BY : Death_Rattle
Category: Avatar - The Last Airbender > AU/AR - Alternate Universe/Alternate Reality
Dragon prints: 5257
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Avatar: the Last Airbender or any of the characters. I do not profit from my writing.

The Phoenix King had drifted off to sleep, one arm curled around his little queen. And most contentedly he slept as evidenced by peaceful stillness and steady breaths, hot and heavy against his daughter's neck. Having had his fill (twice) the man was exhausted. Rightfully so, Azula mused, satisfied and sore. Though the night was young, as was she...

Taking care not to disturb her father, Azula kissed his forehead lightly then slipped out of bed. Sighing languidly, she rummaged through a nearby armoire in search of something to wear, eventually settling upon a silk evening robe - black with golden trim. She dressed in silence and tied her obi- much tighter than was necessary. With yet another elongated sigh, the Phoenix Queen began to wander down the hall, seeking out something that would satiate her need for... for what exactly, she did not know.

That was when she happened across her- the water bitch... bending!

"What do you think you're doing?"

A floating current of water destabilized and hit the ground with a splash


Blue eyes met bright gold.

"I-I mean..."

As soon as the noises of the Phoenix King and Queen had subsided, Katara had risen from her cot, still sore and aching - the pain of her wounds (now both burns and the latest addition, bruises on her neck) ebbing and flowing with the tide. The waterbender was exhausted, far from home. Waterbending is more than just an ability, it's an art, a lifestyle. Bending her element wasn't just useful, it was soothing - the flow of chi granting her energy, connecting her to the moon and the ocean, and making her feel a little closer to home.

Only a little.

"I was-! I was waterbending..." she finished, sounding almost guilty as she admitted her indiscretion to the Phoenix Queen. Katara lowered her head, ready for whatever pain Azula felt like giving next.

Instead, the Phoenix Queen found herself... intrigued..? Not angry, not at all. She was in a good mood (needless to ask why) and it was not every day she had the opportunity to see a waterbender in action- mundane tasks such as washing hair really did not count! For the briefest moment, admittedly, Azula considered punishing the girl though she looked downright pitiful as was and... she hadn't really been doing anything wrong, per say. Well, perhaps Kat- the water bitch had been doing something she was not supposed to do (technically) but... who was she hurting by sneaking out into the hall at night and playing around with fancy splashes?

"Yes, I know that," Azula said. With a sly smile, she sunk down onto a nearby chair. "I suppose I meant to ask you why - we've talked about this. You're forbidden to use your bending...,"

"...unless, of course, I were to grant permission," the Phoenix Queen added, maintaining an air of regality. Granted, her tone and state of dress were more casual than usual. "As well, I do not recall asking you to stop."

Katara raised her head just a little bit and watched Azula leisurely sit down as if to have a chat. She tried to keep the look of surprise off of her face.

I do not recall asking you to stop

"O-Oh!" she managed, barely audibly as she managed to connect the dots between the Phoenix Queen's expectant look and her words. "Of course ...Your Highness" she added on as the water seeped up from the floorboards, flowing upwards into the air - though restrained by her golden gaze. The movements less free, more deliberate as to not be threatening. Katara wondered what her past self would say if she saw herself now - imprisoned with her element at her fingertips. She'd be furious - furious that Katara wasn't fighting back every chance she got. The waterbender lowered her gaze again, though this time not to shield herself from the Phoenix Queen's harsh gaze, but instead the blurred eyes reflecting off the very water she bent.


"I did it because it's fun" she answered honestly, finally, as she broke an orb of fresh water into two, each flow following a set of fingers. "I wasn't trying... I wasn't trying anything" she defended herself. Even Katara wasn't hopeful enough that she could get by all those Dai Li.

She wasn't trying anything?!

Azula wanted to laugh (and almost did). Of course the snow peasant had not been trying anything! They had met in battle on several occasions, after all. In the event that she should ever attempt something nefarious, it would be obvious. The Phoenix Queen watched with some amusement as the other girl continued bending.

"Fun" she repeated, as though the word were strange, foreign. "I see..."

The Phoenix Queen did not consider her own abilities to be a source of childish amusement. Firebending was not fun..! It was life, strength... power. Fire made her powerful nay, invincible!

"You think bending is... fun?" she asked, perplexed.

"Well, yeah... don't you?" Azula looked at her properly quizzically. "I mean, you practice yours every morning. It's relaxing, right? And, well... fun"

Katara felt incredibly awkward now as she tried to explain how she felt when she bent without just using the words 'relaxing' and 'fun'. It certainly didn't help that the Phoenix Queen eyed her with that look of hers.

"I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's nice to connect to your element, see what you can do with it - try and make funny shapes or... just feeling the flow. Maybe it's different for firebenders - but your fire, it isn't blue on accident, right? You must have discovered that. When you did... wasn't it at least a little fun? Surprising? At least you got to show it off, right?"

it isn't blue on accident, right?

Accident? Most certainly not! Her fire was blue because-

It was meant to be. You're special.

"Indeed. My fire is no accident," Azula confirmed, pensive and somewhat lost with her thoughts. "It turned blue because... I'm special."

wasn't it at least a little fun?

"I do recall being... excited, as I'm sure you could imagine. I ran to show Father straight away. That was when he told me... it was meant to be that way. He said I was special," she explained. "Funny. It seemed as though he knew it would happen. Sometimes I wonder..."

"So it wasn't intentional? It just happened?"

"Intentional? No, I suppose it...," For the briefest moment, Azula hesitated. "...just happened. I mean, it's not as though I can turn it off."

A pause.

"I couldn't be ordinary if I tried" the Phoenix Queen chuckled. "Zuzu's the ordinary one."

"Oh" Katara replied simply, almost disappointed, letting the water congregate into a sphere again (a basic trick, she reminded herself, that she had trouble getting right less than a year ago).

Zu-zu's the ordinary one

Katara's eyes shifted downwards slightly as she recalled the events of wow, that was really just three weeks ago, wasn't it..., wherin Aang had gone off with Zuko to learn from the original masters - the dragons. That probably counts as a little special, she thought to herself. Azula didn't need to know that, however.


"Well, maybe you should try it." the waterbender suggested "Next time you're alone, try, well, just doing what feels right. Whatever you want. Just try to enjoy yourself"

"Why?" So simple, yet that one little word was all the great Phoenix Queen could think to ask.

Why? What did she mean, why?

"It's worth it" she assured, with the best smile she could manage to the woman who had choked her just hours earlier. "It couldn't hurt to try, right? Bending isn't all about... well, you know. It can be fun to do all on its own."

"No, I mean... why do you care what I do?" Azula demanded. "Why do you care whether or not I have fun..? That Father tells me what to wear... what happened to my hair- or my mother! Why do you care?!"

It was a fair question, Katara realized. One that she had been asking herself not too long ago. At a glance, it didn't make much sense, did it? A prisoner caring for their captor, a slave caring for their master, an enemy caring for an enemy. And they were still enemies, even if the waterbender was forbidden from striking her opponent, under a threat worse than death.

It was tempting to go with the easy answer. Katara cared because she had to. The happier Azula was, the better off Katara was, in a very direct way. But the easy answer was also a lie, one by omission.

Katara didn't just care because she had to (though it definitely had been that way at first). Something else was developing... she cared because she wanted to. Compassion, sympathy, was her nature - even though sometimes she wished it wasn't, even though sometimes it hurt to care. She cared because caring meant a connection - a connection in a place where she had nobody. She cared because feeling something was better than feeling nothing. She cared cared because somehow, deep down, she knew the Phoenix Queen was in pain. A pain hidden deep in the recesses of a twisted relationship and a hundred year tyranny, hidden within a cell, an icy box within that cell. But Katara knew.

The Phoenix Queen certainly shared some of the evil of her father. Much of it, even. And if everything had gone well, she would have gone down just as planned. But in the strangest way, her dark victory granted her a second chance. One born of necessity.

"Because... that's what people do, I guess" she said finally, not knowing what else to say. "At least... that's what I was taught."

A pause.

"It's why I helped your brother."

Until now, the waterbender had never spoken of- "...Zuko?" Azula repeated, unsure, as though her brother's very name were some sort of taboo or curse.

She cared because that's what people do? She cared because that's what she was taught? That's why she helped someone who was once her enemy..? Why she cared for someone who was still her enemy..? Simply because she should. Objectively, her reasons made even less sense than caring for an enemy to begin with.

"That doesn't make any sense, Katara."

Somehow it was fitting that a villain wouldn't understand how one of the good guys could possibly show sympathy for her. Katara wondered briefly if anyone had, though that knowledge was certainly beyond her means. She did know it wasn't very likely that Ozai had ever really cared.

"Really?" she asked, barely noticing that the Phoenix Queen had called her Katara. "Then why did you save me from your father, back on the beach?"

Indeed: whatever had compelled her to do such a thing? Azula had thought about it of course and always, she came up with nothing. Nothing save for that one, Agni-forsaken little word, a question... buzzing around in her head over and again...




The Phoenix Queen rose up from her seated position. "We agreed-! You were told never to speak of this again!" she hissed, indignant... looming over the other girl, something dark and unknown- a storm brewing in that piercing, golden stare. "You made a mistake - a grave and unforgivably stupid one, I might add"

A pause.

Her expression softened, if only slightly. "Helping you was just something I had to do, for myself more than anyone. I couldn't let him do Agni knows what to you over... over nothing, really. You were weak, defenseless. I had the power to stop what was happening."

"But you didn't have to" the waterbender said softly, looking her Mistress in the eye. "You could have let him do what he wanted, as you always do. But this time you didn't. You cared about what happened to me" she concluded, though not actually knowing what to think of it herself. Did she care? Or did she just want to keep her favorite slave around? Whichever it was, she was willing to lie to him to do it. Which meant maybe there was hope after all.


Now the water bitch was being ridiculous- absolutely ridiculous! There was no way-


Phoenix Queen Azula cared not for the wellbeing of slaves. Insignificant, the lot of them! This one, especially... this one had attacked her, nay tried to kill her- during her coronation, her moment of triumph!

Katara is my enemy.


Yes. She means nothing.

"You think you know me?" Azula asked. "How presumptuous, water-wench..." A most sardonic smirk livened her features. "You don't know me. If you did, you wouldn't dare speak such nonsense. Nor would you so much as dream it to be true - ever." She continued "In all this world, there are two people I care for: Myself and my father."

"As for everyone else... I simply couldn't care less whether they live or die" she finished, icily.

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