corpses. Sokka told me a fascinating tale when we were finally able to sit and talk in my new quarters. It’s a little strange that Katara was so quiet, but she’s probably mad at me for leaving her, just like Sokka was when I left and probably still was when the Avatar dropped him off. She’s seriously hurt, far worse than even Bato was when we had to leave him behind. Problem is, she won’t tell anyone. She won’t ask for help, instead trying to hide it as if such a thing could be hid. She’s apparently a healer, which would explain why she spends so much time with the Avatar’s body. It doesn’t explain why she still moves like she’s injured, though. Surely she’s taking the time to heal herself, right?

There’s nothing I can do right now, which hurts. No parent likes seeing their children in pain, but if she can take care of herself and refuses to let anyone else do so, then I have to sit back and watch her hobble around. She’s still rather stiff with it.

Sokka seems to be taking things rather well, but that’s probably because he’s throwing himself into planning his invasion of the Fire Nation. I won’t lie, it’ll feel nice to take the fight to them rather than simply being pests. We won’t win anything by simply raiding the occasional cargo or warship, and every time we engage with the enemy, more of us die. If something doesn’t change soon, I’m going to have to simply give up and go home before we run out of men. They say the Northerners have sent aid to the South Pole, but I have no idea what that means and I’m scared to think that while I’ve been struggling to keep the Fire Nation from erasing the Southern Water Tribes, I’ve allowed the Northern Water Tribe to do so. If they turn our home into theirs, it won’t be the Southern Water Tribes anymore, just the North’s southern colony. Considering we’ve always been the safe haven from everything North, that sounds like a nightmare scenario.

Maybe I should join Sokka. All this time to think is sending me down dark paths. He’s probably eating breakfast by now, that should help keep my mind here and now. Katara’s birthday is on the…on this side of the equator it’s the longest day of the year. Maybe we can all somehow distract ourselves from everything with that?

***

Where am I?

You’re dead.

Dead?

Well, mostly. You got lit up by the Royal Siblings.

Oh, yeah. Wait. If I’m only mostly dead, then I’m slightly alive, right?

Yup. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. I once read a book where someone talked about that before exploiting the technicality and letting the main character save his girlfriend from the evil prince.

Heh, that’s something I wasn’t able to do.

Yeah, Katara got really hurt, didn’t she? Don’t worry though, she’s been healing us ever since.

“Us”?

Yup. I’m you, but later.

Later? You’re not one of my part lives?

Nope. I’m Korra. I’m the next one.

Oh. That’s even weirder.

Yeah, it’s weird for me, too. It’s not for forever, though. Katara’s the best there is. We both know that.

Yeah, she is. Why are my feelings for her…muted? It’s like she doesn’t matter as much to me anymore.

Well, you did “let her go”, didn’t you? You removed your feelings for her from your psyche, cutting yourself off from your worldly attachments.

Yeah, I…I guess I did.

Well, get some rest. The wisest man I ever met always said that a healing youngster needs their rest.

I’m not waking up right now?

Nope. Another thing he always said was “Patience, Avatar.” You’re in good hands. Katara will heal your body, but only you can heal your mind.

Okay. Will we meet again?

Maybe, maybe not. That depends on whether or not you need my advice. I can’t say anything about the future, but I can help you come to your own decisions.

That works, I guess.

***

“Where are we now?”

“We are just about to leave the river and enter the ocean, Your Highness.”

“What’s your projected route?”

“Uh, I-I thought you would want to plot the course.”

“Give me your opinion first, Captain. Or do you expect me to believe someone with your experience doesn’t have an opinion on how his ship is to be run?”

“Ah, well, I was thinking we would pass through Chameleon Bay, up the river to Full Moon Bay, across Serpent Pass, and down the Great Divide to Fire Nation waters.” As he says this, he points out the route with his finger. “Is that acceptable, Your Highness?”

“Almost.” Zuko pulls out a brush and starts drawing on the map. “This is the exact route I want us to take.” The route he draws generally follows the captain’s plot, but rather than straight lines, it follows more natural curves.

“Zuzu, why are we taking a longer path?”

“Because I’d rather not try and fight the ocean.”

“Uh, w-what do you mean, Your Highness?”

“This route takes advantage of the natural currents and avoids the ones that travel backwards. Also,” he makes two small dots at the northeast and southwest regions of Full Moon Bay. “If you investigate these two locations, you should find an illegal smuggling operation. Divert some forces there.”

“At once, Sir!” With that, the captain scurried off.

“I wouldn’t expect you to surrender to nature like that, Zuzu,” Azula said, leaning back against the table.

“Azula, I know what happens when a mortal thinks himself greater than a Great Spirit. I’ve also witnessed the unleashed wrath of La. In a contest between her and all the hubris of the mortals, I’d rather stay on her good side every time. It’s not me being spiritual or weak, it’s knowing my limits and understanding the power of things that have been around for a very long time.”

After looking at him concerned for a moment, she shrugged. “Well, as long as they know who’s in charge, that’s all that really matters.”

“You can’t control everyone, Azula. You know that.”

“I can try.”

***

As the royal siblings practiced their lightning on the serpent the pass was named after, they received word from the ships sent to the ferry coves.

“I’m not surprised. Even if we showed up the day after your coronation, we’d likely have been too late. Earthbenders are annoying like that.” Turning back to the captain, “Post some troops in the coves. No need to let them go to waste, and they’re connected to a train line directly into Ba Sing Se. We can use it for quick transport between the two halves of the Earth Kingdom.”

“I’m surprised we haven’t run into any enemy ships yet.”

“When support from the capitol dried up, they all probably turned to true piracy. That includes even more cowardice like only targeting cargo ships. Hey, the routes from Taku to everywhere else are still intact, right?”

“I’m sure they could use some work, but I guess so. Why?”

“Well, a major trade route like the one from Ba Sing Se to Taku, then on to Yu Dao should work just as well now as it did a hundred years ago. That would also give us easy access to Ba Sing Se’s trade routes and such.”

“Land-based routes would also avoid those pirates you mentioned. All right, I’ll have Joo Dee organize a refurbishment.”

“We should also get the local governor onboard. Do…do you think he’ll listen?”

Azula turned to him. “Zuko, you’re not a banished prince anymore. Even if he doesn’t like it, he’ll have to listen.”

“Right…right. I guess I’m not used to having a voice that’s heard anymore.”

“I’d have thought you’d have gotten used to it over these past couple weeks.”

“The Earth Kingdom is one thing. They only know me as a triumphant conqueror. The Fire Nation, on the other hand, has spent the past three years laughing at me while I went on a snipe hunt. That kind of attitude doesn’t just go away.”

“No, it doesn’t. It gets repressed, and those who laughed loudest are the ones that’ll try hardest to get your attention so they can shower you with adoration.”

“How will I be able to tell the genuine supporters from the suck-ups?”

“The tension in their eyes. If they fear you as they try and gain your favor, they’re sycophants. If they talk about how relieved they are that you’ve been restored, and mean it, then you can reasonably assume that they, at the very least, gained little from your banishment and, at the most, actively lost something when you left. Some might’ve looked forward to your coronation because it meant an end to Ozai’s reign, others didn’t want to deal with me, and some, not many but some, would’ve heard about and supported your choice to stand up during that meeting. Look for those people, the ones that had children in the 41st.”

As Zuko thought about that, he found himself twirling his fingers, calling and dismissing electric sparks. “Thank you, Azula,” he said, smiling at her. Turning back to the lake, he practiced with making his loops tighter and faster. Over time, he would be able to control exactly how large and destructive the bolt was, ranging from flicking static sparks at people, just enough to make them yelp and jump, to apocalyptic smitings that seemed to rip a hole in reality. But that’s a couple months away. For now, he contented himself with near-natural bolts, gathered from elbow-length circles in a second and a half.

***

Azula was frustrated. This wasn’t a new sensation for her, but the reason was one she wasn’t used to anymore: Zuko was missing. After breakfast with Mai and Ty Lee, he had vanished, seemingly taking Ty Lee with him. This wasn’t even the worst part. Worse than them being missing was the responsibilities she had to deal with due to their absence. Everything Zuko normally handled was on her today. Ty Lee didn’t do much, but she always made sure to cheer Azula up as much as she could and her absence was almost as noticeable as Zuko’s. Mai did what she could, but it wasn’t the same.

After dinner, Ty Lee finally showed up. Not noticing her slight stiffness, Azula demanded to know where she was all day.

“Sorry, it’s a surprise,” she winked.

Azula, completely out of patience and fucks to give, leaned in and glared. Her narrowed eyes, pursed lips, and unnaturally shadowed visage made for a menacing image. “I. Despise. Surprises.”

Shrinking, Ty Lee squeaked “You’ll like this one,” and retreated, looking for Mai’s skirt to hide in.

Growling and shaking her head, Azula went to the only place she could think of where Zuko could go without anyone being able to find him: their private room near the engines.

The only reason why she didn’t slam the door open was because she didn’t want to draw any attention to it. After she sneakily opened the door a crack, slipped in, and quietly eased it shut behind her, she turned to the dark room and lit her palm. What she saw shocked her to stillness. It looked like Zuko had turned their room into a torture chamber. So many flat surfaces, chained shackles, and metal frames.

“Do you like it?” Azula was somewhat startled by her brother’s voice coming out of the shadows. Bare-chested, wearing only slim pants, he stalked towards her, stopping just inside arm’s length.

“Is this where you’ve been all day? What have you been doing?” she demanded.

But Zuko ignored her. “Strip,” he commanded. Taken aback, she wasn’t quite able to process the sudden change. “Now!” With that, she released the flame and quickly stood before her brother completely nude, apart from her circlet. “Feet shoulder-width apart, hands behind your back.” Responding more to his tone than to the words, she obeyed. Walking behind her, Zuko reached up to grab her face. “I am going to whip you now. I want you to count every lash and thank me for it. You shall address me as ‘Sir’ tonight. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good. Come.” He led her to one of the frames that looked like some kind of saddle, except its sides were flat, coming to a peak rather than curving together. As she was directed to mount it, her womanhood rested on that peak while her knees rested on the flat surface at the base and her feet hung off of it. There was also a flat sheet at the front where she could put her hands. At her ankles, wrists, and halfway between them there were shackles mounted to the saddle, which Zuko used to secure her feet, hands, and head in place. Not only did this immobilize her, but it also placed painful pressure directly on the sensitive nub between her legs.

With his sister secure, Zuko grabbed a long, thin wooden rod and positioned himself so he could cane the soles of her feet. “Ready?” he asked, placing his right hand on her rear.

“Ready.” He spanked her. “Uhn, ready, Sir.”

“That’s better.” And he brought it down.

“Ah, one. Uh, th-thank you, Sir.”

Thwack!

“Ah, two. Thank you, Sir.”

After five, he rubbed that foot with a heated hand and switched to the other one, repeating until each foot had 15 lashes. At this point, Azula had tears in her eyes and when he released her, she could barely stand due to the pain of putting all her weight on those wounds. Unfortunately for her, that was exactly why he started there.

Having finished with her feet, he had her bend over another structure, one where she was bent forward at a 90° angle at the waist and her wrists were again secured so she would stay immobile. “Ready?”

“Yes, Sir.” Thwack! The cane landed on her rear. “Ah, one. Thank you, Sir.” Again, this continued until she had 15 lashes, with a heated massage/grope every five.

Now he had her stand up straight, hanging from the ceiling by chains to her wrists. This time, however, he discarded the wood and made a whip of flame. Azula looked apprehensively, but there was nothing she could do.

Crack!

“Ah! One. Thank you, Sir!”

When they got to five, she relaxed, thinking there would be a break, but there wasn’t. This time, he went to ten before pausing.

“AH!” she panted. “S-s-six. Thank…thank you sir.”

After ten, she didn’t relax, having learned not to expect anything, so she was surprised when she felt his lips on hers and his fingers in between her legs. After a moment, he pulled away.

Crack!

“Nn, eleven. Thank you, sir.”

As the number and her pain rose, so did her arousal until she was panting from need more than from agony. “Ah, hah, one, hundred, and eighteen. Thank you sir.” Finally, after 150, with bleeding lines crisscrossing her entire body, he released her and bent her over another structure, impaling her dripping cavern. She quickly climaxed, which was too much for her body. As the world faded to black, she felt the sun dawn on the longest day of the year and heard her brother speak.

“Happy birthday, Lala.”

***

She woke up in bed, skin unmarred by the night’s activity, and groggily went to the bedroom door.

“Finally awake?” it was Mai, of course.

“Wha…what time is it?”

“Almost time for dinner. The sun’s already gone down. Spending your entire birthday lazing about in bed? Shame on you,” she said with a slight upward turn of her mouth.

“Oh, shut up. What did Ty Lee tell you?”

“That she helped set up and test out the equipment Zuko spent all day building. She was quite sore.”

“Hmph, it seems I’ll need to teach them not to play alone.”

Mai shrugged. “If it means he can do you well, do you mind him practicing on us?”

Azula had to think about that one. “My first time was his, too. We’ve been learning everything together before.”

“What about that weird fire?”

“That’s different. That’s a firebending ability and we show each other fun tricks we’ve learned, not are learning.” She paused and looked at Mai suspiciously. “You just want me to give you permission to have him all to yourself.”

She shrugged again. “Can I?”

“Well…fine. You’re going to be our red herring-trout anyway, publicly being in a relationship so we can be together in secret.”

“I, uh, I’m honored. I’ll try and give him as much alibi as I can.”

“Thank you, Mai. We knew we could count on you.” With that, she turned to get dressed for the evening.

***

When Mai walked into the room she shared with Ty Lee, she found her roommate naked with Zuko rubbing his hands all over her. Or at least, her rear, which he was massaging with dimly lit palms while she relaxed, laying bonelessly face down on her bed. He wasn’t able to do as much with her as he could with Azula, but he could slowly heal her from his sadism practice.

“Azula’s awake. We’ll be having dinner soon.”

Nodding, Zuko lightly tapped Ty Lee’s rear as he stood up. Ty Lee herself groaned, feeling deprived, and stood up to get dressed herself. Her buttocks were still redder than normal, but at least she could stand without flinching and the lines on her body were barely noticeable. One more session and they’d be gone.

“This feels unfair. Azula wakes up with nothing to show for what you did to her, yet you barely touched me and I have to deal with all this.”

“Rank has its privileges,” he smirked, to which she stuck out her tongue. Interestingly, the two of them had managed to forge a fraternal relationship in a way that neither of them ever had before. They didn’t have the same “shared experiences” or “same home environment” bond that blood siblings raised together have, but they felt more easy and comfortable around each other than they did with their own blood siblings, due to their parents’ choices.

***

“Sir, we’ll be arriving at Caldera tomorrow. We’ll be coming in with the tide, unless you have any objections?”

Zuko looked at him like he was crazy. “How else would we come in? Trying to fight the tide is just a waste of fuel and puts extra strain on the engines. Not only that, but between the time it takes and the fact that all the docks are built with ‘coming and going with the tide’ in mind, we don’t even save any time by doing it wrong.”

The captain bowed. “Understood, sir.” As he stood back up, his eyes lingered on Azula, who was looking somewhat put off by her brother’s experienced response.

“Well,” Zuko turned to Azula. “Our last day on the ship.”

“Tomorrow, we face the Fire Lord.”

“May Agni preserve us.”

Chapter Text

“Your Princess Azula, clever and beautiful, disguised herself as the enemy and entered the Earth Kingdom’s capitol.”

“In Ba Sing Se, she found her brother Zuko!”

“And by their combined power,”

“The Avatar fell! And the Earth Kingdom fell!”

“Zuko’s agents quickly overtook the entire city! They went to Ba Sing Se’s Great Wall,”

“And brought it down!”

“The armies of the Fire Nation surged through the Wall and swarmed over Ba Sing Se, securing our victory!”

“Now the heroes have returned home! Your Princess Azula!” Hearing her queue, Azula strode through the fire curtain and stood before the people, basking in their adoration. But her great-aunts weren’t done.

“And after three long years, your prince has returned.”

“ZUKO!” And with that, the prince himself walked out, smiling at seeing his own people for the first time since his banishment. The people were just as excited to see him, cheering even louder for him than his sister. He braced himself, preparing the spectacle he had spent a week practicing. Taking a deep breath and circling both hands, he let out a dragon’s roar, breathing out flames in the shape of the Fire Nation’s insignia and releasing ten bolts of lightning, one from each finger.

After a moment of awe-struck silence, the crowd erupted, celebrating the mighty Prince. As he heard the reception he was getting, the flame gained sparks of color. The more color, the more the people realized, not on a conscious level, but on a spiritual one how much they adored him. The more they showed their adoration, the more he returned it, making the plume more colorful. This lasted until he ran out of breath, at which point he looked back down at his loyal subjects. The tears on their faces triggered his own and he had to blink very rapidly to stop himself from embarrassing himself in front of everybody. He could’ve stood there all day if Azula hadn’t ushered him to their palanquin.

***

“Ping, I want you and the rest of the Earth Kingdom people we brought on espionage duty. Get a feel for the situation and how many Fire Nation citizens could be swayed to our side over Ozai’s. Report back occasionally. You already know what to do, so I won’t tell you how to do your job.”

“Thy will be done, Master,” Ping bowed. As he went to do his master’s bidding, he smiled, already having gotten started while on the ship. From what the captain had told him, the only groups within the military that weren’t at least highly respectful of him were those who had constant exposure to the Fire Lord, like the higher levels of General or the Admiralty. While it wasn’t discussed openly, just about everyone had heard about the tale of the Dragon Prince that had tried to save a clutch of 41 eggs, losing half his face in the process. The longer he went without finding the Avatar, the more the nobility and members of the War Council laughed about his misfortune and the louder everyone else found themselves crying to Agni for their Dragon Prince to come home. Then he found the Avatar, and everyone stopped laughing. Then the survivors of the Siege of the North came back with terrifying tales of the Avatar’s power and those who prayed began to cry, seeing the hopelessness of the situation.

Then a message found its way into the Fire Nation. A message that brought hope to a great many. “Ba Sing Se has fallen. The Avatar is dead. Prince Zuko killed him and took the city with his sister.” In every city, town, and village that the message circulated, there was dancing in the streets. Their Prince was coming home! A month later, when their ship was due to port, thousands flocked to the Caldera docks from miles around, some even coming from the far reaches of the Fire Nation just for the chance to greet him. The best thing he could’ve done in that moment was exactly what he did: demonstrate his power and present himself as a dragon by roaring flames. They didn’t understand why his fire started to change color, but their spirits realized that it meant he cared for them as much as they had been led to believe. And so a new story began to spread like wildfire: that of a Dragon Prince returned with mighty power who would wield it for their sake.

As the servants from the Forbidden City mingled with the servants of the Caldera Palace, they didn’t find an environment that was as hostile as the prince had warned them. Instead, while they were recognized as Earth Kingdom, that only meant that the Fire Nation servants knew who to ask about their Master. And the answers they got to the questions not only confirmed their hopes, but they exceeded their dreams. When the Earth Kingdom servants mingled, they brought with them tales of a prince that growled like a dragon, yet always had a soft, kind word to say. A prince that had claws that could rip your throat out, yet were gentle with anything and anyone he touched. A prince that devoured like a starving beast, yet always had a kind word for those who prepared and served the meal. A prince who was locked in a perpetual scowl, yet smiled at those he saw. A prince who was the most dangerous person in any room, yet protected those around him. A prince who had every reason to hate everything, yet opened his heart to all. And the more they referred to him as Master, the more everyone around them did, too. The more the Fire Nation saw the truth of the Earth Kingdom’s words, the more they adored him. When the time came for the Prince to become Fire Lord, there would be virtually no backlash from the populous. And as she heard her customers gossip about the returned royalty, a certain apothecary found less and less reason to stay so far from her son.

***

Sitting at the turtleduck pond, Zuko extended his finger and dipped his claw in, drawing circles on the water to get their attention. When the mother came over, he flipped his hand over and presented the crumbs of bread. She was naturally hesitant, seeing the food in a predator’s clawed grasp in an obvious trap, but she still took a hesitant bite. When he kept his hand, and especially his fingers, perfectly still, she got bolder, her children following her example. While they were learning how safe Zuko was, they already knew better than to stick around when his sister’s shadow fell on them.

“What are you thinking about?”

“Ozai. I haven’t seen him since I knelt at his feet and begged.”

“So?”

“So, I didn’t fulfill the terms of banishment. I’m still apprehensive about his reaction to my presence.”

“Well, he did summon you. That he assumes you’d come willingly means he’s not likely to punish you for following his new orders. Besides,” she continued with a smirk. “Royalty are known for making irrational, off-the-wall decisions at a moment’s notice and expecting everyone to follow along.” Seeing he still wasn’t convinced, she played a trump card. “Also, you saw for yourself how much the people love you. If you vanish without explanation, he might have a revolt on his hands. Even if he simply sends you away, they might start asking questions.”

“While a single pebble means nothing, a thousand is an avalanche.”

“I’m going to pretend I understood a single word of that and advise you to put Ozai’s brother out of your mind.”

“I guess he taught me more by accident than he ever did on purpose.” A sigh. “I guess that goes double for Ozai himself.”

***

Zuko stood before the curtain dividing the Throne Room from the mortal realm, breathing deeply. He summoned me. He sent someone to tell me to show up. People know where I am, so he can’t make me disappear and he would’ve been more discreet if he had sinister plans. His openness limits how badly he can treat me. Standing up straight, smoothing his hair back, he parted the curtain and reentered the scene of some of his worse nightmares. I have honor. It wasn’t his to take and I didn’t lose it by standing and defending my people.

Kneeling before the one who calls himself Zuko and Azula’s father, he didn’t have long to wait for the figure to speak.

“You have been away for a long time. I see the weight of your travels has changed you. You have redeemed yourself, my son.” As the man stood and walked through the flames, Zuko very carefully kept his mind blank, refusing to let himself think bad thoughts of the Fire Lord, lest they appear on his face. “Welcome home. I am proud of you, Prince Zuko. I am proud because you and your sister conquered Ba Sing Se. I am proud because when your loyalty was tested, by your treacherous uncle, you did the right thing and captured the traitor.”

“Iroh is no uncle of mine. He has repeatedly displayed contempt for the Fire Nation and actively worked to undermine its affairs. He was even foolish enough to think he could do so in front of me, trying to drag me into it, without consequence.”

Ozai smiled. “Good. I am pleased to hear you say that. And I am proudest of all of your most legendary accomplishment: you slayed the Avatar.” Zuko didn’t bother trying to hide his satisfied grin at that, squaring his shoulders and raising his chin. Not only that he really had managed it, but that Ozai believed it.

“What did you hear?” he asked smugly.

“Azula told me everything. She said she was amazed and impressed at your power and ferocity at the moment of truth.”

“Yes. He ran like a frightened child when he saw me. But he was no match for me. Nothing he tried could even touch me, for I had risen above him.”

Ozai was grinning now, too. “And that is why I have allowed your return. You have proven yourself stronger than you were when you left. You have shed the weaknesses of your youth. You are no longer a child, you are now a man. Rise, Crown Prince Zuko.” He did so, dazed. “I have taken enough of your time. Go now, and rest. I’m sure you are still weary from your journey.” With that, he turned and walked back to his throne. With a bow, Zuko also turned and departed. He didn’t go to bed, however. At least, not his own.

***

Azula lied on her bed, content and comfortable. She knew the men in her family and knew that they would finally get along. Unlike her brother, she had no doubt that his meeting would go well. Behind her, a certain wall panel shifted. She smirked, knowing that there was only one person who knew about that particular passageway, and relaxed her body as if she was fast asleep, curious as to how he would act.

She wasn’t disappointed. Rather than trying to wake her up, the intruder decided to take advantage of her helpless body. Opening her robe, he gently kneaded her breasts, only manipulating them enough to cop a feel and harden her nipples, which he licked, prompting a pair of sleepy gasps from her. Moving down to her womanhood, he proceeded to lick it a few times, which made her squirm. Spreading her lips, he breathed a tongue of flame into her cavern, letting it stimulate her to climax.

“Ah, wha?” She didn’t have to fake her surprise or her grogginess, considering he had never used his flames like that before and it came all at once rather than a build-up that she could ride. Suddenly going from a low arousal straight to climax threw her body for a loop.

“You like that?” Zuko asked from between her knees, to which she could only nod. Smirking, he went to do it again, with very similar results. By the end of that one, her crotch was getting sore and sensitive, so she whined when he went to do it a third time. After coming back down, she actually backed away from him and the pleasure he brought, for the first time.

“Enough. That was too fast,” she mumbled, drawing her knees to her chest.

“Too fast?” he tilted his head.

“Not only is it exhausting to spike like that, but I don’t get the chance to savor anything. I think I actually prefer the buildup more than the end.”

“Huh. So I was actually doing it right on the ship when we would go for hours without actually peaking?”

“Apparently.” At this, he disrobed and climbed in, cuddling with his sister.

“So, Ozai tells me you sang my praises earlier.”

“I only told him the truth. Say, Zuko?” she turned her head towards him. “Now that we’re home, what was it you were thinking about before I was crowned Queen? You said it was just an idle thought until we got here. Well, now we’re here. What was it?”

Zuko sighed, hoping he’d be able to actually find an answer before presenting it to her. “I’m sending someone to the eastern islands to look for any disruptions tomorrow.”

“You think the Avatar’s friends will infiltrate the Fire Nation?”

“I’m sure they still plan on invading during the eclipse. And I expect it’ll be more than just his friends.”

Azula sat up, turning fully to him. “You think he’s alive?” she asked, incredulous. “After we both shot him with lightning? The one you made was the biggest, most powerful one I’d ever seen! And you think he survived that supercharged bolt straight to the heart?”

“I don’t know. I can only hope. Just like I did for three years. He’s the only one who can stop Ozai and stop this war as it stands.”

“We could take Ozai. It wouldn’t even be hard, if we use Mother’s method.”

“That would just perpetuate the vicious cycle we find ourselves in. Ozai took the throne through murder and now look where we are. Also, it’s not a matter of power or physical might or I would’ve walked out of the throne room with a new hairpiece. The Avatar is the ultimate authority of the world, standing above all Kings, Lords, and Chiefs. Ozai needs a smackdown from a superior, not a vengeful strike, even from us, who he hurt the most.”

“So how do we fit into this?”

“They will be here for the eclipse. This invasion will fail and the Avatar will retreat with his closest allies and anyone who can fit in his bison’s saddle. The only nearby place where he can go for refuge will be the Western Air Temple, which I will follow them to. I will then appeal to the Avatar that I will have renounced Ozai as Fire Lord and request his help deposing him on the grounds that he has proven himself harmful to his own people, his own blood, the spirits that reside in his land, and the balance of the world. I will then teach him firebending, which will complete his training and make him ready to fully realize his power.”

“Why do you need to specifically say that to him?”

“It’s part of the appeal process. The only way for an Avatar to directly interfere in the goings-on of a nation is if someone in that nation brings forward a legitimate complaint about the way things are getting run and the source is high enough that the Avatar needs to take direct action. Throughout the past eight months or so that he’s been awake, he has never triumphed over the Fire Nation. He has defended himself, but the only time when the Fire Nation truly tasted defeat at his hands without him being their target was when La took over his body and power to drown the Northern Fleet. Even then La was acting in retribution and self-defense. All other times when the Fire Nation was defeated were when actual Earth Kingdom citizens took action. They were likely inspired by him or one of his friends, but they acted of their own accord.”

“This is all a moot point if he’s actually dead, though.”

“Which is why I’ll be sending a bounty hunter to the eastern islands, where they’re most likely to make landfall and start a ruckus. But if I’ve learned anything from my time chasing him, it’s that he’s as lucky as you are.” Azula nodded, trusting him to know what he was doing and returned to her prior position of leaning against him.

“Wait. If you’re headed to the Air Temple after the eclipse, what will I be doing?”

“Playing the part of the Fire Lord’s loyal daughter who would never dream of conspiring to overthrow him. I’ll take a dragon hawk with me and update you on anything I need on your end.”

“That’ll be my toughest act yet,” she sighed. “Especially if he’s going to do what we think he will.”

“I’ll also see what I can do to prepare for that, too. But that’s for later. Now is for snuggling,” he said, nuzzling her hair with a smile. She closed her eyes and rested her face against his chest with a smile of her own. Lying there, they fell asleep peacefully, sleeping easy and not thinking any chaotic or disquieting thoughts, and completely forgetting about their uncle.

***

“Master?”

Zuko groggily opened his eyes. “This feels familiar.”

“Yes. You should get going. No early morning distractions this time.”

Sighing, Zuko agreed. By the time he got dressed, Ping had vanished again. Before leaving, he leaned down and kissed his sister goodbye, which her lips returned without conscious knowledge.

When he got back to his room, he looked bitterly at his bed, hating it more than anything right then, since it represented the illusion he needed to keep. While he did get some sleep, it just wasn’t the same by himself, especially after over a month of sharing a bed with Azula. Soon the sun came up, reinvigorating him and signaling the start of his day.

As he rose from his not-so restful nap, he contemplated how he would proceed. Before he got farther than “explore”, however, there was a knock on his door. “Come in,” he called, and in walked a series of servants.

“Prince Zuko, welcome home,” one of the women bowed. “I am Hitori, and I am the servant assigned to you. I will oversee your needs around the Palace, like hygiene, cleaning, and any non-standard meals. Shall we begin with a bath?”

It took him a moment to mentally adjust back into his old pampered lifestyle after over three years without it. “Yes, that sounds good.”

Nodding, Hitori turned to the others and directed them. Not really knowing what to do with himself, Zuko followed them into his bathing room and watched them prepare. It put him at ease to see the calm efficiency before him, especially when one of the servants put her hand in the water and it started to steam. Perfectly mundane, harmless, ordinary firebending. After so long seeing it only as a weapon, both to use and to desperately hide, to see normal, one-color fire being used so casually showed him beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was home. It was awkward to get bathed after three years without that luxury, but since he grew up with it, it didn’t take long for him to grow accustomed to it and ease into the pampering. After being thoroughly washed by professionals for the first time in so long, they proceeded to steam-dry him, letting the heat from their hands evaporate the water, which also further relaxed his muscles. He reflected to himself that the only thing that would feel better than this would be if Azula were the one doing it, so he took careful note of how each component of the process felt so he could try it out with her later. Especially when they combed his hair.

Dressed in princely robes, he entered the main room of his suite, where a rather large spread awaited him. “Your Highness, I couldn’t help but notice how thin you are, so I had the chefs make this for you.”

“Thank you Hitori. I can smell the spice from here.”

“Yes, Your Highness. I felt you could use proper Fire Nation food after so long without it.”

“Careful, Hitori. I might tell the Majordomo to make your assignment permanent,” he grinned at her.

“It would be my honor to serve you in any way you require, for as long as you require it, Your Highness,” she bowed low, letting her robe open slightly to make the full meaning clear.

“I’m sure you’ll be satisfactory,” he said before tucking in. “One more thing,” he said between plates. “I’m sure you have arranged a wardrobe of attire fit for a prince, but I’d rather match Azula for the time being.”

“That arrangement was actually one of the items on my agenda this morning, merely awaiting your fitting. The tailor I had scheduled is also the one who fashioned your sister’s wardrobe, so it will be a simple matter to coordinate the two of you.”

Zuko nodded as he polished off the plate and the servers presented the final one for him. After proving the words of the Earth Kingdom servants, which had already begun to circulate among the kitchen staff, he stood. “Thank you for the meal, inform the chefs that I enjoyed the taste of home.” Turning to Hitori for his first appointment of the day, he missed the grins the serving staff exchanged.

***

“Well, Your Highness, I must say I’ve measured girls with wider arms than yours. I can almost see your ribs. That’s no look for royalty.”

“I am well aware. Just be glad you didn’t try and measure me back in Ba Sing Se. I think Azula’s clothes were actually loose around my middle.”

The tailor shuddered, hardly daring to imagine what he looked like before a month of food fit for a king. “Well, you’re here now, so you don’t have to wear women’s clothing anymore.”

“About that,” he paused, glancing at Hitori, who waved him on. “I’d actually like to match Azula’s design.”

The tailor paused, looking up at him. “You…wish to continue wearing women’s clothing…even though you’re a prince?” She could hardly believe that any man would wear something feminine, especially during Ozai’s regime.

“That’s right,” he said with the irrational confidence of a royal making a bizarre decision and expecting the world to conform to it. The tailor also glanced at Hitori, who again waved confirmation. Shaking her head, the tailor finished her measurements and packed up her equipment.

“I’ll be back tomorrow with samples.”

“Thank you,” Zuko nodded to her, dismissing her.

As she left with a bow, he turned to Hitori. “My schedule doesn’t have much on it, Your Highness. I thought you might like to refamiliarize yourself with the Palace?” Nodding, he left to wander the halls.

As he walked aimlessly in the halls of his home, he actually felt a little claustrophobic, noting that so much of the Palace was shrouded in darkness, despite the lack of a second floor. Skylights. While all the torches are thematically appropriate, our power comes from the sun, which we’re hiding away from. Something to thi-“Oof.” He suddenly found himself rocking back on his heels. Looking down, he saw a frazzled messenger servant on the ground with scrolls scattered around him.

“Ah! I’m sorry Your Highness! I’ll keep a better look out next time!” He quickly gathered the fumbled scrolls and scurried off, clearly feeling overworked running all across the Palace.

Sighing, Zuko turned back to continue when something caught his gaze. Tucked behind a pillar, almost perfectly hidden from view was one of the scrolls. Shrugging, Zuko picked it up. The black ribbon on it sharped his focus immensely, and his curiosity drove him to open it. If nothing else, I can present this as my own…what? Makai Island? This…this…this is perfect. If he’s alive and on his way here, then the invasion plan is still on. All our plans are valid. With a restored spring to his step, he retied the scroll and tucked it in his pocket for later.

“You’re looking rather cheerful today, brother. Did you spend the day cuddling with Mai?”

“Actually, I found something that will make our lives a little easier. I think I’ll sleep better at night after having found it.”

“I like it when you get all scheming,” Mai said, rubbing his arm. He could tell all three girls wanted more, but all he did was smile at them.

“Mai, you have connections to most of the prison wardens, don’t you?”

“Yeah. You want me to send out feelers?”

“Yeah. I’d like to know which prisoners are in for crimes and which simply spoke out of turn.”

“That shouldn’t take too long.”

***

That night, he arranged to meet with a certain bounty hunter. Finding himself alone in an industrial district of Caldera, he stood silent, waiting for the telltale creaking of a metal leg.

Turning to the man with an eye emblazoned on his forehead, he tossed the scroll to him. Quickly reading it, the unique firebender looked up for elaboration. “I want you to attack the Avatar. Don’t kill him, he’ll still be useful to me.” Tossing him a bag of gold, he then said “This should cover employment until the eclipse. Make it look convincing. If he can handle me, he can handle you.”

***

“Master? I have a report.” As Zuko turned from the rice field painting, his agent continued. “Across the military, the rank and file seems to be supportive of you and would not join a coup against you. There are certain companies that are led and filled by more fanatical followers of Ozai, but they are known to the colonels and can be disposed of. Most officers outside those companies are also supportive, with the only real opposition coming from the Fire Lord’s War Room itself.”

“Naturally. He’d make sure to surround himself with sycophants and like-minded individuals. And among the civilians and nobility?”

“Very few, if any, civilians support Ozai. The country is a hair’s breadth away from open revolt as it is, not helped by a certain group of teenagers making their way westward. Most of the nobility don’t seem to lean one way or the other, though I imagine Mistress would be better suited to read them.”

“She’s already given me guidance on them. I had hoped you’d be able to glean actual information, though.”

“Given more time, I’m sure I could find evidence.”

“Go ahead. Investigate the generals and admirals, too. It never hurts to be sure. You have a month to find everything you can. After that, things will be different. I’m not sure how, but I do know I won’t be here.”

“You wish to join the Avatar?”

“He needs training, and if he wants to win any battles against the Fire Lord, he’ll need my permission.”

Ping bowed. “I don’t understand, but I don’t need to. I’ll get you your information before the eclipse. And Master? Your outfit looks nice. It manages to convey the truth without making it obvious.”

“Thank you. I’ll switch over to Fire Lord’s robes in a few months, but until we can be open, this will have to do.”

As he disappeared, Zuko turned back to the painting, contemplating. I can’t do anything myself, but at least my various minions are capable.

***

“Orange is such an awful color.”

“You’re pretty when you hate the world,” Zuko smirked at her.

“I don’t hate you,” Mai gifted him with one of her rare smiles, enjoying the act she was able to play.

“I don’t hate you, too.” As they went in for a kiss, Zuko felt a warm body slump on his other side. Turning, he saw Azula, exactly as expected. “Couldn’t help yourself, could you?” he chuckled, wrapping his other arm around her and leaning back against the rock so the two ladies were lying on him.

“Of course. You two found a wonderful spot to hide beyond prying eyes. How could I resist such a perfect opportunity?”

While Zuko was amused, his “girlfriend” wasn’t. I know this is just for show, but couldn’t she have let me have even a single genuine moment?

“Girlfriend pile!” Ty Lee shouted, diving across their collective laps and startling laughter from all three. A metaphorical sword may have been swinging down on their heads, only a month from impact, but for now, life was good.

Chapter Text

She stood forlorn, looked out at the rocky cliffs below.

“Katara!” She turned. “It was Hama! She’s been imprisoning the villagers and torturing them with some kind of evil technique! Where is she?”

Katara turned back to the cliffs. “I killed her.”

That got a lot of mutterings from the crowd behind her. “You killed her? How? She can reach into your body and play with it like a puppet!”

She turned back to the speaker, a half-starved woman who looked like she hadn’t seen the sun in months. “Because I’m a bloodbender, too.” When the mutterings started getting agitated, she raised a hand, silencing them and getting them to all look at her with fear. “Are any of you injured?”

A heavily-bruised man stepped cautiously forward, keeping an eye on her hand. When she extended it, spreading her fingers, he tensed. After a moment, he looked around, confused. He raised his palm and lit it, gasping at the sight of his bruises disappearing. Firebender! Enemy! That’s what her mind was trying to tell her, but it’s hard to call someone evil when they look at you like…like they’re seeing the sun for the first time in months. As much as her head screamed that these were monsters in front of her, her heart was having none of it.

“What are you doing?” he asked, astonished.

“I’m healing you. Waterbending isn’t just used to hurt, you know.” As the muttering got excited and, dare I say it, hopeful, Katara started crying, and not just from the pain of letting her focus extend outward. I killed my own kind for the Fire Nation. I’m hurting myself to heal the enemy. How did it come to this?

***

It must’ve started with those schoolchildren. They all looked so excited for a little freedom that I couldn’t hate them. I wonder if any of them were benders? It doesn’t matter. When Aang pulled that one girl, what was her name? On Ji? When they danced, everyone was in such a good mood that I completely forgot what colors they were wearing. Fire, earth, water, kids are kids. It reminded me of that baby we accidentally stole from Omashu, the one who will likely grow up to be just as bad as any other Fire Nation soldier. The only thing separating these kids and him from the kids at home is the location of their birth.

Helping the village on the river was a no-brainer. I’m a healer and they were sick. It helped that their sickness and general suffering was caused by the Fire Nation, but any time I took a second to think about it, I would feel sick to my stomach that the Fire Nation would do that to their own people. As we were cleaning the river, it occurred to me: The Fire Nation doesn’t want to fight this war any more than the rest of us do. The destruction here is just as bad as the destruction at Hei Bei’s forest, or Haru’s village. It was here that I made the biggest mistake of all: I started to think of the enemy as people. Never before had I looked at the face of the enemy and saw someone hurting just as much as I was, and it…changed me. On some level, I had been looking at these people, even the children, with some level of hatred. Now though? Now some of it was released and I stopped hating the color red and anyone who wore it. I didn’t notice it at the time, but after the Painted Lady thanked me for my efforts, my arm wrappings weren’t as blood-soaked when I woke up every morning. There was still blood, but only about half of what it was.

Meeting Master Piandao was…shocking to say the least. It shouldn’t be, since after realizing that most of the Fire Nation didn’t actually want to wage war, the next logical step is that certain members would actively do something about it, but this was still enemy territory and he was obligated as a Fire Nation noble to turn us in when Sokka spilled the beans.

Fire Fountain City was a nightmare. Not only was Toph being a menace to society, but my little bubble of near-peace was shattered. For the past month and a half, I was able to mostly banish Zuko from my mind, except for sunrise and sunset when his eyes superimposed themselves onto my vision and his words echoed in my ears. But now I couldn’t ignore his existence. Now, he was the only thing anyone was talking about. “The Prince is returning! The Dragon Prince has come back to his nest! We are saved! Did you hear? Azula was crowned queen of the Earth Kingdom!” Wait, what? But I killed her.

When I got someone to tell me everything, I felt sick. That scar, the one we mocked last fall, along with that weird hairdo? The Fire Lord did that to him. His own father burned him. What kind of man would do that? It struck me as strange that Zuko would stand up for some common soldiers, but it wasn’t as unthinkable as it was before we met Zhao. What was unthinkable was the thought of Azula, not only surviving getting impaled, but also being well enough days later to be seen standing at Ba Sing Se as queen. There had to be more to the story. No one just walks off an icicle to the chest. Not even Zuko’s sister. Who knows, maybe I’ll get the chance to ask her in a month, when I rip the blood from her veins.

If the news wasn’t bad enough, some big firebender got it in his tattooed head to start fighting us. It was terrifying to have everything suddenly start exploding all around us, but all he really accomplished was remind us that, no matter how friendly and normal everyone is here, we were still in enemy territory and not everyone was inclined to ignore our foreign appearance. We never found out why he came after us, but at least it was just that one time. Maybe that last explosion killed him? We can only hope. And no one remembered my birthday! We all just stood around while Aang meditated.

Regardless of whether or not everyone here hates us, no one deserves what Hama was doing to the villagers here. Sokka and I were so excited, okay, I was so excited to meet someone from my own tribe, and a waterbender, too! It was so easy to let myself get caught up in the fantasy that a waterbender could escape and find peace here, but her nature was obvious from the start, in hindsight.

***

“Your technique is useless on me. If you refuse to stop causing harm, then I will make­ you stop.” Katara reached out with her mind and brought Hama to her knees.

“Ah, how?”

“I have been bending my own blood constantly for two months. I just never realized what I was doing until you told me. But my power is far greater than yours. Now,” Katara brought her up and extended her arm. “For the crime of torture and imprisonment of innocents, including children, you are to be sent out on the ice. Since there is no ice available, I suppose I’ll have to make do with using your own precious bloodbending.” Katara walked up to her stiff body. “Did you leave any family behind when you were taken?”

“…A daughter.”

“Then die with her name on your lips.” With that, Katara clenched her fist, crushing Hama’s heart in her chest. But then, she felt her own heart get ripped apart.

“K-k-ky…a…”

In terror, Katara rushed to grab ahold of Hama’s blood, forgoing her own blood for the first time on over a month, and desperately did everything she could to heal her. Eventually, she felt Hama’s heart beat on its own. When she saw her patient’s eyes open, Katara spoke with a shaky voice: “Go home, Hama. Back to the Southern Water Tribes. Never come back.” With that, she dragged her over to the cliffs and tossed her off. She wasn’t worried about Hama’s survival, being a waterbender and all. But knowing that Hama would be able to make her own way back didn’t help Katara’s emotional state. Neither did healing the damage Hama had done to the villagers. For the first time, she was forced to see the world from her enemy’s perspective, seeing her own bending style as a legitimate threat and a terrifying force to be reckoned with. And it was getting harder and harder to remember who the enemy was.

When her patient’s complexion had paled to its normal state and he felt her control leave his body, he fell to his knees, crawled to her, and touched his forehead to her feet. As the next volunteer stepped forward, he moved to the side, still in full kowtow, where he remained at the front of a growing crowd until she was done.

Looking out at her worshipers, she decided to dismiss them to return home, but, feeling a strange compassion for them, she decided to also give them the news she had learned. It wasn’t joyous to her, but for them,…

“Rise and rejoice, children of the flame. Not only are you free to return home, but so is your Prince. Yes, right now, Prince Zuko has returned home. I’m sure your families and neighbors will be glad to tell you all about it. Now go.”

“Hey, Katara? What was that all about?”

“Which part?”

“Well, for one thing, I’d expect them to hate you for your bending. For another, why’d you tell them Zuko was back, and why’d you phrase it like that?”

“They did hate me at first. Especially when I used bloodbending, but they calmed down when I used it to heal them.”

“I wouldn’t exactly call that ‘calmed down’,” Toph muttered.

“As for Zuko, the people adore him. You think their reaction to me was bad? If Zuko had been here, they’d worship him the moment they saw him. He may be our enemy, but he’s their hero.”

What they didn’t realize was, just like the tale of the Dragon Prince spread three years ago, so too did the tale of the Moon Princess, the Lifegiver, who could reach into a person’s heart and heal their spirits, restoring life where it had withered and carving out desolation to make way for new life. As the story travelled east, it found its way to a certain river town that added its own experiences to it, telling how she was travelling through the Fire Nation, healing it from the pains of the Fire Lord’s War. By the time Katara joined the invasion force, she was almost half as popular as Zuko himself. In any other circumstance, a foreigner being one of the most loved people in the nation would be unthinkable, but she was one of the very few in recent memory who had both the power and the inclination to help the little people, the only other notable person being Zuko himself.

***

“Master?”

“This is significantly earlier than normal, Ping,” Zuko mumbled into his sister’s hair.

“Yes, sir. I thought you’d like to know that someone left this scroll in front of your bedroom door. I think they expected you to investigate, since they made a lot of unnecessary noise before leaving.”

Waking up more fully, Zuko read the offered scroll. “What does Sozin’s death have to do with anything? Azula, how’d he die? Anything noteworthy?” he asked, having noticed her eye cracked open at his lit palm.

“He died in his sleep, surrounded by his family. He even managed to live an entire century, probably because of his powerful bending. I’m sure you could ask Lo and Li about it, but it was natural, unlike Azulon’s ‘peaceful, in his sleep’ death.” As she said that, his hands drifted in such a way that the backside of the message was illuminated, which she pointed out.

Looking again, with the flame behind the paper, Zuko read the hidden message. Looking to Azula, he asked “Care to visit the catacombs with me?” Sharing a grin and taking note of the time, she agreed.

***

“So many skulls. I wonder if this was a mistake.”

“Which part, the hunting or our intrusion?”

“The hunting. These were our teachers. They helped us reach the realm of airbenders and granted us extreme mobility. Also, these were children of Agni, just like us.”

“Well, it’s a moot argument now, since Iroh killed the last of them. No use agonizing over what was done before we were born.”

***

“This doesn’t tell us anything. So the two of them were friends and had a falling out. So what?” Zuko asked, frustrated as he put the scroll back in its place.

“I’m sure their relationship is significant. The previous Fire Lord probably wanted the Avatar close to the throne so he would help us rule later. Obviously it didn’t turn out that way, but Roku basically left Sozin to do whatever he wanted, apart from the remodel.”

“Well, Iroh was probably the one to arrange this message. He’s got some explaining to do.”

“Even in his cell?”

“You’d be surprised at how wide the influence of his Pai Sho club reaches,” Zuko said, thinking about all the White Lotus decorations around his old master’s estate.

Arriving in Iroh’s cell, he tossed the message at the prisoner. “Explain yourself.” At Iroh’s raised eyebrow, Zuko growled. “I know you sent this. Neither the public records, nor his autobiography tell me anything. So he died without slaying the Avatar, so what?”

“Sozin is not your only great-grandfather. You have three others. The one I was talking about was the man who sired the woman who gave birth to your mother: Avatar Roku.” At the prince’s stricken look, Iroh continued. “The conflict you feel over your destiny, whether to join the Avatar and help him restore balance or to destroy him and the world with him, that is caused by their heritage warring within you.” Removing a loose brick and presenting a package to Zuko, he continued. “You alone have the power to redeem our family and the Fire Nation.” Zuko opened the box to find the Crown Prince ornament, lost since Roku’s death. “You must soon make your final choice between good and evil.” With that, Iroh turned away and Zuko went back to the Palace.

Sitting on Azula’s bed, he clutched his crown with trembling hands. “That fool. That blind, uncaring, manipulative-GAH!” He stood up and started pacing, ranting to his sister, who lied on her bed, waiting naked for him to join her. “He’s still convinced that there’s some kind of conflict within me, when I’ve already made my choice, one he never made. Not only does he still try to determine how I am to live my life, but he ignores that you share the same heritage as me.”

“You mind telling me what I missed?”

“Oh, right. Roku is mother’s grandfather. Iroh seems to think that his blood is somehow special and is altering my mind, as if being ‘good’ is not only genetic, but selective on who it affects. Then he gave me the crown that belongs to me as if it was his to give. Finally, he talks about me helping the Avatar as if he already knew he was still alive.”

“He is?”

“Oh, yeah. He was last seen on Makai Island, probably for the hot springs, but he’s undoubtedly at least as far west as Fire Fountain City by now. And Iroh seems to think that helping him is some big decision I need to make, and not a strategic one that removes Ozai. Why does he consider himself the world’s source of wisdom, anyway?”

“Who knows what goes on in his head? Now stop pacing and get in bed. Or would you rather just go back to your own room now and stew?” Finally calming down, Zuko disrobed and climbed in, savoring what little time he had left before he needed to leave for his own bed.

***

Ember Island was a fun adventure. At least, that’s what Ty Lee would have the others say. There was about ten degrees of fun at the end of about two days of misery, but a foursome on the Royal Family’s private beach and utterly demolishing a stuck-up noble’s house was worth everything that came before. Zuko in particular had a very rough time having to restrain himself from destroying all the lesser males ogling his women, but at least that stopped after the four of them shattered the hopes and dreams of their opponents at kuai ball. Ty Lee still had some worshipers, who she made sure to keep interested, but at least the awkwardness of before was gone.

…And then it came back full force when they all discovered that none of them knew how to interact with other teenagers. After leaving the party in a huff, Zuko found himself walking into the family estate, abandoned after over five years without anyone there. It was melancholic to see its condition, matching the memories within. When Azula came to collect her brother, he was quick to join her and they made their way to the private beach, neither of them wanting to stay in such a depressing place. Finding Mai and Ty Lee by a small fire, the siblings sat down around it.

While tempers ran hot and everyone said rather hurtful things to each other, it was cathartic for all of them to finally vent their frustrations: Ty Lee at not being given the opportunity to ever be unique, Mai at never being allowed to care or show emotions, Azula at the words her mother spoke without realizing their impact, and Zuko hating everything about Ozai and everything he stood for. Azula was right about the best way to cap off their vacation; all four of them had an absolute blast reducing the party house to ash and dust. Elated, they went back to their spot and took advantage of its seclusion, pleasuring each other with little distinction between any of them and trying and failing to avoid getting sand in awkward places. “Let’s never do that again, or at least not at a beach,” Azula decreed to unanimous approval.

***

“Ah, Hitori. What brings you here?”

“That got old the second time you said it, Tsusu.”

“Moon bark leaf tea, for the lucky young lady,” the chef chuckled.

“Hitori? Have you considered having the Prince drink the tea, rather than you?” asked Saku, looking up from her mop.

“And risk his displeasure at such a disgusting tea? No thank you,” Hitori winced at the taste she just decried. “Besides, as long as I drink it before the sun sets I’m fine.”

“Well, I personally can’t wait for him to get married so he can start making little rascals that sneak in here for sweets like he used to,” chuckled Tsusu. “Heh, if it weren’t for you I might’ve completely forgotten where my supply of that stuff was. I’m looking forward to not having to make that foul stuff again.”

“I guess rank has its privilege,” laughed Saku. “I imagine when the Princess gets old enough for such things, she’d make her paramour drink it.”

“Ha! As if the men in her life would let anyone anywhere near her. No, I doubt I’ll ever have to deal with this tea after the Prince finishes with you.”

“Lucky her,” Hitori mumbled into her cup, draining it with a grimace.

***

“So, Zuko, where are we going?”

“Remember when we made Azula’s crown? Well, I’m making another, similar item.”

“Ooh, fun!”

Having snuck into one of the more remote industrial areas, Zuko and Ty Lee once again found a blacksmith willing to rent out her forge to them. The bag of gold certainly didn’t hurt. Once again, Zuko melted down a sizeable ingot of gold in a dragon-flame furnace. This time, the actual crafting was easier, since he had a mold to pour it in.

“Zuko? Did you stick your dick in a chunk of clay?”

“It was the only way to get an accurate shape, okay?” While Ty Lee was busy cackling, Zuko cooled the artificial member, hardening it into shape. Of course, it wasn’t a completely accurate recreation, lacking any scrotum and having a strange protrusion at the top of the base.

“So, am I here to break it in, or are you wanting Azula to be the only one to experience it?”

“I was hoping you’d be able to verify the accuracy.”

“Okay!” she started stripping down and stimulating herself, preparing herself for the insertion. What she found was that he and his replica were actually just a little too big for her, her channel being a bit shorter than Azula’s. While the trial run wasn’t perfect, it was still enough to show him what adjustments he needed to make so everything would line up properly.

After putting out the forge and sneaking back to the Palace, they were both filled with mischievous glee, just like the other times they prepared a surprise for the Princess, who only rolled her eyes at this point. By now she had learned not to question what fun surprise her brother had in store for her, only to enjoy the fact that there was one. She did have to kill his playfulness, however, since she knew about the war meeting the next day.

“Humph, I guess I wasn’t invited. Makes sense, considering what happened last time.”

“Uh, Zuzu? You’re the Crown Prince. One that’s proven himself in combat and leadership. As Ozai’s heir, you’re the one person who’s supposed to be there. And unlike last time, you’re not a child whining about how he wants to do adult things like attend those meetings.”

“…Fine. When does it start?”

“Just after breakfast.”

***

“Prince Zuko? The Fire Lord has given word that the meeting is to wait for your arrival.”

Zuko smirked, emerging from the shadows in the full regalia of a Son of Fire, striding down the corridor to the council chamber, where he entered with a flourish. After trading pleasantries with Ozai, pleasantries that passively mocked everyone else at the table, earning a grin from the Fire Lord, he took his place at his right hand. After a moment of anxiousness, Zuko realized the subtext to the gesture: Ozai was putting himself in Zuko’s blind spot. The blind spot he gave him. After processing this, Zuko used the seething rage this realization produced to smother his anxiety and act like it didn’t bother him.

“These rebels will be stubborn. They have denounced Azula as their queen, so they’ll hide in mountains and forests, away from cities. As long as they have hope, they’ll never submit.”

“Well then, we should destroy this hope of theirs. They hope for a brighter future for the Earth Kingdom? One without Fire Nation rule? It’ll be hard to hope for that if there’s no Earth Kingdom. We burn it down.” At the questioning mumbling, he doubled down on his statement. “Yes, every last tree, every last house, we’ll even turn their mighty desert into glass. And we’ll use the Comet to do it. With the power the Comet brings and the mobility of our new fleet of airships, we shall destroy our enemies just as we did one hundred years ago, only this time it shall be even greater!” With a flourish, the Fire Lord finished his speech to applause from everyone in the room. Everyone, that is, except the two who already knew he would do that. The two that didn’t want him to do it. The two whose slightest dregs of loyalty for the man that sired them dissolved to dust with that pronouncement. Sure, they bared their teeth, but while it may look like they’re smiling, on the inside they were positively seething.

That night, they spent one final moment together before parting. As they lay there, sore and panting, Zuko presented his final gift: a golden phallus in his own shape to keep his sister company during his absence.

“Oh, Zuzu. I love it,” Azula gasped, holding it to her bosom and stroking it. “I’ll be sure to use it every night.”

“I’m sure you will,” he said. The way he said it, combined with the tone of his voice gave her pause. Taking it back, he moved between her knees, sliding the tip along her nether lips, lubricating it and stimulating her. Pumping it in and out, he was able to quickly work her back up. Unfortunately for her, he stopped, lodging it all the way in and letting the upward protrusion at the base stimulate the sensitive nub she was fond of him toying with. With a burst of Dragon Fire, he left it in place and backed off.

Confused at the curious sensation, Azula tried to feel around for the intruder, but was unable to get ahold of it to remove it. As comprehension dawned on her face, she looked with horror at the sick and twisted sadist she called “Brother”. “What have you done to me?”

“I have ensured you will never be lonely while I’m gone.”

His smirk remained while she banged his chest with her fists, crying “Why would you do this to me?”

“Because I don’t trust Ozai,” he said with sudden solemnity, grabbing her wrists.

“You…you think he would…”

“I can’t say for certain that he won’t. Azula,” he cupped her face. “do everything you can to get all of Ozai’s loyalists onto that fleet. I don’t care how airsick they might be, how self-important they might be, it doesn’t matter. Just convince Ozai that he should have his ‘best and greatest’ by his side as he ‘blazes his glory.’”

“I will. Goodbye, Zuzu.”

“Goodbye, Lala. I hope he doesn’t send you after me.” And with that, he left, knowing that this would be the hardest month either of them had been through in a very long time.

Chapter Text

The day the Sun turned dark dawned bright, just like any other day. Unlike any other day, however, there was political intrigue about.

Everyone was tense in Caldera Palace, from the cleaners, to the chefs, to the various generals and admirals, to the Royal Family themselves. Everyone had a part to play, even if it was simply clearing out so they wouldn’t get in the way of the foreign invaders. This was the main source of tension, since conventional wisdom would see those same invaders crushed by the time they could even get to the beach, but the Royal Family knew better. If it wasn’t Azula’s spying telling them that the invaders had some sort of plan to reach Caldera proper, or Zuko’s understanding of the Avatar and his group to know that they’d be cunning enough to make it, then it was the Fire Lord’s arrogance and sense of ironic humor wanting them to raise their hopes only to get crushed on the precipice of victory.

But not everyone was about to play along. While the Fire Lord sat smug on his throne, Crown Prince Zuko was writing a letter. It was nothing grand or apocalyptic, just a letter to his “girlfriend”, telling her how much he regretted breaking up with her, especially like this, but he had a higher duty to perform. What mattered was that it was all a lie. He wasn’t breaking up with her, nor was he regretting it, because she was never his girlfriend. He had already said goodbye to his real lover. Hopefully she’d understand that he was never hers in the first place, especially given the small, subtle ways she tried to drive them apart, trying to get him alone without his sister, trying to make him choose between them, and insisting on activities that he found no enjoyment in, especially when his sister would’ve known those opinions.

Sealing the scroll, he removed the armor he was wearing, took off his headpiece while keeping the topknot, lit a stick of incense before his mother’s portrait, and left the palace for the mansion Mai’s family was given.

As he was delivering the mail, he glanced out the window to see how the invasion was going. With the spyglass in Mai’s table, he was able to see significantly more technology than he was expecting, with tanks and some kind of submersible. I wonder where that technology came from. We came up with the tanks, but I thought there wasn’t any way to keep water out. Ah, waterbenders. They don’t have the skin tone or…apparel to be tribesmen, but that seaweed golem looks like a monster rumored to be in the Swamp. Hidden waterbending cultures. Maybe Azula will know what implications that has.

Knowing he was pressed for time, he stowed the glass in his tunic, since he didn’t think to pack one, and went to meet his destiny.

***

“Mistress, the Avatar has crossed the lava and will enter the bunker soon.”

“Wonderful. Places everyone, it’s showtime.”

While she didn’t show it, Azula felt uneasy as she sat on her father’s throne. It wasn’t that she was scared of whoever happened to open the door, but the fact that she felt perfectly normal. She knew they wouldn’t show up in the light of the Sun, so by the time they barge in it should be dark. But even as the intruders stood at the threshold she didn’t feel her fire fade. Did the eclipse not matter? Did she not need the Sun to firebend? If she didn’t, did Ozai? Zuko wasn’t smart enough to sneak away while he could; he’d make some grand gesture on his way out. But she didn’t have time for any of that, since the doors just got blown in.

“Well, well. I had a hunch you’d somehow survived. But it doesn’t matter, I’ve known about the invasion for months.”

“Where is he? Where’s the Fire Lord?!”

“You came here looking for a sovereign, and you found one. Or is the Earth Queen not good enough for you?”

“Stop wasting our time. For one thing, you’re not the Earth Queen. The Earth King is safe in the Earth Kingdom and he’ll be reinstated soon enough.”

“Oh, I’m not, am I? Strange, since I was coronated and everything. You may kneel now.”

“We’ll never bow to you. Now give us the information we need. You’re powerless right now, so you’re in no position to refuse.”

“And stick to the truth. I can tell if you’re lying.”

Powerless, am I? You have no idea. “Oh, really? I’m a pretty good liar. I am a 400-foot-tall purple platypusbear with pink horns and silver wings.”

“…Okay, you’re good. I admit it, but you should really consider telling the truth anyway,” the blind girl said as she encased the queen in rock.

Naturally, the three intruders were shocked when the encasement crumbled. “Oh, didn’t I say? I’m the Earth Queen. I have earthbenders, too.” Only two came to assist, but that was all she really needed, since she wasn’t fighting to win here. All she needed was a few minutes of their attention.

With her physical abilities, she was able to lead them on quite the merry chase around the room. Taking a gamble, she started running towards Ozai’s real safe room, counting on one of them realizing that they were running out of time and going the other direction. She was right, of course, but it was only the nonbender that figured it out, which naturally painted a target on him.

“Say, your name’s Sokka, right?” He stopped. Hook “My favorite prisoner used to mention you all the time. She was convinced you’d come rescue her,” Line “but of course, you never came.” And sinker. Like clockwork, the only one smart enough to face her in a battle of wits cast aside his reason and charged headlong into striking range of the kunai she had borrowed. Unfortunately, the earthbender had good enough reflexes to pin that hand to the wall before she could strike.

But that didn’t matter. She had already won. Since there was pretty much just a single rock wall between her and the safe room, she could hear the lightning strike, signaling to her that everyone else had their bending back. Now, all she had to do was put on enough spectacle to get them to run away and she could go see the aftermath of Zuko’s melodrama. “You want to find Dad? Then follow me down the hall and down the secret stairway on the left. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to see you now.” With that, she ran to him, figuring they’d be out of Caldera by the time she got there.

Finding herself alone after turning the corner, she reached into her pants, trying and failing to find any relief from the stimulation she just subjected herself to. With each leg movement, the phallus had shifted ever so slightly, but not enough to do more than tease and distract her. With a frustrated snarl, she kept going.

When she opened the door, she found the Fire Lord slumped over with the Fire Nation banner draped over him. “Fire Lord?” she called out, uncertain.

“Grr, your brother has betrayed us. Find him and kill him.”

“Oh, gladly. Shouldn’t we keep this quiet, though? It might demoralize the people if his face was plastered on every noticeboard again so close to our final victory.”

“Fine, nothing will be publicized, but I still want him dead. He has proven himself to be weak. Did you know, the Avat—Wait, you were the one who told me Zuko had killed him,” Ozai said with narrow eyes.

“As far as I knew, he did. If he knew the Avatar had survived, he kept it from me, too. Remember, he’s betraying me just as much as he’s betraying the Fire Nation.”

“Hm, very well. He said he would be joining the Avatar, so if you find him Zuko shouldn’t be far.”

“I shall get right on it,” Azula bowed, turning to leave. She couldn’t see Ozai’s gaze boring into her skull, but she could feel it. As she went to “begin her search”, she knew her brother was right. Even if Ozai wasn’t on to them, she had lost her free reign. But Zuko wasn’t the only one who knew the shadows. Before she could act like the perfect princess, however, she had some pest control to take care of. Making her way to the airdock, she mobilized all the balloons and airships that were stationed at Caldera. After watching the strange boats burn, her attention was drawn to the retreating sky bison. “Let them go. They’re too fast for us to follow, and they’re not our responsibility anyway. Take position above that outcropping,” she pointed to a spot halfway up the trail where a stone awning had been erected for protection against the bombs.

Once her airship had taken position, she went down to the bow platform. The officers present braced themselves for some roasted invaders and the invaders in question looked up into the eyes of a predator looking down at its kill, ready to devour. While they were making peace with the fact that they had already said their final goodbyes to their loved ones, Azula shocked everyone by jumping off.

Normally, when someone jumps from that high up, they become a smear on the ground. The Fire Princess had no such respect for the laws of nature, however, so as she fell she began releasing plumes of flame from her feet and downward-facing palms to allow for a fairly soft landing. “Hello. Are you the leaders of this little incursion?”

An older man with a crescent moon on his chest stepped forward. Well, he hobbled with a bad scratch in his side and an arm thrown around another man with a unique tunic. “I am the leader of this invasion, yes.”

“I am Fire Princess Azula. Well, Earth Queen Azula to those of you wearing green. Are you ready to surrender to me?”

One of the Earth Kingdom men stomped forwards huffing. “You will never rule the Earth Kingdom, ashmaker!”

“Oh, really? Kneel!” Despite their best efforts, everyone in green knelt, prompting a smirk from their Queen. “Now that you understand your place, perhaps those of us who actually matter can get down to business. Now, your surrender?” She asked the injured man.

Proving his mettle, he managed to recover faster than the others. “Yes. I, High Chief Hakoda of the Southern Water Tribes, surrender to the mercy of Fire Princess and Earth Queen Azula.”

As he was talking, Azula noticed something. “Good. Say, are you related to Sokka, by any chance?”

“He and Katara are my children.”

“That…actually explains a lot.” And it did. If two of the Avatar’s companions were her and Zuko’s counterparts in the Southern Water Tribe, then it made sense that one would have the power to defeat her and the other could outsmart her. They had superior blood, after all. With a whistle, she summoned a Dai Li agent. “Bring High Chief Hakoda and me to the Palace. Specifically, one of the out-of-the-way cells. You might as well bring along his cane.” She turned to the sergeant that had come up behind her. “Take the rest of these to holding cells. Give them orders in my name.” Satisfied at her salute, she nodded to the agent, who sent himself, his Mistress, the Chief, and his second to the top of the path. I wonder if this one will give us any useful information.

As she looked up one last time at where the Avatar’s bison had disappeared, she noticed another, slower dark speck about to do the same. “Have some of my luck, brother. Use it and your new freedom wisely,” she muttered with a small smile.

***

“Why isn’t it going out? They said the Sun would be dark by now.” Zuko, much like his sister, was rather distraught at his continued ability to firebend after the Eclipse had been scheduled to start. Unfortunately, he was on a timetable. Even if the Eclipse was late, or if the whole “losing their firebending” thing was a myth, he needed to confront Ozai before he left, which needed to be before Azula unleashed the Dirigibles so he could sneak away as just one balloon among many. With that thought, he took a fortifying breath and entered the safe room.

As he walked the length of the room, he noticed something strange: his father blowing on his tea. It wasn’t necessarily the tea, him drinking it, or him cooling it that was the issue, but the exhaling. Whenever Zuko drank tea, he would always breathe in the steam to draw out the heat, the way a firebender is supposed to. Realizing that the Eclipse must have started if Ozai wasn’t firebending, Zuko let a tiny flame dance along his tongue, confirming that yes, he could still firebend. As he approached the line of non-bending guards, he took a fortifying breath, being very careful to avoid and flames escaping and giving himself away.

“Leave,” he ordered them, looking at the Fire Lord.

“You heard him,” Ozai said with a quizzical expression. “Coming for a private conversation in the middle of an eclipse, how interesting,” he said, setting his cup down when the door shut.

“There are some things I need to say and you need to hear. Things others shouldn’t listen in on.” Another breath. “First of all, the Avatar is alive.”

“What?!”

“You heard me. He’s been active in the Fire Nation since before Azula and I returned. He’s probably leading the invasion.”

“Get out,” Ozai growled, standing up. “By letting the Avatar live, you hav-

SIT DOWN!” Zuko thundered, drawing the dao swords on his back. Ozai found himself on the ground before he could think, which was disconcerting, to say the least. “You won’t have to worry about him today, since Azula only comes up with perfect plans.”

“No, I’ll only have to worry about you, with your swords, as I sit here helpless in an otherwise empty room.”

Zuko smirked. “Oh, I’m not going to kill you. What I’m going to do is destroy everything you value. First, I’m going to train the Avatar. Then, I’ll send him to kill you, and when he does, I’ll take your crown and your throne for myself and lead my people to be the shining example Sozin wanted us to be. He started this war to enlighten the peasants and barbarians and to bring to them the very prosperity we enjoy here. I shall turn this lie into truth, break the cycle you want me and Azula to perpetuate, and we shall have…peace. No longer will they hate us, nor will we deserve that hate the way we do now. They will be grateful to us for making their lives better rather than worse as they do now. But before any of that is possible, the Avatar must kill you.”

“Too afraid to strike down your own father, boy? Your uncle has gotten to you, hasn’t he?”

“That hypocritical, two-faced traitor had nothing to do with it. Besides, what would it accomplish? I’d only be following your example, which is one of the things I’ll actively try to avoid doing.”

Now it was Ozai’s turn to smirk. “You don’t think you already are?” At Zuko’s raised eyebrow, he continued. “You didn’t think I was foolish enough to get my own hands dirty, did you?”

“I’ll admit, I actually did. Maybe not directly, but there are plenty of poisons that could do the job.”

“And who was it that taught you that? It certainly wasn’t me.”

Zuko’s eyes widened. “Mother?”

“Of course. When we were younger, I saw a streak of viciousness in her that drew me to her. A potential suitor had gotten too bold and annoyed her, and next thing I hear he’s bedridden for a week. I had thought she would teach our children how to be that vicious, but all she taught you was how to be weak.”

“What exactly happened that night?”

“Well, my father, Fire Lord Azulon, had commanded me to do the unthinkable to you, my own son. And I was going to do it, but your mother found out and swore she would protect you at any cost. She knew my ambitions, so she came up with a plan that would have us both get what we want: my ascension to Fire Lord and your life. She knew what the consequences were for such treason and accepted them: banishment.”

“So she’s alive.”

“Perhaps. It has been five years, but I’m sure she knows how to take care of herself. But I now understand that banishment is far from a suitable punishment for such treason. Unlike your mother, you won’t leave here alive.”

He felt the barest traces of sunlight returning and was about to make good on his threat when his son spoke again, with tears running down his face and a voice that was more animalistic growl than what ought to come out of a human throat.

“For so long, all I wanted was for you to love me, to accept me, to even acknowledge me in a positive light. To please you. You, my father, who banished me for talking out of turn, who challenged a 13-year-old child to an Agni-Kai. But now I know better.” He looked up, golden irises glowing around the slits of his pupils. “I reject you. I renounce you as Fire Lord on the basis of abuse towards your citizens. I renounce you as Father, for your abuse towards your children. I renounce you as the husband of my mother, who denied her the opportunity to love her children and raise them as she saw fit.” He stood tall, golden flames covered in many colors dancing up and down his form, branching from his topknot like the Fire Lord’s crown, and pluming from his mouth and nose with every breath. “I am a Son of Agni. A Dragon. No, I am a Phoenix, rising from the ashes you sought to turn me into, from the ashes of your world, and reforging it anew in my own image. Goodbye, son of Azulon. You mean nothing to me now, for you are nothing.”

At that, Ozai summoned lightning almost faster than the eye could catch, shooting it at the one he used to call “son” just as quickly, but the young phoenix had trained with his sister who was even faster at this point. He allowed the momentum to carry him most of the way to the door before shooting it back at Ozai’s feet, disappearing before the man could regain his bearings.

***

It wasn’t any harder to sneak to his hiding spot than it was to hide the balloon in the first place. He had made sure to pack the essentials: a dozen identical outfits, enough jerky, water, and rations to last him until the Comet, enough gold coins to buy beachfront property on Ember Island, and maps of every part of the world, particularly the route the Comet Fleet would take.

It was similarly simple to join the swarm of balloons as they formed up and rise above them into the clouds and out of sight. With the old map plundered from an Air Temple long ago, he was able to flow with the jet stream to go faster than any other machine currently in existence. After a few minutes, he saw a familiar white shape pass by, far below him and still faster than his balloon.

Before Caldera could pass beyond his sight, he turned back one last time. “Stay lucky, sister. Try not to get too chained down,” he muttered with a smile.