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Blue Fire And Polar Bear Dogs

Chapter Text

First Impressions

Azula’s first impression of the new Avatar was that she was a little idiot. How else could she describe the child currently thrashing about in the training arena, haphazardly shooting fire every which way?

“Remember,” Katara said, patting Azula on the back and looking far too smug while pushing her toward the training arena. “You volunteered for this.”

Azula’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t have to remind me.”

“No, I don’t.” Katara grinned as she walked away. “But I want to.”

Azula made a disgusted sound. Only the fact that they were currently surrounded by ice and snow stopped her from lobbing some fire in Katara’s direction. The years had eased their outright hatred and mistrust of each other into something that vaguely approximated friendship, even if neither of them would ever admit it.

As the new Avatar continued to flail about in a bid to demonstrate her non-existent firebending prowess, Azula watched. The girl’s form was absolutely atrocious, but she already had a lot of raw power. That was not surprising. Korra was the Avatar, after all. What was surprising was how happy she seemed to be throwing fire around. Yes, Azula thought, lips curling. She could make something out of this Avatar.

Stepping into the training arena briskly, Azula revealed herself. The Avatar stopped what she was doing and rounded on her.

“Who are you?”

Azula almost smiled. How blunt. Not at all like her predecessor. “I am going to be your firebending master.”

The Avatar scowled. “But you’re so old.”

“Katara is old as well, and she’s been teaching you waterbending.”

“But she’s Katara.” Korra waved her hands around. “You know.”

That made absolutely no sense, but Azula had long since learned that children, almost without exception, did not make much sense at all. “Very well. I will make a deal with you. If you land even a single hit on me with the sorry excuse for firebending that you currently know, then you’re more than welcome to ask for another instructor.”

Korra grinned and got into pathetically sloppy firebending stance. “You asked for it, old lady!”

Half an hour later…

Azula had to admit that Korra was nothing if not persistent. She was also not very good. Not a single one of Korra’s attacks had landed, and none of them had even come close. Azula hadn’t even had to use her own bending to deal with any of the young Avatar’s flames. And now, Korra was lying on the ground, utterly exhausted.

Azula’s lips curled, and she strode over to prod Korra with one boot. “Are you done yet, girl?”

“Don’t call me that! My name is Korra.” Korra threw another blast of fire, but Azula merely leaned to one side to avoid it. “And you didn’t even use any fire. Can you even firebend?”

“Can I firebend?” Azula laughed, and then her golden eyes gleamed. “Why don’t I show you?”

Azula drove one foot into the ice beneath them and breathed out. At the same time, she flung both arms out, sweeping them upward in a smooth, broad gesture. The air around them was suddenly filled with a seething cloud of blue fire. It rollicked around them, turning the ice into steam before a sharp twist of her wrist flung it outward, melting the training arena’s surface and setting the banners that hung around the edge alight.

But she wasn’t done yet. Another gesture called her fire back to her, and she directed it upward, forming a whirling column of flame that she drove down into the training arena nearby. Normally, fire did not have a strong cutting effect, but Azula had never been a normal firebender. The flames drilled through the ice, melting and cutting at the same time until there was a wide hole more than a dozen yards deep.

X X X

Korra’s first impression of her new firebending master’s firebending was that it was totally awesome.

“Teach me how to do that!” Korra leapt to her feet.

“Oh, I will.” The old woman’s lips curved up into a smile. “But it won’t be easy.”

“Wait… what’s your name?” Korra asked.

“Azula.”

Azula? Korra frowned faintly. The name sounded familiar… “Oh.”

“Yes, I’m that Azula.” Azula chuckled. “But don’t worry. I’m not going to try to kill you although you might wish your were dead when I start training you.”

Korra shivered. There was something distinctly unsettling about those golden eyes. “Um… what about that?” She pointed at the big hole in the training arena.

Azula waved one hand. “That is what Katara is for.” She paused. “But don’t tell her I said that.”

Chapter Text

Inner Fire

It hadn’t taken long for Korra to realise that there was a normal way to teach something and an Azula way to teach something. The Azula way invariably involved panic, terror, and multiple brushes with death. It was also annoyingly effective, which was probably the only reason the White Lotus had turned a blind eye to all of the insanity that her firebending instructor came up with on a regular basis.

“Can you explain to me why I’m standing next to the ocean in my underwear?” Korra asked, teeth chattering. “Because I really don’t feel like freezing to death out here.”

“Today, we are going to awaken your inner fire.” Azula gestured at the water. “Splash me with some of that water.”

“What?” Korra had been dreaming of doing just that for the past five minutes, but she had to be hallucinating. This was too good to be true. There was no way that Azula would ask her to do that. “Are you serious?”

“Absolutely.”

“But…” Korra pursed her lips. “You’ll get wet.”

“That would be the point, yes.”

“And it’s really cold out here.”

“Indeed it is.”

“You could freeze to death.”

Azula’s golden eyes narrowed. She was dressed in nothing more than a thin silk robe. “Do I look cold to you?”

“Uh… no.” Korra supposed that was odd. Azula should have frozen to death in that outfit.

“Just splash me.”

So Korra did. And if she cackled a little while doing it, well, it was only because of the cold. It had nothing to do with finally getting to splash Azula for all the horrible training exercises she came up with. However, her glee didn’t last long. As the water sluiced off Azula, it began to turn into steam.

“This is what my inner fire can do, Korra.” Azula smiled thinly. “It is why I don’t need to wear a jacket outside. My inner fire is more than enough to keep me warm.”

“Wow.” Korra nodded slowly. That was impressive. “So… um… how do you do that?”

“Oh, I could give you the entire five hour lecture about how to connect with Agni on a spiritual level, but that was always more my uncle’s thing. The simplest way to think about it is to imagine a great fire burning inside your body, a fire connected to the sun. Imagine it radiating warmth through your entire body. Imagine it beating back the cold. It may take a while to find your inner fire, to visualise and grasp it on a spiritual level, but there is a way to speed up the process. Would you like to try it?”

Korra shrugged. “Sure. It beats getting a five hour lecture.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

Azula kicked her into the water.

Chapter Text

How Korra Learned To Dodge

“Um… are you sure this is safe?”

“Korra, for the last time, learning how to dodge is an important skill. More often than not, evasion will serve you much better than blocking.” Azula nodded at the circle she’d burnt into the ground. “Now, get back into the circle.”

“Fine.” Korra stepped back into the circle. “But do you really have to use lightning? I mean Katara will be super pissed if you actually kill me.”

“Obviously, I won’t be using my lightning at full force. It will, of course, be extremely unpleasant if it hits you, but it shouldn’t cause any lasting damage.” Azula smiled toothily. “Think of it as… incentive to learn quickly.”

“There has to be another way. How did you learn to dodge?” Korra eye Azula’s hands nervously. Electricity was already gathering around her fingertips in bright, crackling arcs.

“My father threw fire at me.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad –”

“He did not hold back much. It took me weeks to heal from the burns I received during our first training session, and that was with the aid of the Fire Nation’s finest physicians and healers. Needless to say, I learned quickly.”

“Okay.” Korra winced. “Forget I said anything.”

Azula chuckled. “If it makes you feel any better, my father died alone in his cell, a powerless, broken man. But back to today’s lesson. Your objective, Korra, is to dodge as many of my attacks as possible. Because of the speed with which lightning travels, you cannot simply wait until I attack. Instead, you will have to predict my movements and react accordingly.” She lifted one hand. “Are you ready?”

Korra nodded. “I’m ready.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

ZAP.

“Apparently not. You didn’t dodge that.” Azula pursed her lips. “Oh, get up. It wasn’t that bad.”

Korra twitched and staggered back to her feet. Her hair was sticking out in every direction. “Damn it. That hurts.”

“Yes, which is why you should learn to dodge.” Azula smiled sunnily. It was terrifying. “Now, let’s try that again.”

X X X

Years later…

Asami struggled not to stare as Korra cut through the bandits like a scythe. Two of them were throwing lightning, but not a single one of their attacks had come close to hitting the Avatar. Korra seemed to be able to anticipate their attacks perfectly. After dodging another bolt of lightning, Korra drove one foot into the ground and thrust both her hands forward, encasing the two firebenders in rock before turning to deal with the other bandits. In the meantime, Asami made sure to handle her fair share of the troublemakers.

“So… where did you learn to dodge like that?” Asami asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone dodge lightning so easily.”

Korra twitched. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.”

“Ah.” Asami grinned. “Azula?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Chapter Text

Royal Rumble

“I command you to eat this!”

Zuko snickered. “Azula, you can’t command a baby to eat.”

“Watch me.” Azula lifted the spoonful of baby food and brandished it at Izumi again. “I am Fire Nation royalty, and I am commanding you to eat this!”

Izumi’s response was to grab the spoon and throw its contents at Azula. The baby food landed right on Azula’s forehead and dripped down her face. Her jaw clenched.

“Zuko, have you considered producing another heir? This one appears to be defective.”

“She’s not defective, Azula. She’s a baby. This is kind of what they do. I bet even you did stuff like this.” Zuko took the spoon and offered some more baby food to Izumi. To his delight – and Azula’s utter consternation – the baby was only too happy to eat it.

“I refuse to believe that I was ever this… this childish.” Azula folded her arms over her chest. Had she been any less dignified than she was, she would have pouted. “I was hoping that Izumi would take after Mai. At least then I’d be able to reason with her. But clearly, she takes after you.” She scowled. “I fear for the future of our proud nation when its future ruler cannot even eat properly.”

“Azula, I know you’re convinced that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, but even you were a baby once. Someone had to change your diapers and feed you. This is normal.” Zuko grinned. “Just ask Ty Lee.”

Azula made a disgusted sound. “I am not going to bring up babies around Ty Lee. I do not need another lecture on how we should get one of our own.” She shuddered. “And if we ever do get one, we are going to adopt. I am most certainly not going to get pregnant, and I refuse to let someone else get anywhere near Ty Lee’s vagina.”

Zuko burst out laughing. “You know, I used to be terrified of you.”

Azula raised one hand. Blue flame gathered around her fist. “You still should be.”

“Oh, please.” Zuko chuckled. “We both know that you’re not actually going to assassinate me.”

“You’re lucky that I have some small amount of affection for you, Zuko. Otherwise, you’d already be dead.” Azula lowered her hand. “Let me know when she shows her bending. If she’s going to be Firelord, she needs to be a competent firebender, unlike you.”

“Ouch.” Zuko put one hand over his chest. “That really hurts. But I will talk to Mai about letting you train her as long as you don’t go too overboard.”

“Have Mai train her in concealed weapons too. There are times when bending is… inconvenient.” Azula reached for the spoon. “Now, give me that. I’ll show you how it’s done.” She scowled at Izumi. “Eat.”

Chapter Text

Hot Noodles

“Why are you so evil?” Korra asked.

Azula ignored her student and went back to preparing another cup of instant noodles. She didn’t even like how they tasted, but it was so amusing to watch Korra agonise as she slowly, but surely, worked her way through their meagre supply of food.

“I am trying to teach you to redirect heat. It is an important skill to learn, not least because it shares many of the same principles as lightning redirection. Being able to control heat will allow you to do things like cool molten lava.”

“When will I have to cool molten lava?” Korra made a grab for one of the cups of noodles, only to receive a stout slap on the wrist. “Ouch! Damn it!”

“You’ve been neglecting your studies again, haven’t you? Avatar Roku met his end at the hands of a volcano. Had he developed heat redirection to a sufficiently high level, he might have survived.”

“He might have survived if Sozin hadn’t left him to die.” Korra scowled and then pouted. “So there.”

“You do realise that I’m related to both of them and that my family is basically the definition of dysfunctional, don’t you? Your insults thus have no effect on me whatsoever.” Azula tossed aside her finished cup of noodles and reached for another. “And at this rate, you’re going to go hungry.”

“Gah!” Korra screamed. “Why are your teaching methods so messed up?”

Azula paused. “Korra, allow me to explain. I have already demonstrated the principles behind heat redirection. You know everything you need to accomplish it, yet you continue to fail. Given that you are the Avatar, and thus the most powerful bender alive, your failure is most likely not due to a lack of talent or power. Instead, it may be due to a lack of motivation. Consider this your motivation: we came out here with six cups of instant noodles. I have already eaten three. I have a fourth in front of me. Your task is very simple: you need to redirect the heat out of my cup of noodles to heat up the water in your cup of noodles. Otherwise, you are going to go hungry, and we still have a full day of training ahead of us.”

“Why can’t I just use my firebending to heat up the water in my cup of noodles, so I can eat them?” Korra made another grab for another cup of noodles. This time, Azula warded her off with fingers sheathed in crackling electricity.

“Because that wouldn’t help you learn heat redirection at all.” Azula sighed. “But since you look like you’re about to die of hunger, how about we try another method?”

“Sure! Whatever it is, it’s got to be better than watching you eat all of the noodles.”

“I wouldn’t say that so quickly, if I were you.” Azula smiled thinly. “The alternative is that we head back to camp, you get in your bath, and I heat the water up while you try to redirect the heat out of the water before it gets too hot. I imagine that failure will be quite unpleasant for you.”

“…” Korra stared at Azula. “Are you serious?”

“Completely.”

“I think I’ll stick with what we’re doing now.” Korra frowned. “How did you ever get approval to teach me, anyway?”

“I am a very scary person. People do not usually say no to me.”

“Ah.” Korra nodded slowly. “Well, I guess it could be worse. At least you’re not trying to kill me.”

“Yet.”

“What?” Korra shrieked.

“I’m joking.” Azula rolled her eyes. “If I wanted to kill you, I would have assassinated you a few weeks after the White Lotus discovered you. Honestly, they need to secure their communication networks better. I didn’t even have to ask my brother about you.” She started heating up her cup of noodles. “Now, back to work.”

X X X

In the end, Korra did not go hungry. Necessity, as it so often was with her, was the mother of invention. On the very last cup of noodles, she managed to snatch the heat out of Azula’s noodles and use it to make her own. There was just one problem: she hadn’t brought any chopsticks. Naturally, Azula refused to share hers.

“You’re the Avatar.” Azula pointed at the ice under them. “Make chopsticks out of ice.”

“But you’ve got chopsticks.” Korra pointed at the ones in Azula’s hand. “Proper ones, not ones made out of ice. Plus, if I make them out of ice, they’ll freeze to my lips.”

Azula smirked. “And that leads me to my next lesson: how to concentrate your inner fire in certain parts of your body…”

Korra blinked. “You planned this, didn’t you?”

“I have been called a genius before.”

Korra made a choking sound. “Grargh!”

Chapter Text

Aunt Azula

The first person that Izumi ever saw die was one of the assassins that had somehow managed to sneak into her chambers. Her nursemaid had bravely put herself between the assassins and Izumi, but the little girl wasn’t stupid. Her nursemaid had been hired for her loyalty and ease with children. She was not a warrior. The assassins would kill her in a matter of moments, and then they would kill Izumi. In all likelihood, the guards around her chamber were already dead. That was the only way the assassins could have gotten this far.

One of the assassins moved forward, fire gathering around his fist and –

And then he died.

His entire body was suddenly swathed in brilliant blue fire so hot and bright that it hurt Izumi’s eyes just to look at it. Sweat broke out across her brow, and she tugged her nursemaid back by the hand. They were safe now. Her Aunt Azula had arrived.

“Look away.” Her aunt’s back was to them – she’d moved so fast that Izumi hadn’t even realised she was there until she’d spoken – but her voice was colder than ice. This wasn’t the Aunt Azula that helped Izumi with her lessons and poked fun at her father by calling him Fire Lord Zuzu. No, this was the Aunt Azula that her father had once told Izumi was the most terrifying opponent he’d ever faced. “Izumi, look away.”

“No.” Izumi shook her head. “They came here to kill me. I need to see this.”

Her aunt glanced back at her then, golden eyes gleaming, and there was a small smile on her lips. “You will be a great Fire Lord one day.”

Then her aunt was moving, swift, precise, and absolutely deadly. The other assassins attacked together, but her aunt seized control of their flames as quickly as they could make them, bathing the room in blue light. Normally, firebending in a room like this, one filled with flammable objects, would have been madness. But her aunt’s control was perfect. The assassins burned one after the other, her aunt’s flame consuming them with terrifying speed only to vanish the instant her opponents were dead.

A knife flashed through the air, and Izumi heard her aunt give a short, contemptuous laugh as she slapped it aside with one fire-sheathed hand. Of course, her aunt had grown up around Izumi’s mother. A mere throwing knife was nothing to her. The last of the assassins turned and ran, and her aunt flicked one wrist.

A bolt of lightning crackled though the air, and the thunder of it shook the room. The assassin went down, and her aunt kicked him over onto his back. Another flick of her wrist set all the candles in the room alight with blue flame. In the eerie azure light, Izumi could see the last assassin’s face. He was beyond terrified, staring up at her aunt like she was a nightmare come to life.

“You’re probably wondering why I let you live.” Azula sneered. “It wasn’t out of any misguided sense of mercy, I assure you. That’s not my style. But my brother will want to know who sent you and why.” She paused. “And speaking of my brother…”

The doors of Izumi’s chamber burst open and her mother and father charged into the room with a squad of guards. Izumi left her nursemaid’s side and rushed into her mother’s arms.

“Azula.” Mai’s eyes surveyed the scene. “What happened? We found the rest of Izumi’s guards outside…”

“Dead. Yes, I know. I noticed them earlier.” Azula’s lips thinned. “I was out for a little walk. You know I can have trouble sleeping.” She glanced down at the man at her feet. He could barely move. Her lightning had done terrible damage to his body. “The others are dead, but this one is still alive. They were taking orders from him. I suggest you question him thoroughly.”

“We will.” Zuko nodded at his guards. “Take him. Have him interrogated.” He inclined his head at Azula. “Thank you.”

“Well, what is family for?” Azula turned on her heel, letting the guards sweep past her to pick up the downed assassin. “But you may wish to speak to Izumi as well. She saw everything that happened.” She stared at the girl for a moment, and then her gaze was back on Zuko. “You may also wish to advance her training. It is one thing to rely on guards, but the sooner she can defend herself, the better.”

Chapter Text

Obedience

Tenzin loved his children very much. In fact, he thought the world of them, but he also knew how rowdy they could be. Even Jinora, who was by far the most level headed, could be quite mischievous when she put her mind to it. She also had a knack for disguising her mischief, which only made her more troublesome to deal with. So to say that he was surprised when he arrived home to find all of them busy with cleaning would have been a tremendous understatement.

Tenzin looked about in bewilderment. “What’s going on?” Was this a dream? Had he somehow managed to get drunk on cactus juice without realising it?

Pema smiled and waved him over to a bench where she was enjoying a cup of tea. “Oh, nothing too unusual.” She smirked. “Azula arrived today, and she decided that it was well past time that the kids pull their weight with regards to cleaning.”

“I see.” Tenzin did. Despite her age, Azula was still arguably the most terrifying person he knew. The kids had only needed to meet her once before agreeing.

Right on cue, the infamous firebender appeared, barking orders like a drill sergeant at first Meelo and then Ikki,

“Is that what you call scrubbing?” Azula growled. “I want these steps clean enough to eat off, and I promise you that if I’m not happy with the job you’ve done, you will be eating off them – for the next month.”

Meelo shook one fist at her. “You can’t do this, evil lady!”

“I can and I am.” Azula sneered. “What? Do you think your father will save you? No one can save you. Until I say otherwise, you all belong to me. You will do what I say, when I say, how I say. And I’m telling you to get back to work right now.”

“Or what?” Meelo drew himself up to his full height and glared.

Azula glared back and then smiled – toothily. “Or else.”

Meelo got back to work.

“I bet you didn’t have to clean when you were younger,” Ikki grumbled, too smart to outright oppose Azula.

“No, because I was out conquering the world. If you’d rather try to conquer the world than clean, you’re more than welcome to try. I’d suggest you start with the Earth Kingdom.” Azula turned and frowned. “And you, Jinora, less gawking and more sweeping.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jinora went back to sweeping.

Pema chuckled and nudged Tenzin. “You know, we need to invite Azula over more often. The house is absolutely spotless, and they’ll have the temple grounds immaculate in about an hour.”

Tenzin shuddered. He could have a clean house and tidy temple, but at what cost? “Perhaps.”

Azula’s gaze flicked to Tenzin, golden and dangerous. “Tenzin!” He found himself snapping to attention. “What is this I hear about you allowing the other members of the council to push you around? Didn’t you learn anything from the lessons I gave you? There is a time for mercy and a time for strength. Crush them utterly just once, and you will never have to put up with their foolishness again. Do I have to come with you to your next meeting?”

Tenzin gulped. “No… no, I can handle it.” He took a deep breath to calm himself. Wait… there was a way he could get rid of her. “Azula, have you seen Korra since you arrived? I believe she is in the city with her friends.” Unspoken was the fact that these were friends Azula hadn’t met, friends that she would need to personally investigate.

“Is that so?” Azula’s eyes narrowed. “I shall have to go and meet these… friends of hers.”

As the firebender made her way to the dock, Pema giggled. “You can be so evil, Tenzin.”

He gazed off into the distance. Yes, that was exactly what his father, wise man that he was, would have done. “Only when I have to be.”

Chapter Text

Friendly Advice

“Congratulations on becoming an officer, Lin.”

Lin stopped mid-stride. It was very, very rare to receive praise from Azula. “Thank you.” She frowned. “What do you want?”

Azula chuckled. “And that is why I like you more than your sister. You’re so wonderfully suspicious of everyone around you.” Azula smiled. “But, if you must know, I don’t want anything, not today. I merely wished to offer my congratulations. You’ve become very skilled.”

“Someone had to.” Lin’s gaze drifted to her mother and her sister.

“Don’t be so quick to underestimate her,” Azula said, nodding at Suyin. “I made that mistake about my brother, and Zuzu has proven to be a competent ruler.” Her lips twitched. “Not as good as I would have been, but competent.”

“Why are you here, Azula?” Lin scowled. “And stop playing games.”

“I came to offer some friendly advice.” Azula gestured at the city outside the window beside them. “Republic City is a dream, and dreams never last.”

“What are you saying?” Lin had learned to respect Azula’s opinion over the years. The older woman had an uncanny knack for politics and intrigue. She made pretty much everyone else look like an amateur. “Is there a threat? Does my mother know?”

“It’s nothing like that,” Azula replied. “Republic City was built to be a place of equality, a place where people of every nation could live, casting aside the conflicts of old and building a new and brighter future together. But nations are not built from dreams alone. They are built on bones and steel. The oath you took today, the oath to protect this city and its people, you need to understand what it means, what it really means. The vast majority of people are weak. They will never understand what it means to carry the weight of a nation on their shoulders. They could never grasp what it means to give their life in service to something that is greater than they are. For a place like Republic City to last, there must be people who are willing to bear the weight of it upon their shoulders, to wade through all the muck and filth so that the citizens of this place don’t have to. Can you do that?”

Lin didn’t even have to think about it. “Yes.”

“Good.”

“Is that what you do for the Fire Nation?” Lin asked quietly. “For your brother?”

“Zuko is… a good man, perhaps too good.” Azula’s gaze softened, something that Lin had only seen a handful of times. “The Fire Nation is a dangerous place. Fire always casts a shadow, so someone has to keep the shadows at bay, someone who is already very familiar with the darkness. It’s the least I can do, and I must admit that there is a part of me that very much enjoys it.” Azula nodded. “Take care, Lin. I need to speak to Aang about certain matters that require his… attention.”

Lin watched Azula go, her lips curving up ever so slightly as the crowd of dignitaries pestering the Avatar part at her approach.

Chapter Text

Hand-to-Hand Combat

Korra stood at attention as Azula paced along the edges of the training arena. The older woman’s eyes were twin pools of molten gold, taking in every detail.

“Today, we will be working on hand-to-hand combat.” Azula stopped and pinned Korra in place with her gaze. “Specifically, hand-to-hand combat without the benefit of bending.”

Korra frowned. “What? Why? I’m a bender. You’re a bender. It’s only natural that we bend while we’re fighting.”

“There are several reasons.” Azula folded her arms across her chest. “There may be situations where you have to blend in, situations where bending will call undue attention to you. Imagine that you are trying to infiltrate and then eliminate a group that does not include benders. Being able to fight without bending would be crucial. There may even be situations that leave you unable to bend. If that occurs, you must be able to defend yourself.”

“What do you mean unable to bend?” Korra felt the first stirrings of unease. She’d been a bender all her life. She couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be unable to bend.

“There are certain… methods that can make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a bender to use their powers. As the Avatar, you are the most powerful bender in the world. Those with a lot of power have a tendency to become reliant on it. Believe me, your predecessor was not immune to the methods I’m speaking of, and neither are you.”

“What about you?” Korra asked. “I mean you’re one of the strongest firebenders in the world. Heck, you’re probably still the strongest. Don’t you rely on your bending too much?”

“Perhaps I did at one point, but I learned very early in life that firebending alone was not sufficient to ensure continued success. Cunning, planning, and subterfuge – I employ all of those before even committing to battle. You, on the other hand, are somewhat more spontaneous in your approach to things. And I did learn other ways to fight.” Azula flicked her wrist, and Korra froze as a knife sailed through the air, a hair’s breadth from the side of her head. “Knives, for instance, can be very handy if you know how to use them. They can be very quiet too, if you know where to put them.”

“You’re going to teach me how to use a knife?” Korra asked.

“Later, perhaps, but not today. Today, you’ll be fighting without bending because you won’t be able to use any.” Azula raised her voice. “Ty Lee.”

Another old woman entered the arena. Well, entered wasn’t quite the right word. She leapt in, spinning end over end through the air before landing with a flourish. Korra stared. She’d thought Azula was sprightly for an old woman, but this Ty Lee put her to shame. Wait… wasn’t Ty Lee the woman that…

“Ty Lee will be your opponent.” Azula somehow managed to keep a straight face as Ty Lee leaned over to give her cheek a quick kiss. “If you can last five minutes against her, then you will have the rest of this week’s training off.”

“Are you serious?” Korra gaped. That was like a dream come true. “What’s the catch?” There was always a catch.

“There is no catch. Last five minutes, and you’ll get the rest of this week’s training off.”

“And I can use my bending?” Korra knew better than to break the rules. Azula loved it when she bent the rules or worked them in her favour, but she took a somewhat dim view of her outright ignoring or breaking them. It lacked cleverness, she said.

“You’re welcome to use your bending. I doubt you’ll be using it for long.”

“Is that so?” Korra moved into a fighting stance. “Let’s go!”

Less than a minute later, Korra found herself on the ground, twitching and unable to move properly or use her bending.

“My bending!” Korra thrashed. “Why can’t I bend?”

“Calm down.” Azula knelt beside her and pressed a few specific points on her body before easing her into a sitting position. “It’s only temporary, but I trust I’ve made my point?”

Korra nodded quickly. Fighting Ty Lee had been, well, terrifying. The old woman had moved incredibly quickly, and with just a few touches, she’d paralysed Korra and taken away her bending. The feeling of power – of control – that she’d been accustomed to her whole life had been taken away with nothing more than Ty Lee’s bare hands.

“How did she do that?” Korra whispered.

“Ty Lee is a practitioner of several forms of martial arts that feature techniques capable of paralysis and chi-blocking. Bending relies upon chi. Block the flow of chi through the body, and bending becomes impossible. Likewise striking certain nerve clusters and muscles can render normal movement impossible too.” Azula caught the panic in Korra’s eyes. “Calm yourself. The effects are temporary. Your bending and movement will return soon.”

To Korra’s great relief, she didn’t have to wait long.

“Korra, there are others who know techniques similar to those Ty Lee uses. It is possible that you will one day encounter opponents who can take away your bending or your ability to move properly. If that occurs, you must be able to handle the situation.”

“But how?” Korra shivered.

“Panic is your greatest enemy. The moment your body and bending stopped working the way you’re used to, you panicked. That is the first thing we’re going to fix.” Azula’s lips thinned. “We’re going to get you used to what it feels like to have your chi blocked and different parts of your body immobilised. Then we’re going to teach you how to fight the way a non-bender would and how to fight with varying degrees of disability. By the time we’re done with you, you should be able to handle even a skilled opponent without relying on your bending or even all of your limbs.”

“That sounds hard.”

“It will be.” Azula got to her feet. “It took me years to learn, but it was worth it.”

“And the chi-blocking and paralysis stuff, I’ll learn that too, right?” Korra asked.

“Of course.” Azula chuckled. “How else will you learn how to beat it if you don’t know how it works? You’ll also find that it comes in handy against other benders since they very rarely expect another bender to learn techniques like that. Now, get up. Ty Lee will be handling this part of your training since she is the expert. I will be observing and making what suggestions I deem appropriate since some of her techniques are particularly devastating when combined with bending.” Azula’s lips curled. “You can imagine how easy it is to beat even a skilled bender with a bit of chi-blocking followed up by some timely bending before they realise what you’ve done.”

Ty Lee gave Korra a reassuring smile. “Don’t let Azula scare you. It’s not that hard to learn, and she’s always saying how talented and hardworking you are in her letters.”

Azula coughed. “Ty Lee…”

Korra bit back a grin. Azula wrote stuff like that about her? Maybe her firebending instructor wasn’t so cold-hearted after all.

Ty lee caught her grin. “You should know that teaching you has really been beneficial for Azula. She’s definitely enjoying it – her aura has been so much pinker since she started training you –”

“Ty Lee!”

Chapter Text

Protection Detail

“I understand that you know a thing or two about defending yourself.”

Asami nodded slowly. This was a bizarre conversation to be having, but she had come to realise that bizarre was never far away when Azula was around. The old woman had a knack for finding trouble and then setting it on fire. “I can handle myself in a fight.”

“I see.” Azula flicked her wrist, and a knife just, for want of a better word, appeared in her hand. Asami stared. “Can you handle a knife?”

“How did you do that?”

“An old friend taught me.” For a moment, there was genuine sorrow in Azula’s eyes, but it passed swiftly, replaced once again by that razor-sharp gaze that Asami had grown accustomed to. “Learning how to do that was one of the many gifts she gave me.” Another flicked of her wrist imbedded the knife in the wall beside Asami’s head. “As was the skill to do that. It’s a pity I’ll never be as good as she was. She could have outlined your head with a handful of knives before you’d even realised what she’d done. Ah, Mai was always so handy with pointy things.”

Asami tried to wrap her mind around that last big. Mai, as in the previous Fire Lady, had been an expert with weapons? The history books she’d read had left out that particular detail. And given how much respect Azula had for her skills, Mai must have been a lot better than good. She would have had to be legendary for Azula to be impressed.

“Why are you asking me about this?”

“Oh, it’s for Korra’s sake.” Azula shrugged, the gesture not the least bit disarming. Indeed, the deliberate attempt to appear harmless only emphasised how very not harmless Azula truly was. It occurred to Asami then that Azula could probably kill her with less effort than it took for her to sign one of the many documents that crossed her desk each day. “My former pupil has a tendency to get herself into trouble. I believe it’s an Avatar thing. Her predecessor got into a lot of trouble too. Admittedly, some of that was my fault, at least early on.”

“What are you getting at?”

“If there is one thing that I learned about killing Avatars, and I’m sure it’s something you appreciate after everything Korra has been through, it’s that overwhelming power can be negated with sufficient levels of cunning, ingenuity, and general malevolence.” Azula sighed and flipped one of her knives through the air and caught it, the metal glowing white-hot in her hands. “Korra has many virtues, but subterfuge, treachery, and deception are not amongst them. She needs someone who can help her deal with those things, someone who is good at those things in a way she is not.”

“And you think I’m good at them?” Asami leaned forward. She was not going to be intimidated. “I’m not sure whether I should be offended or pleased that you think so highly of my skill in those areas.”

“You should be pleased.” Azula chuckled. “Doing business has done wonders for you in those areas. More importantly, you’re someone that Korra can trust, someone that she will listen to. You’re also someone who won’t betray her.”

“I love her.”

“Yes, you do.” Azula smiled thinly. “Which is why you need to start thinking about how yu’re going to protect her. Korra… Korra is going to change the world and not everyone is going to be happy. You’ve done your best so far to protect her using legal means, but the time will come when legal means aren’t enough.”

“And you’re offering to teach me some… other means to protect her?”

“Yes. It would be a shame for all of my hard working instructing her to go to waste.” Azula palmed another knife and handed it to Asami. “We can start working on how to overthrow a democratically elected government tomorrow. Today, I want to teach you about knives. You’d be surprised how useful they can be, and most benders never see them coming.” Azula smirked. “And if you make them yourself using common materials and techniques, they’re virtually untraceable. Why you could kill almost anyone, and they’d never know it was you.” Her eyes gleamed like molten gold. “You don’t have to make them out of metal either, and the split-second it takes a skilled metalbender to notice the difference is usually enough.”

“I’m not going to kill anyone.” Asami moved to hand the knife back, but Azula stopped her.

“If you could have put that knife in between Zaheer’s ribs before he poisoned Korra, would you have?”

Asami took the knife back. “Point taken.”

“I thought so.”

X X X

Korra was surprised – and slightly terrified – to find Azula in Asami’s office. Still, she couldn’t see any blood or scorch marks anywhere although Azula could kill people without leaving either behind. However, the pair seemed to be bonding over… knives. Okay, that was still super scary.

“Uh… you two aren’t about to start duelling or anything, are you?”

Asami smiled. “No, no. Azula was showing me a few things. Did you know she’s actually quite good with knives.”

“Yes, I did.” Korra shuddered. “She used to throw them at me.”

“Those knives were blunt,” Azula replied. “Although I suppose I don’t have to worry about that anymore since you can metalbend.” Her lips curled. “Yes, that would be an excellent exercise. Can you blunt the knives I throw at you before they hit you?”

“I think I’ll pass on that.” Korra made a face. “Hey, Asami, has Azula shown you that thing with lightning she can do.”

“Oh?”

“This.” Azula lifted her knife, and the blade was suddenly sheathed in electricity. “It has proven quite useful over the years.”

“I can see why.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of like that glove thing you have.” Korra’s stomach rumbled. “Do you guys want to get lunch or something?”

“I’m afraid that I have other engagements,” Azula replied. “But you two have fun.”

“What other engagements?” Korra asked. “You’re not going to go bully Tenzin again, are you?”

“I can only do that so many times in one month before it ceases to be amusing. Besides, I already did that earlier this morning.” Azula’s smile was distinctly menacing. “I’m going to go discuss philosophy with Jinora. It should be entertaining if nothing else.”

“Please don’t turn her into a megalomaniac,” Korra said. “Because that would be so like you.”

Azula laughed. “You don’t give me enough credit. It would be far more amusing to see if I could somehow get Ikki to conquer the world.”

Chapter Text

An Exercise In Deception

Korra glared balefully over her cards at Azula. “You are a terrible person who exists solely to make me suffer, aren’t you?”

“Yes. I am also a purple platypus bear.” Azula smiled sunnily. “And it looks like you lose – again.”

“Argh!” Korra threw her cards at the table in frustration. “Why do we have to play poker? It’s bad enough that you spend all day kicking me around in training. Why do I have to play poker too? I never win!”

“These games are designed to offer you respite. If you win, I will gladly do some of your chores and grant you more freedom in your training. And if you lose, well, you get to do extra chores and extra training of my choice.”

“But I can’t beat you! Nobody can beat you!” Korra huffed and paced around the room with a scowl. “You’re too good.”

“I suppose you do have a point.” Azula nodded sagely. “Yes, I have an idea. From now on, you will also be playing against some of the other people in this compound. Depending on your results against them, I will have your chores reduced and grant you the training that you wish.”

“Really? I can still get rewarded if I beat them instead of you?” Korra frowned. She needed Azula to say the words. She knew exactly how tricky the older woman could be. Unless she had an ironclad guarantee, she didn’t have a guarantee at all.

“Yes, yes. I’ll have a list of conditions and rewards drawn up, so we both know where we stand. Naturally, there will be consequences if you lose.” Azula’s smile would have terrified a shark.

“Fine. I can live with that. Beating them has got to be easier than beating you.”

X X X

Korra was both right and wrong. She was right in that beating the other people in the compound at poker was easier than beating Azula. She was wrong in thinking that she’d be able to do it consistently.

Against, Azula, she’d been convinced that the other woman was cheating. It was exactly the sort of thing she would have done. But the more she played against other people, the more she realised that winning wasn’t just about having better cards although that definitely helped. Winning a lot didn’t require cheating although she was always vigilant for that.

No, winning consistently meant being able to calculate the odds of winning given the cards she had and the other cards in play as well as manipulating the other people playing. If she had a strong hand, she had to convince everyone else that her hand was weaker than it truly was, so they would bet more. If she had a weaker hand, then she needed to convince them that it was a strong one, so they were less likely to challenge her. She needed, above all, to know when to fold, to admit defeat, which was not something she was very good at. She had to learn how to lose a battle to win a war.

Still, the guards and the other people at the compound seemed happy to humour her. She spent many nights playing against some of the guards and the other staff members, and she learned more than she could have imagined from just listening to the idle banter that went on during each game. She’d always thought of the guards as just her guards. Now, she was learning about them as people. They had families and friends, hobbies and dreams, and they had little quirks and tells that she slowly began to learn.

It was utterly fascinating.

She learned how to interpret the minute changes in body language that went with a lie and how to manipulate her own body language to fool others more effectively. She even learned how to read the minute changes in people’s voices when they were lying. She wasn’t great at it yet, but she got better with every game.

And she was beginning to win consistently too, not that she kept any of the money that she won. She didn’t need money, and Azula’s conditions only talked about winning the money. The firebender didn’t care what Korra did with it afterward, so Korra gave it back. Besides, it wasn’t like there was a lot for her to buy at the compound anyway.

Finally, after months of this, she felt ready to challenge Azula again. Now that she had a better understanding of verbal and non-verbal cues, she could truly appreciate just how good Azula was. Azula wasn’t a good liar. She was a magnificent liar. There were layers upon layers of deception in play. Everything from her voice to her smallest gesture during the game was carefully calibrated to throw her opponents off.

Korra lost. Badly.

“You’ve gotten better.” Azula grinned. “But do you want to know how I keep beating you?”

“By being better at deception.” Korra leaned forward and grinned back. “That’s what you’ve been trying to teach me this whole time. There’s no way that I’ll be able to learn everything there is to know in the world. I’ll have to rely on others to help me. But if I can detect deception and even deceive others myself, I’ll be a much more effective Avatar.”

“That was part of the lesson, yes.” Azula’s eyes gleamed. “And what you’ve learned will certainly help, which is why I want you to continue playing poker. But… I also wanted to teach you another lesson.”

Korra was eager to know what other wisdom Azula could impart. “And what was that?”

Azula flicked her wrist, and Korra blinked as several cards landed on the table. “There are times when all the deception in the world isn’t be enough. Sometimes, you need to cheat.”

“You…” Korra gaped, unable to form a coherent sentence. “You… but… what… you… gah! You were cheating all along!” Korra threw her hands in the air. “But how? I’ve been watching you the whole time!”

“I know.” Azula chuckled. “And that’s why your next challenge is to catch me cheating.”

“And what will that teach me?” Korra asked. She glared down at the cards. She’d been so sure that she could catch Azula if she tried to cheat.

“Another way to use misdirection.” Azula tapped the cards on the table. “You will be the most powerful bender in the world, but you’ll win more battles with subtlety and misdirection than brute force. That’s also how your opponents will try to beat you because they won’t be able to overpower you. Learn how to cheat, how to deceive, so that others won’t be able to cheat or deceive you.” She flicked her wrist again and produced another card. “Can you imagine how hard it would be to face an Avatar who actually knows how to conceal her abilities, who knows how to use subtlety and trickery to her advantage, all while wielding power far greater than her opponents could ever hope to match?”

Korra’s lips curled. “I want another game. I’ll catch you this time.”

Azula reached for the cards and started to shuffle them. “No, Korra. You won’t.”

Chapter Text

Campfire

“Today,” Azula said, smiling sunnily as Korra continued to shiver miserably. “We are going to be working on your survival skills.”

“Is that why you asked me to wade through a river of near-freezing water in the middle of winter before having me run through a forest where I was attacked by not one, not two, but three bear lions?”

“Yes.” Azula’s smile only grew sunnier. “But now comes the easy part: you get to light a fire to dry off and keep warm before night falls and your probably freeze to death.” A howl echoed through the forest. “The fire will also help keep the wolves away.”

Korra snapped her hand to one side to call up a flame, and just as quickly, Azula mirrored the gesture to put it out. “Hey! What are you doing?”

“You will be lighting the fire without your bending. After all, you never know when you’ll find yourself too weak, exhausted, or injured to use your bending. Who knows, you might even find yourself on the run from a gang of crazy chi-blockers with a grudge. Some of them might even have pointy fans to stab you with.”

Korra snorted. Chi-blockers with fans… that sounded weird, but this was Azula. It probably had happened to her. “Are you speaking from experience?”

“As a matter of fact, I am,” Azula replied. “They stopped sending chi-blockers after me once I dealt with that particular group. I put all of them in the hospital. Of course, that told them where I was, and then they sent Ty Lee after me.” Azula made a face. “Ty Lee is somewhat more formidable than the average chi-blocker.”

Korra snickered. She knew that expression. “She kicked your ass, didn’t she?”

Azula scowled. “Have you forgotten who I am? I am Azula. Nobody kicks my ass.”

“Yeah, sure.” Korra bit back laughter. It wasn’t often that she managed to get a rise out of her firebending master. “What about Master Katara?”

“There were extenuating circumstances. Katara has also left out the fact that I’ve kicked her ass plenty of times.” Azula looked away. “As for Ty Lee, it was a surprisingly intelligent move from my generally unintelligent brother.” Her voice softened. “By the time they sent Ty Lee after me, I wasn’t… the same as I had been before. Not weaker, not exactly, but I was… less violent, you could say.” She paused. “I found it difficult to fight her with my full strength.”

“Yes,” Korra said. “And she kicked your ass.”

“Say that again, Avatar, and I will kick your ass.” Azula’s eyes narrowed. “Now, you’d better get that fire started. I think I can hear those wolves closing in.”

Korra sighed. “Fine.” She frowned. “Wait… how do you start a fire without bending?”

Azula took a deep breath. “Do you really not know how?”

“Well, I’ve been able to bend fire as long as I can remember, so…”

“I suppose I should have expected this.” Azula shook her head. “Listen closely because I swear if someone I trained freezes to death because they can’t light a fire, I’ll never hear the end of it from my brother. Here’s what you do…”

X X X

Asami smiled and settled next to the campfire that Korra had started. To her surprise, the other woman had opted not to use her bending. “I have to admit, I’m a little surprised by how good you are at that.”

“I’m glad I could impress you.” Korra grinned. “Azula insisted that I learn.”

“Oh, did she?” Asami chuckled. She’d gotten to know the old firebender quite well, and Azula’s training sounded equal parts inspiring and terrifying. “What did she do, drag you into a forest and tell you to start a fire or get eaten by wolves?”

Korra gaped.

Asami’s eyes widened. “Seriously?”

“To be fair, she didn’t throw me into a pack of starving wolves and tell me to light a fire. She said that a pack of wolves was close and that I should light a fire to keep them away. Of course, she didn’t tell me how close the wolves were.” Korra shuddered. “They were pretty close.” She stared into the distance. “And they were pretty hungry too.”

Chapter Text

Invincible

Korra frowned. Azula had been gone for almost a month now, and she was supposed to have returned to the compound yesterday. Yet she hadn’t seen the old woman at all, and none of the White Lotus people were willing to tell her anything. The only person left to ask was Katara.

“Is something going on with Azula?” Korra asked.

“What makes you think that?” Katara’s smile was as kindly as ever, but there was a teasing glint in her eyes.

“She’s late, and she’s never late unless she has a reason.” Korra frowned. “She went on a mission or something, didn’t she?”

“I imagine so.” Katara patted the spot beside her, and Korra sat down. “You’re still so young, Korra, and there is still a lot for you to learn. Azula is… a complicated person, and there is a lot she does that many would find unpleasant. Yet she does those things not only because she is good at them but also so that no one else has to.”

“What sort of things?” Korra asked. Azula had insisted that she begin lessons on the politics of the world beyond the compound, but she still had a long, long way to go before she understood everything. It was hard work, but Korra would rather suffer through all of her lessons now than enter the world without any understanding of what was going on.

“Several months ago, an attempt was made on Fire Lord Izumi’s life. The attempt failed, largely because the Fire Lord is herself an excellent warrior. But during the attack it emerged that members of her personal guard were working with the assassins. As you can imagine, Azula wasn’t pleased.”

“I’ll bet she wasn’t.” Korra shuddered. Just the idea of assassinating someone disgusted her. There was a big difference between using physical force to restrain someone and actually killing people. Besides, wasn’t Fire Lord Izumi good? Everything she’d read suggested that she was a fine ruler. “So what happened next?”

“There were investigations. People were arrested. But the assassins were just the beginning, and those who had masterminded the plot had covered their tracks well. The Fire Lord had her suspicions, but nothing solid enough to identify the real culprits, the ones behind the scheming. That is what Azula left for. If there is anyone who can handle intrigue, assassination, and plotting, it’s Azula.”

“Will she be okay?” Korra asked quietly. She didn’t doubt that Azula could handle almost anyone in a fight, but from what Katara had said, these people wouldn’t be fighting fair.

“She’ll be fine,” Katara said. “In fact, I almost pity the people she catches.”

A week later, Azula returned to the compound.

“It appears that you’ve been slacking in my absence.”

Korra stopped her exercises and turned. “Azula, you’re back…”

She trailed off. The old woman had a sling on one arm and a patch over one eye. She was also walking with a slight limp.

“What… what happened to you?” Korra tried to wrap her mind around the fact that someone had actually managed to wound Azula. It was… well, surreal.

“Nothing that I didn’t expect,” Azula replied. “I simply found myself dealing with a rather large number of highly skilled opponents. As formidable as I am, I’m not invincible, you know.” Her lips curled. “But you should see my opponents. They’re either dead or in prison awaiting execution. It was quite a fun trip, actually.”

“But… what happened?”

Azula nodded at her arm. “A chi-blocker. She damaged the chi pathways through my arm mid-way through a rather powerful lightning technique. I put a knife in her eye, but I wasn’t able to use my arm properly for the rest of the fight, which was rather inconvenient. Ty Lee has already looked at it, as has Katara. It will be fine in a week or two.” She paused. “As for my eye, that was the result of some shrapnel after I was forced to blow apart a boulder before it could crush me.” She shrugged. “I would have dodged, but I had a metal cable wrapped around my ankle at the time.”

“A metal cable?” Korra winced. What kind of people was Azula fighting?

“It didn’t work. I simply electrocuted my opponent once I blew up the boulder. It was troublesome trying to untie it, however, so I had to melt through it with my flame. Naturally, that was when one of my other opponents decided to flood the place with water.”

“A flood?”

Azula sneered. “Waterbenders are fond of immersing themselves in their element. It gives them an advantage, or so they believe. A word of advice, Korra: never do that against someone who can wield lightning. It tends to end the fight quickly and fatally.”

Korra gulped and nodded. “So… you’re okay?”

“Of course, I am. None of those fools would even have been able to hit me if there hadn’t been several dozen other fools trying to kill me. ” Azula’s gaze softened a fraction. “Don’t tell me you were worried.”

“I wasn’t.” Korra fought the urge to pout. “Not much.”

“I see.” Azula took a deep breath and gestured at the compound around them. “This place is a prison, no matter how nice it might look, and I am one of the few people here who treats you as anything more than the Avatar. No doubt you were worried that if something were to befall me, you would find yourself with even less company than you currently have.”

“You can be a real jerk sometimes, you know.” Korra glared at the wall, avoiding Azula’s gaze. “So what if I was worried about you? I was just trying to be nice.”

“Your concern for me is unwarranted. I can handle myself. But… I do appreciate it.” Azula chuckled softly. “Do not worry, Korra. You’re stuck with me, at least until you finish your training, and likely for a long time after that. Someone has to make sure you don’t do anything stupid once you start travelling the world.”

Korra’s lips twitched. “So you do care.”

“Of course.” Azula turned and started walking back inside the compound. “It would be a shame if something happened to you after all the effort I put into training you.”

Chapter Text

Paperwork

“Gah!” Korra glared at the stack of paperwork on the table. “Why does saving the world have to come with so much paperwork?”

“Stop complaining.” Azula poked Korra with her walking stick. The Avatar snorted. She didn’t know why Azula had a walking stick. The old firebender certainly didn’t need one. Knowing Azula, she’d probably just used it to impersonate a helpless old lady in order to infiltrate a secure area or something. “I know for a fact that I drilled you on the importance of proper paperwork.”

Korra made a face and then did her best impression of Azula. “Organised paperwork is a sign of an organised mind. Messy paperwork is – ouch!” Korra grabbed at her hand. “Stop whacking me with that, damn it!”

Azula rolled her eyes and then tossed the walking stick aside. “Very well. But your paperwork would not look so menacing if you actually did it regularly instead of waiting for it to pile up.”

“But it’s so boring,” Korra whined. She held up one sheet of paper. “Look at this! They want me to itemise the food and drink I bought on a mission for tax purposes. I mean… who cares?”

“The taxman always cares,” Azula replied. She pulled up a chair and shoved Korra into another one. “But, since you look so pathetic, I suppose I could help you with your paperwork.” She smiled thinly. “Besides, it’s been a while since I committed tax fraud.”

“You mean you don’t cheat on your taxes all the time?”

“I don’t cheat on my taxes. It would be like robbing my own family, or have you forgotten that the crown collects taxes in the Fire Nation, the crown being my family.” Azula scoffed. “I really should ask Lin to let me audit this city’s politicians. I imagine it would be quite fun watching them squirm before they get thrown in prison.”

“Um… if you commit tax fraud for me, will I get thrown in prison?” Korra asked.

“Oh, relax. You won’t get caught if I’m the one committing tax fraud for you.” Azula skimmed over some of what Korra had already done. “Do you really eat this much when you’re out on a mission?”

“Hey, I get hungry!” Korra folded her arms across her chest. “Being the Avatar requires a lot of food.”

“Aang was never a big eater, and he was a vegetarian to boot.” Azula chuckled softly. “You should have seen him during that one mission we had in…” she trailed off. “That was fun.”

Korra pursed her lips. It had become clear to her over the years that despite the stories to the contrary, Azula and Aang had actually grown to be good friends over the years. “What mission?”

Azula’s lips twitched. “We ended up getting stranded in the middle of the desert once. There were only two sources of sustenance available: lizards and cactus juice. I picked lizard. Aang, well, you can guess what he picked.”

Korra’s eyes widened. “He picked the cactus juice?”

“He did. It took me an hour to catch him after he went running off into the desert. Luckily, he ran right to an oasis. He always was lucky about that sort of thing.” Azula shifted her attention back to the paperwork. “You should ask Asami to help you with these. She has accountants, but I know for a fact that she only uses them because of the sheer volume of paperwork she has. If she needed to, she could fill out all of her paperwork herself.”

“Do you think I could…?”

“No.” Azula scowled. “You can start using an accountant or assistant once you’ve learned how to do the paperwork yourself. If you don’t learn, then there’s no way for you to ensure that you aren’t being lied to or cheated.” She frowned. “Now, listen closely. I’m going to explain some of these forms to you in more detail.”

“Uh, thanks.” Korra paused. “Did you ever help Aang with his paperwork?”

“Of course. He was raised a monk. They weren’t exactly big on paperwork, and Katara was raised in the Southern Water Tribe who hold a similarly dim view of paperwork.” Azula laughed. “Thank Agni that Izumi takes after her mother since my brother was always hopeless with paperwork.”

X X X

Asami stared at the stack of completed paperwork in awe. “Wow. You got all of that done today?”

“I had help,” Korra replied before nodding at Azula who taking one last look at some of the forms. “She’s a kick ass firebender, and she can do paperwork like nobody’s business.”

“Don’t get used to this, Korra. Now that I know you can do it yourself, I expect you to do it.” Azula got up. “I’ll be going now. I have an appointment to keep.”

“An appointment?” Asami asked.

“Yes, apparently Lin wants my opinion on Kuvira.” Azula’s lips curled. “It should be an interesting afternoon if everything I’ve heard about Kuvira is true.”

Asami and Korra shared a look.

“Don’t be too hard on her,” Korra said softly. “I think… I think she’s trying very hard to make up for what she did.”

“Have you forgotten who you’re talking to?” Azula gave a short bark of laughter. “Kuvira and I have a lot in common.” She stepped past Asami. “Oh, and say hello to Kai for me. I wouldn’t want that young man to forget the conversation we had about Jinora.”

Chapter Text

Redemption

“Are you here to kill me?”

Azula stared at the broken woman in front of her. Kuvira had been one of the most talented benders she’d ever seen. She hadn’t possessed the raw power that Toph had, but there was no denying her skill and grace in battle. Her command over metal was, quite frankly, incredible.

“If I wanted to kill you, you’d already be dead.” Azula sat down at the table and gestured at the other seat on the opposite side. Everything in the room was made of wood. It would have been so incredibly easy to set all of it on fire. “Although I won’t deny that I’m tempted.”

To her credit, Kuvira didn’t flinch. Good. But there was no fire in her eyes, no fight. Korra had done more than beat Kuvira in battle – she had crushed Kuvira’s beliefs as well. It was the kind of complete and utter defeat that could leave someone totally broken for the rest of their life. Azula would have to offer her former pupil some words of praise the next time she saw her.

“Why are you here?” Kuvira whispered.

“I hate to see good talent go to waste,” Azula said. “And you do have talent, Kuvira. I trained the Avatar very well. That you lasted as long against her as you did speaks volumes of your prowess. Of course, she could have ended your fight much earlier had she wished.”

“What are you talking about?” Kuvira’s eyes narrowed. She had lost, that was true, but she had at least made the Avatar work for it.

“I’m talking about this.”

Kuvira barely had time to gasp before she tumbled out of her chair. Her whole world was blinding, hideous agony. It was like all of her blood had turned into molten lava. Her vision darkened, and she could have sworn she passed out. When she regained her bearings, she dragged herself back into her chair.

“What was that?” Kuvira rasped. Her entire body ached. “What did you do?”

“I used what is arguably the most dangerous form of firebending in the world.”

“That was firebending?” Kuvira twitched. Just breathing hurt. That had felt closer to the descriptions Kuvira had read of bloodbending.

“I used heatbending, a subset of firebending, to increase the temperature of your blood and the other liquids in your body. If I do that a little, you collapse in screaming agony. If I do it a lot…” Azula shrugged. “You die, and in fairly horrific fashion.”

“And Korra knows how to do that?” Kuvira shuddered. That did not match what she knew of the Avatar’s personality at all.

“She does. However, she isn’t nearly as proficient with it as I am. She’d had less practice, you see. She was probably worried she’d kill you if she used it.” Azula sighed. “I don’t know why that worried her, but she’s always been too merciful. If it had been me you were fighting, I’d have killed you in front of your men in as terrible a way as possible, so that the next time someone decided to conquer the world, I could save myself a lot of time and effort by reminding them what happened to you.”

“You’re insane.”

“A little bit, yes. Then again, I’m not the only person in this room who has tried to conquer the world, nor am I the only person in this room to have tried killing the Avatar. Of course, I did a much better job of that than you.” Azula smiled thinly. “For whatever reason, Korra seems to like you, even respect you. She believes that you deserve a second chance. She believes that you can redeem yourself. Needless to say, not everyone agrees with her.”

“Of course, they don’t.” Kuvira was well aware of the fact that most of her former opponents wanted her dead. The only thing that surprised her was how long it was taking them to order her execution.

“Regardless of what I might tell her whenever she asks, Korra is not without her virtues. However, she is absolutely woeful at political skulduggery and treachery. That is more my field of expertise although Asami does hold some promise in that area. Given Korra’s inability to secure your continued survival, she asked for my help. Lucky you.”

“What are you going to do to me?” Kuvira swallowed thickly. Azula had said she wouldn’t kill her, but there were things worse than death.

“I find myself in the mood for another reclamation project,” Azula replied. You will be serving under my direct command. You will do what I say, when I say, where I say, how I say. And you will be making up for all of your mistakes. The Earth Kingdom is a mess, which is sorely in need of repair. I imagine you’ll be quite useful there. There are also a lot of loose ends to tie up – loose ends that you left behind.”

“What do I get if I cooperate?”

“Oh, please, don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t a negotiation. You have two choices. You can agree to my proposal, or you can die. Even I’m not persuasive enough to get you a better deal than that. You did, after all, aggravate a lot of very powerful people. Consider redemption your reward, Kuvira. And, should you prove yourself trustworthy enough over a sufficiently long period of time, you will be transferred from my custody and command to either Korra’s or Suyin’s.” Azula’s lips curled. “You should consider yourself extremely lucky that Korra isn’t a complete push over. Asami wanted to see you hang.”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“No, you don’t.” Azula got to her feet. “I assume you accept.”

“I do.”

“Good.” Azula turned on her heel. “Then come with me. I’ve already secured your release. You’ve wasted enough time in this cell. There is work to be done.”

Chapter Text

Lightning Rod

Azula shook her head. Was there something about being the Avatar that robbed people of their common sense? Still, it was possible that she wasn’t being entirely fair. Korra would probably have lacked common sense even if she hadn’t been the Avatar.

“You’d better not be dead,” Azula muttered. “I’ve put far too much effort into training you.”

The old woman walked closer to Korra. Thin wisps of smoke rose from the downed Avatar. Good grief. This was almost as bad as the time Zuko had gotten drunk and attempted to bend lightning. Fortunately, he’d survived. Her brother had grown on her over the years, not unlike a barnacle on the side of a ship.

Azula stopped next to Korra and poked the Avatar with the walking stick she carried around for appearances. Korra groaned and rolled onto her back. Good. She was still alive.

“Did I do it?” Korra asked.

“Do what?” Azula asked. “Kill yourself? No, but not for lack of trying.”

“No.” Korra sat up and tried to pat down her frizzy hair. “I mean was I able to bend the lightning in the storm?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Azula replied dryly. “You were struck by lightning eleven times before the storm dissipated. Congratulations: you now hold the world record for the most number of times someone has been hit by lightning and survived.”

“What was the old record, and who held it?”

“That would be my brother, and I think he’s up to nine.”

“Oh.” Korra paused. “Um… are we only counting natural lightning?”

Azula’s lips curled. “Contradictory to common belief, I do not attempt to assassinate my brother on a daily basis. No, my brother simply overestimated his talent for bending lightning while drunk. You, on the other hand, are not drunk. So… what’s your excuse?”

“Um… I’m the Avatar and I’m awesome?”

“Well, Avatar, you need to see Katara to make sure that you haven’t done any permanent damage to yourself. You can also consider your chores for the next week doubled.”
Korra gaped. “Doubled?”

“Yes. I would have halved them if you’d succeeded. Consider this a lesson. Before attempting anything crazy, make sure that you can actually pull it off.”

X X X

Asami bit back a giggle. She and Korra were both a bit drunk, but they were on holiday, and the beach house they had seemed like a perfect place to enjoy some good wine and each other. Besides, after how stressful the last month had been, it was good to let go a little.

“What are you doing, Korra?” Asami asked as Korra stumbled out of the beach house and into the rain.

“Behold the power of the Avatar!” Korra cried, hiccupping and gesturing extravagantly at the storm clouds overhead. “I can bend lightning –”

ZAAAAAP.

ZAAAAAP.

ZAAAAAP.

On another part of the same island, an old firebender and an old acrobat both looked up at the sky. They too were enjoying some wine although they were doing so from the safety of their porch.

“Hmm…” Ty Lee tilted her head to one side. “It looks all the lightning is hitting one spot.”

Azula shook her head. “It’s not hitting one spot. It’s hitting one person. Honestly… at this rate, I might actually outlive her.”

Chapter Text

Multitasking

“I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

Ty Lee smiled at Korra. “Oh, don’t be like that. The best way to learn how to multitask is to do lots of things at once.”

“Yeah, I get that. I’m just not sure that I’m multitasking the right things.”

“Really?” Ty Lee’s brows furrowed. “I think what you’re doing is very important.”

After all, it wasn’t every day that someone managed to get Korra up on a tightrope juggling knives while balancing a vase of flowers on her head.

“I did something like this when I was back in the circus, and it definitely helped me learn to multitask.” Ty Lee smiled happily at the old memories. “And you’ve even got a net. I didn’t always have one of those.”

“Why?” Korra gasped and just barely managed to stay on the tightrope. “Why wouldn’t you have a net?”

Ty Lee grimaced. “Azula might have done something to the net.”

“Wow. Why am I not surprised?”

“The only reason I removed the net, Ty Lee, was because I was confident you wouldn’t fall.” Azula walked over to stand beside Ty Lee. The other woman immediately pressed against her side for warmth. Even in the depths of the Southern Water Tribe’s winter, Azula was toasty warm. “It seems I underestimated you, Korra. I had assumed you would have fallen on your head at least twice by now, not that you would have been hurt. Your head is even harder than an earthbender’s.”

“Hey!” Korra turned to glare and almost slipped off the tightrope again. “Gah! Damn it! Do we have to do this? There has to be a better way to teach me to multitask.”

“Multitasking is an important skill both in combat and outside of it. Learning how to multitask under extreme pressure is how I taught myself to multitask. Naturally, if it’s good enough for me, it is more than good enough for you.” Azula sighed melodramatically. “Although you do have a point. This training is just not suitable for the Avatar and future saviour of the world.”

“Thank you,” Korra said.

“Which is why you will now have to dodge my fire while continuing to do everything you’re doing now.”

“What?” Korra squawked.

“Careful now,” Azula said as she lifted one hand and gathered her fire. “You don’t get to eat lunch until you can do this.”

X X X

Katara raised one eyebrow as Korra stomped back into camp. The Avatar was singed, covered in soot, and generally quite cranky. Azula, however, seemed incredibly cheerful while Ty Lee could only smile and glance between Azula and Korra.

“Trouble?” Katara asked.

Ty Lee giggled. “Oh, just Azula being Azula. On the upside, Korra can walk on a tightrope while juggling knives and balancing a vase of flowers on her head – all while dodging blasts of fire and lightning.”

“I see.” Katara nodded sagely. “I guess that could come in handy one day.”

X X X

Asami could only gape in undisguised awe as Korra fought off a gang of criminals, all while balancing on the remains of a tattered rope bridge with the child the criminals had kidnapped on her shoulders. Not even the arrival of several firebending criminals seemed to slow her down – Korra simply continued to fight without missing a beat.

“Okay…” Bolin pointed at Korra. “Is that the most awesome thing you’ve ever seen, or what?”

“I… I’d have to agree with that.” Mako gave a low whistle of approval as Korra spun away from a blast of flame on one of the guide ropes that had survived the partial destruction of the bridge. “I mean… yeah.”

“Could you three help?” Korra growled. “Any time now, guys, any time!”

Chapter Text

Staying Warm

“Today, I will be teaching you a technique that may save not only your life but also the life of someone you care about.”

Korra kept her expression as serene as possible. Inwardly, however, she was wondering what fresh new horror Azula would inflict upon her. People always said that it was hard to argue with results – and Azula got plenty of results – but clearly those people had never met the firebender.

Quite frankly, Korra considered herself lucky to still be alive.

“As you know,” Azula said. “Firebenders of sufficient skill are capable of controlling the temperature of their body. This has obvious implications in survival situations.”

“You mean I don’t have to worry about freezing to death,” Korra replied. “Although I am also a waterbender, so I don’t know how much freezing to death really applies to me.”

“It is true that waterbenders do not typically suffer unduly from the cold, but it is always better to have more weapons at your disposal.” Azula’s golden eyes swept over the harsh, desolate landscape of the South Pole. “And have you considered the fact that although your waterbending might protect you from the cold, it will do very little to protect any companions you might have.”

Korra’s brows furrowed, and she folded her arms across her chest. That wasn’t something she had considered. She had spent almost her entire life at the compound, so she wasn’t used to worrying about other people. Sure, she spent a lot of time around Katara and Azula, but those two were the last people who had to worry about the cold.

“That’s a good point,” Korra said at last. “So, what is this technique you’re going to teach me?”

“I’ve already taught you how to channel heat to and from your surroundings, and you’ve already learned how to regulate your own temperature.”

Korra twitched involuntarily. To make sure that Korra really could control the temperature of her own body, Azula had come up with a new and innovative training technique: she had procured a large tub of ice-cold water and shoved Korra into it. Any attempt to get out of the tub was met with a painful – but not fatal – jolt of electricity.

The Avatar had learned how to control her own temperature with remarkable speed.

“Today, I will be showing you how to regulate the temperature of other people.” Azula clapped her hands. “Ty Lee.”

The other woman flipped into the training area. Korra shook her head. She sincerely hoped she was that energetic in her old age.

“If you would be so kind as to disrobe, Ty Lee.”

“Right here? I mean… Korra is sitting over there and…”

Azula took a deep breath, and Korra could have sworn she saw the old woman’s cheeks flush ever so slightly. “I didn’t mean it that way. I meant could you please take off your coat?”

“Ah, I get it.” Ty Lee slipped her coat off. It wasn’t more than a few seconds before she began to shiver in the bitter cold. “Wow. It’s really cold today.”

“It’s the South Pole, Ty Lee. It’s always cold.” Azula reached out with one hand and touched Ty Lee’s shoulder. Almost immediately, the other woman began to stop shivering.

“Oh, are you teaching Korra how to do that today?” Ty Lee asked.

“Yes.”

Korra moved closer and walked in a slow circle around Ty Lee and Azula. “How did you do that?”

“It’s a highly advanced form of heatbending. Essentially, you are either bending heat into or out of the other person.”

“I didn’t know you could heatbend living things.” Korra cupped her chin in contemplation.

“In general, it is much more difficult to heatbend another living thing. The chi of another living thing will naturally resist such an intrusion. Of course, if they allow you to heatbend them, it won’t be a problem. It is also possible to simply overpower the resistance their chi provides and heatbend them against their will.”

“That sounds really horrible.” Korra made a disgusted face. “It sounds a lot like bloodbending.”

“Has Katara told you about that already? Interesting. I hope, for your sake, that you have some proficiency in that particular art. It is very powerful. And, yes, in a manner of speaking, it is quite similar. However, it can be even more powerful.”

“More powerful than bloodbending?”

“Korra, what do you think would happen if I used heatbending to boil all of the blood in your body.”

Korra paled.

“I wouldn’t even have to go that far. You would be either unconscious or dead long before your blood actually boiled.”

“You can do that?” Korra’s gut clenched. She was going to be sick.

“Yes, I can. The only reason I don’t use that sort of attack more frequently against my opponents is that it’s consumes a great deal of energy and attention. It is simply much easier to burn or electrocute the people I want to disable or kill.” Azula smiled. “Oh, don’t worry. I’ll teach you when I think you’re ready.”

“I’m not sure I want to know.”

“Whether you want to know or not is irrelevant, Korra. You are the Avatar. I trust your judgement, and I know that you would never use a technique like that carelessly.” Azula’s voice softened. “Now, come over here. Because you are learning how to heatbend someone else for the first time, I will be your practice subject. The last thing I want is for you to accidentally set Ty Lee on fire. If you make a mistake, I will be able to compensate.”

“Uh, okay.” Korra shrugged. “What do I do?”

“This is what you do…”

X X X

“Korra, it’s cold.”

Korra pulled Asami closer. The heating in their apartment had failed, and it was the middle of winter. As the Avatar, Korra had not had any problems handling the cold, but Asami was a different story. She could feel the other woman shivering.

“Hey, do you mind if I do something?” Korra asked.

“Will it make me warmer?” Asami said. “And will it involve me getting naked again because I’m not sure I can go another round. You were pretty thorough earlier.”

Korra smirked. She had been very thorough indeed. “No, but it will definitely help. Just relax, okay?”

“Go for it.”

Korra put one hand on Asami’s shoulder and concentrated. A moment later, Asami gasped.
“What did you do? I feel much warmer.”

“Heatbending,” Korra replied before she yawned.

“I didn’t know you could heatbend other people?”

“It’s kind of a secret, so don’t tell anyone.” Korra laughed softly. “Although Ty Lee did mention that Azula was always doing this for her when they were in the South Pole.”

Chapter Text

Necessity and Rule Bending

Korra glared at Azula with all the power she could muster. It had absolutely no effect.

“How pathetic,” Azula drawled. “Even your predecessor could glare better than you and he was a vegetarian who tried his hardest to be a pacifist until reality convinced him that sometimes you have to break a few eggs if you want to make a decent omelette.”

“You’re a terrible person, you know that right?” Korra grumbled. The teenager was half-buried under a pile of books and pieces of paper. “I’m the Avatar. I can understand the torture you call training, but do I really need to know how modern banking, taxation, and economics work?”

Azula poked Korra in the side with the cane she used whenever she had to fake being a helpless, old woman for a mission. “Money, Korra, makes the world go round. You might the Avatar, but you are only one person. Do you know why the Fire Nation did so well against the combined might of the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, and the Air Nomads?”

“Because you guys were really good at setting stuff on fire?”

“Apart from that, Korra.”

“Uh…” Korra had learned the hard way that the look on Azula’s face right now meant that she had better give a decent answer or her afternoon training session was likely going to involve the wonders of lightning and what it did when it struck Avatars who were too slow to dodge or bend it away. “Industrial capacity?”

“Hmm…” Azula gave Korra a thoughtful look. “That’s actually not a terrible answer. Yes. In simple terms, the advanced technology and greater industrial capacity of the Fire Nation gave us a sizeable advantage. However, it was our economic strength that truly allowed us to crush our enemies.”

“I see…” Korra did her best to imitate the expression Tenzin had whenever he said anything particularly wise. Alas, her lack of a beard to stroke really ruined the effect.

“It’s obvious that you don’t.” Azula sat down opposite Korra. “Logistics is the key to war, Korra. Armies need food, equipment, shelter, and other supplies. Whoever can provide those things the most efficiently across the largest possible area will be victorious. The Fire Nation was the first modern economy, and it was built on the industrialisation of production. Machines, primitive automation, mass production – all of these allowed us to out produce and out supply our opponents. Moreover, our stronger economy allowed us to either buy out or pressure independent factions, forcing them to join us or removing them from the field of battle.”

“You make it sound like the Fire Nation should have won.”

“In all honesty, we would have if my father hadn’t been an idiot and if I hadn’t been insane.” Azula chuckled grimly. “The Earth Kingdom was on its last legs, ruled by a well-meaning but utterly incompetent man. The Water Tribes were essentially non-entities in terms of military strength outside of the polar regions. The Air Nomads, well, you know what happened there. Your predecessor and his allies rightfully identified that removing the Fire Nation’s leadership was the best chance they had for victory, and my father obliged by picking a fight with Avatar Aang while I…” Azula’s lips twitched. “I was in such a poor state of mind that I actually lost a fight to my brother. Honestly, if I’d been in my right mind, I would have beaten him easily. Oh, well, I can’t really blame him. Had the roles been reversed, then I’d have done the same. Attacking an opponent who is too mentally unstable to fight properly is the intelligent thing to do.”

Korra winced. Azula could occasionally be quite candid about her past, and it was not a nice past. “And this relates to my current assignment…?”

“You are the Avatar,” Azula said. “When you reach the height of your power, I doubt there will be a single person who will be able to best you in battle. I will make sure of that. But the world is a big place. Can you be everywhere at once? Can you fight everyone’s battles for them? You may not see it now, but the world stands on the precipice of change. Machinery continues to improve, the divisions between benders and non-benders grow, and discontent is rising.”

“People keep telling me that,” Korra murmured. “But I hardly ever get to leave this place.”

“I will see what I can do about that,” Azula replied. “A naive Avatar will likely end up a dead Avatar.” She grinned. “Believe, I know. But back to the matter at hand. The truth, Korra, is that most people are not interested in high-minded ideals, honour, or anything like that. What they want is simple: a roof over their head, money in their pockets, and nice things for their family. Can you, as the Avatar, give that to them?”

“Not to all of them,” Korra replied. “Maybe some, but not all.”

“Yes. You’re powerful… not omnipotent.” Azula nodded at the books. “But as the Avatar you will be incredibly influential on the rulers of the various nations. Economic policy will be key to establishing long-lasting piece. If people are content, well fed, and wealthy, they will not go to war, nor will they look upon their neighbours with envy and discontent. As the Avatar, you will be called upon to settle conflicts. You need to understand which side you should be on and what recommendations you should make.”

Korra nodded slowly. Years ago, she’d believed being the Avatar would be simple. The more she learned, the more she realised there was always more to learn. “That can’t be your only motive, can it?”

“The White Lotus are not your friends,” Azula said. “They are using you. In a way, everyone wants to use you. After all, you are the most powerful piece on the board. Keeping you isolated here removes your ability to form political alliances and amass monetary wealth. Once you take up your duties, though, you will be travelling a great deal. If you are wise, you will make political alliances, and you will spot investment opportunities.”

“You’re teaching me how to make those investments…” Korra paused as a thought occurred to her. She reached for a book and began to flip through it. “And you’re teaching me how to hide any money I make!”

Azula smiled. “Very good. If people know where your money is, they can take it or cut you off from it. The White Lotus has eyes and ears everywhere. But if you have money they don’t know about, they won’t be able to plan against it, and they’ll be caught off guard once you use it. Feign weakness until you have built up your strength.”

“To buy an army?”

“If you need to.” Azula shrugged. “But there are many other reasons why you might want to have money at your disposal. Bribes are essential throughout much of the world. Some coin here and there can preserve the peace temporarily while you look for a permanent solution. And promising individuals can be helped to reach their potentials if you have sufficient funds. Money, Korra, matters, and it is simply another form of power. You need to learn how to use it.”

“How much money do you have?” Korra asked.

Azula told her.

“…” Korra’s eye twitched. “Are you serious?”

“I have made many fine investments in my life, some legal and some… less so. Over time, those investments have paid off handsomely, and I have diversified my portfolio to ensure my fortunes are protected from downturns in any single area. How do you think I fund my spy network and my other endeavours? People don’t work for free, and threats will only get you so far.”

“You could buy better instant noodles then,” Korra countered. “You always get the cheap stuff!”

“If I started spoiling you with premium instant noodles, you’d get soft.” Azula smirked. “And what makes you think I’m not keeping the premium instant noodles for myself?”

“You wouldn’t…” Korra trailed off as she realised that, yes, Azula totally would keep premium instant noodles. “You have!”

“Of course.” Azula smiled sunnily. It was terrifying. “And now that you know about them, I can use them as a reward.”

“You might be the most evil person I know,” Korra said seriously.

“Oh, Korra, you have no idea.”

X X X

Years later…

“It’s awful,” Bolin whined. “Do you have any idea how much money I’ll have to hand over in tax at the end of the year?”

Mako sighed. “Bolin, we all have to pay taxes. It’s how things are.”

“We didn’t use to pay taxes,” Bolin muttered.

“That was back when we were working less… legitimate jobs,” Mako replied. “And, please, never say that where anyone else can hear you.”

“Isn’t there anything you can do?” Bolin asked, turning his attention to Korra. “I mean… you’re the Avatar. Can’t you use your Avatar powers to reduce my tax burden?”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Mako said. “She might be the master of the elements, but that doesn’t give her magical tax powers.”

“Hmm…” Korra pursed her lips. “I might be able to help you. What sort of records do you keep?”

Bolin made a face. “Opal makes me keep everything. I swear I’ve got an entire room full of paperwork.”

“Let me have a look at it,” Korra said. “I might just be able to do something.”

“Korra actually doing paperwork instead of batting her eyelashes and trying to fob it off on Asami?” Mako grinned. “This I’ve got to see.”

X X X

“Wait… you’re saying I don’t have to pay any tax… like… at all?” Bolin stared at Korra as though she had just revealed one of the secrets of the universe.

“Technically, you don’t.” Korra’s lips curved up into a distinctly Azula-like smile. “What I’m suggesting might not follow the spirit of the law, but it does obey the letter of the law.”

Halfway through Korra’s two-hour perusal into Bolin’s taxes, Mako had decided to leave. The less he knew about what Korra was planning to do, the more plausible deniability he had. Before leaving, he had asked Korra to please, please, please not do anything that Azula would do.

“Can we go to jail for that?” Bolin asked.

“No.” Korra smirked. “Oh, they might try to take you to court, but you’d definitely win. When it comes to taxes it’s all about understanding the law and making sure you tread the line but never cross it. Trust me. I learned how to do this from the best.”

“You mean to tell me that Azula, the scariest, most terrifying person I’ve ever met, is a tax evader?”

“Actually, it depends, and she’d probably prefer the term tax minimiser. Azula pays all of her Fire Nation taxes. Due to how their constitution and taxation system works, she’d basically be stealing from her own family if she didn’t.”

“But when it comes to her other taxes…”

“Azula has made an absolute fortune from her businesses and investments in the Earth Kingdom, but I’d be amazed if she has ever paid more than a tenth of what she’s supposed to. The best bit is that everything she’s doing is technically legal. The Earth Kingdom even took her to court, but she represented herself and won. You should have seen the Earth Queen’s face. She was so mad. She would have tried to arrest Azula, but I think we all know how that would have ended.”

“Lots of fire and dead people?” Bolin winced. “You know, like the last time we went with her on a mission.”

“Don’t forget the lightning,” Korra said. “Because there’s almost always plenty of lightning too.”

“I try not to think about the lightning,” Bolin replied. “Like… remember that time I asked her if she could use lightning to cut stuff, and then she made a blade out of lightning and cut that guy into…” He gulped. “A million pieces.”

“I think it was closer to ten pieces,” Korra said. “But, yeah, I try not to think about that either.”

Of course, that hadn’t stopped her from pestering Azula for the technique. The old bender was the only one she’d ever seen who could manipulate lightning well enough to actually turn it into a stable, coherent weapon. Azula had smiled sunnily before informing Korra that she was finally ready to begin the next phase of her training.

She’d crawled into bed next to Asami that night looking as though she’d been hit by dozens of lightning bolts, which wasn’t that far from the truth. On the upside, Korra was now much better with lightning, and while she couldn’t yet maintain a lightning blade for longer than a few seconds, she was slowly getting the hang of it.

“So this whole tax thing is really okay?” Bolin asked.

“Yeah, but I’d recommend hiring a proper accountant,” Korra replied. “You’re earning enough money now that the deductions and other discounts are worth more than the price of the accountant. You should ask Asami or Opal if they know anyone good.”

“Can’t you keep doing it?” Bolin asked.

“I don’t mind doing it,” Korra said. “But there’s no guarantee I’ll always be around during tax season. I might have a mission or something.”

Bolin pulled out the puppy dog eyes.

“Fine. I’ll ask someone I know if they can help you out, just in case I’m not around next time.”

X X X

When tax season arrived, Bolin had the wonderful pleasure of doing his taxes with Azula.

He hired an account after that.

Chapter Text

Backup

Asami dove behind the boulder and winced. Her motorcade had come under attack on the way to one of her research facilities, and most of her security team was either injured, dead, or engaged in pitched battle. They were doing their best, but the odds did not look good. Whoever was responsible for the attack had not only done their homework but had also hired more than enough people for the job.

A cry of pain drew her attention. Hunched behind another boulder was a member of her security team. The young woman, Hana, was a firebender of considerable skill, but she was barely conscious. The front of her tunic was stained red, and she was having trouble staying on her feet.

“Ma’am…”

“Do not move,” Asami ordered. “Stay where you are. You’re in no condition to fight.” She peeked around the boulder. The training she’d done with Ty Lee on chi blocking would come in handy if she could get close enough to use it, but her attackers had wisely chosen to bombard the area with bolts of lightning and fire and blasts of water. At least, her security team had managed to disable the earth benders. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have any cover whatsoever. “I’ve already sent a message out. Help should be here shortly…”

Asami trailed off as a colossal bolt of lightning crackled through the air and struck a clump of would-be assassins. The resulting explosion sent rock and bodies flying every which way, and the thunder that rolled past was deafeningly loud.

Looking in the direction the lightning had come from, Asami’s eyes widened. Ty Lee was driving a Satomobile with the roof down, and standing up in the back seat, arms already moving to unleash another titanic bolt of lightning was Azula.

“Is that…” Hana blinked. “Azula of the Blue Fire?”

Asami took a moment to reply. It seemed like Azula had dozens of different nicknames, some more gruesome than others. There were still places that referred to her as the Burning Butcher. “Yes. Yes, it is.”

As Azula unleashed another bolt of lightning, Asami sprang into motion and signalled for the rest of her security team to strike. Azula was such a tremendous threat that the remaining attackers would have no choice but to focus on her, which should give Asami and her security team the edge they needed.

Ty Lee swung the Satomobile around and braked sharply, flinging Azula out of the vehicle. The old woman used a blast of fire to carry herself into the air, spinning several times before landing almost lazily on one of the larger boulders that dotted the area.

“Good evening,” Azula said, smiling ever so brightly. “Surrender or die.”

The first reply came from the enemy firebenders. Blasts of flame and electricity raced her way, and Azula batted them aside with contemptuous ease. Asami almost laughed. Were they seriously trying to use firebending against Azula? As powerful as Korra had become, the Avatar had admitted to Asami that Azula was still better than her when it came to pure firebending prowess.

As the flames and lighting died, Azula gestured with one hand, a sharp, cutting stroke. A crescent of blue flame arced out, so bright it hurt to look at. Cutting with fire was an incredibly difficult thing to do, but Azula was a master of it. Those caught in the attack were cut in half, and even stone proved little impediment to the technique.

A tide of water rushed toward the old firebender courtesy of the enemy waterbenders, and Azula stamped one foot and then thrust both arms out. The water became steam that scattered wildly in all directions. It was heatbending performed with incredible speed and power. An instant later, Azula retaliated with a cloud of blue fire that enveloped half the battlefield. Asami caught sight of people screaming and trying to flee while others simply burned, incinerated by the sheer heat of the attack.

“I’ll leave the rest to you,” Azula drawled, golden gaze finding Asami. “Since it would be prudent to leave some of them alive.”

Asami nodded sharply. Azula had scattered the enemy forces. It was up to her and her security team to do the rest. She ducked under a bolt of flame and flipped, landing a hard kick onto the shoulder of her opponent. Bone snapped, and she twisted to strike several points on his body. He slumped to the ground, immobilised and unable to bend.

“Not bad.” Asami blinked. At some point, Ty Lee had appeared beside her. The old woman had a cheerful smile on her face. “Your practice is definitely paying off.”

“Uh… thank you.” Asami stared as Ty Lee calmly paralysed an opponent before catching an icy dagger out of the air and tossing it back at the waterbender who’d thrown it. The bender gave a startled yelp and ducked, only for Ty Lee to close the gap and strike.

Asami shook herself. She needed to stay focused. Another opponent stumbled out of the smoke left by Azula’s last attack, and Asami drove one fist into her sternum and then tossed her over her shoulder. The woman hit the ground hard, and Asami kept her hold on the woman’s arm as she gave her a stout kick in the head. It wasn’t elegant, but it was effective.

Another bender lashed out, and Asami twisted away from a bolt of lightning, the attack so close, her hair stood on end. Like most firebenders, he was a little slow to recover after throwing lightning, and Asami darted forward, sweeping his legs out from under him before rendering him unconscious with a few precise strikes.

Around her, her security teams was having similar success, and the battle swiftly came to an end. Once she was certain everyone was being tended to – she made a point of having waterbenders who could heal on her security team – Asami went over to talk to Azula.

“Thank you for your help.”

Azula nudged one of the corpses on its back. It was, or had been, a man. However, Azula’s fire had charred the body so badly it was difficult to be sure. “I was in the area, so I thought it prudent to respond.” She smiled thinly. “You have been making great strides in your technological research. There are certain groups that would love to steal it… or eliminate you to prevent it going any further. With Korra quite obviously involved in quelling the unrest in the Earth Kingdom, it’s no surprise that they decided to strike now. After all, as formidable as you are, Korra is somewhat more dangerous in a fight.”

Asami had to concede the point. In a large-scale battle, Korra was an absolute nightmare to deal with. “You’re not wrong. Do you know which group was responsible?”

“I have my suspicions, which we can confirm or disconfirm by interrogating some of the survivors.” Azula sighed. “I must say I’m disappointed. Some of these people have decades of experience, but they’re all so horribly boring to fight. Korra was better by the time she was fifteen.”

“Your standards are a bit higher than most people’s,” Asami pointed out.

“Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.” Azula raised one hand, and blue flames sprang to life, so hot that Asami almost took a step back. “It makes me wish I was younger.”

“Oh?”

“Korra might be the only firebender in the world who could, one day, give me a run for my money, but she’ll need at least a decade or two more experience first.” Azula chuckled. “Who knows if I’ll still be around then?” She lowered her hand, and the flames died down. “In any case, Ty Lee and I will accompany you to your research facility before we resume our mission.”

“You have a mission?” Asami asked.

Ty Lee appeared beside Asami. “Yep. We’re on mission: moonlit picnic!”

Azula sighed. “Ty Lee, please, at least try to let me keep a little of my mystique.”

“I think a moonlit picnic only adds to your mystique,” Ty Lee said, much to Azula’s consternation. “It’s actually really romantic, except sometimes Azula decides to set things on fire.” She rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “Her blue fire can make it look a little creepy sometimes.”

“I… I imagine so.” Asami knew better than to comment any further. “In any case, you’re welcome to come along.”

Chapter Text

Substitute

Azula rolled her eyes as only she could and somehow managed to reach new levels of exasperation and condescension. “You worry far too much, Asami. Enjoy your holiday with Korra. I can handle things here. I’m old – not incompetent.”

Asami gave Azula a dubious look. “You do realise that you can’t simply murder anyone who annoys you, right? I know you’re good at burying evidence – and bodies – but the press will definitely start asking questions if half my board members disappear.”

“Oh, please.” Azula waved one hand. “I’m not an amateur. Killing people who annoy me would draw far too much attention. They’ll simply meet their ends in a series of unfortunate yet fortuitous accidents.”

“Really? You’re not even going to try to deny the fact that you’ve contemplated murdering some of the board members of my company?”

“Don’t act as if you haven’t considered it yourself. I’m sure you’ve already devised at least three or four ways to get rid of the most troublesome of the bunch. Besides, I’ve spent my whole life dealing with idiots. I know how to handle them. All you need to do is to give them a little bit of rope, and the vast majority will simply hang themselves.” Azula smiled thinly and motioned toward the door. “Now, go. Enjoy your holiday with Korra. I promise that everything will still be here when you get back.”

“Can you promise that everyone will still be here too?”

“I could, but I think we both know I’d be lying. Some people are just so accident prone.”

“You’re impossible,” Asami muttered. Korra’s old firebending master was the most fiendishly cunning person she’d ever dealt with. The only thing that made it bearable was that Azula was on her side. No, that wasn’t quite right. Azula was on Korra’s side, and since Asami was on Korra’s side, they were allies… of a sort.

“No, Asami, I’m incredible.” Azula made a shooing motion. “Now, get going. Korra has been planning this holiday for weeks, and given how little effort she makes to plan anything, I’m morbidly curious to know how it goes. Do let me know if she makes a mess of it.”

“Fine.” Asami sighed. “Do what you have to but please, please, please try not to leave too many corpses.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that. There won’t be any corpses.”

X X X

Asami returned from her holiday with Korra two weeks later to find her company running as smoothly as ever. In fact, things were running so smoothly that she couldn’t help but wonder if she was missing something. It was difficult to believe, but had Azula actually just run the company like a normal person without resorting to treachery, skulduggery, and murder?

Knowing that she’d never get a straight answer out of Azula, she decided to ask Ty Lee.

“Oh… about that…” Ty Lee giggled. “Well, Azula got bored, so she decided to make things more interesting by not doing anything too extreme. I guess she wanted a challenge. I mean… it would have been pretty easy to wipe the board out by sabotaging the ship when they went on a cruise, but that would have been too easy. And don’t even get me started on how easy it would have been for the board room to ‘accidentally’ catch fire and incinerate them all.”

“So there haven’t been any… accidents?” Asami asked.

“Well, except for when one of the board members tripped over a bucket a janitor forgot to put away, no. There haven’t been any accidents. However, I do wonder if Azula paid the janitor to do that. The board member who tripped over did say something bad about Korra, and the bucket was perfectly placed to send him down a flight of stairs too.”

“Is that so?” Asami murmured, eye twitching.

Ty Lee smiled. “You know, you look a lot like Azula right now.”

Asami winced. “What do you mean?”

“You have that exact same look in your eyes. It’s like you’re going to do something really nasty to someone in a way they’ll never see coming.”

Asami wasn’t about to admit that several nasty thoughts had crossed her mind after hearing that one of her board members had bad-mouthed Korra. Then again, the poor fellow had apparently taken a quick trip down a flight of stairs, so there probably wasn’t much point in doing anything else. “Never mind that. You’re sure Azula didn’t do anything illegal while I was gone?”

“Yep. She didn’t do a single illegal thing while you were gone.” Ty Lee’s smile was bright enough to rival the sun. “But you know, Azula. She’s always been good at toeing the line.”

“When you put it that way…” Asami sighed. “But if she didn’t do anything illegal, why are all of my board members suddenly so cooperative?”

“Oh, that? Well, Azula decided that since you were so adamant on nobody ending up dead, she’d find a way to deal with them that didn’t involve murder on unfortunate accidents. She did a bit of digging, and it turns out that all of them have some things they’d rather nobody knew about. Once they found out that Azula knew, they were much more cooperative, and Azula did say she’d be sharing what she’d learned with you.” Ty Lee lowered her voice to a stage whisper. “I know Azula always talks about setting people on fire, but her aura is always so much pinker when she does stuff like this. I think she enjoys it more since it lasts longer, and her enemies suffer more.”

Asami laughed weakly. Trust Ty Lee to find this sort of thing endearing. Anyone else would have been terrified. “That’s, uh, wonderful.”