Kuebiko

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.

It had been not fifteen seconds after leaving the hazed room when Katara heard them. The waterbender was drawn like tiger-moth to flame at the sounds of King and Queen's verbal battle. Was this it? Had she finally gotten through to her...? Katara had... she had almost...

Almost lost hope

But maybe it had worked, she had connected. Azula had- It was deafening. A momentary inferno, she could feel the heat even though the door. Katara wondered how anyone could even breathe in there anymore. And then the yelling. It was like a dream, nay, a nightmare. 'Or is it that you want a scar to match your brother's' That... that bastard. How could h-

Katara had to stop asking that. He was the Phoenix King. He did whatever he wanted. And what he wanted was always twisted and wrong and hurtful, even to his own daughter. The man only had one thing on his agenda: pleasure through pain. The pain of others. She heard someone slip and fall with a thump. Mumbling she couldn't make out. "I'm sorry!"

The waterbender wanted to kick the door down, to do what Azula was afraid to do, to avenge Aang and everyone the man (if he could be referred to as such) had hurt, all the people he killed. Katara wondered what the number was, she wondered if she would one day be added to that total. Would Azula?

Katara leaned against the wall, sliding down until she was sitting on the floor. She heard the familiar noises of the morning return, accented by a symphony of suffering. Of course not. She's daddy's little girl, she thought to herself, defeated. Azula wouldn't raise a hand against him. She didn't want to. Anything Katara said to her just made her hurt. It just caused more pain. Katara couldn't help someone who approved of their own pain.

Slam The icy box hit the cell wall, its frozen contents clattering down to the cobblestone floor, spreading ice as they always did. Always colder. Katara left before the noises stopped. The screams and sobs and pitiful moans, she couldn't hear it any more. She didn't care.

She was sorry. More sorry than when she had driven the Queen to hysterics, leaving her alone to her own sobs. More sorry than she had perhaps ever been. Katara hadn't condemned someone to... to that before.

The waterbender was trapped. She was trapped in Azula's prison, condemned to watch torture forever. Either her own or Azula's. She wondered what her friends would say.

"Come on, sugar queen! Feeling sorry for fiery britches? Really? Newsflash! She's the enemy, you know, the one who killed Aang."

"How could you do this to me, Katara? The Fire Nation is hunting us down right now and you're helping them instead of us. Instead of me"

"My sister is crazy, and you're feeling sorry for her? Kill her when you get the chance"

She couldn't get their questioning voices out of her head. There's no way any of them would respect her now. Katara, loyal handmaiden to the Phoenix Queen. Sympathy for the face stealer. There was another voice. A real one.

"The monks used to say that all life is sacred, and that everybody deserves a second chance no matter what they've done."

"Aang?" she asked out loud, instinctively looking around to see nobody at all. Of course. He was gone forever.

Just one more thing taken away by the Phoenix King.

⁂⁂⁂

"Don't make me do it again, little girl," Ozai sneered. "Next time, it'll hurt more."

Then he was just... gone.

Without so much as a semblance of concern, he was gone. There were no praises, no kind words nor gentle touches. There was nothing, save for cold indifference-

it'll hurt more

Daddy's promise. And that most certainly was a promise. No one, not even his own daughter, dared call Phoenix King Ozai's bluff. Eyes wide open, eyes wide shut, all she could see was the darkness, the night brought down and forced upon her just as he forced everything upon her - himself perhaps, most of all. From the day Azula had been born she was his and oh, how Ozai loved reminding her of that...

You're my little girl

Everything about her said just that, from the crown atop her head to the bruises scattered along her body, marking his territory. Never again, she resolved, would she forget what she was- who she was.

Daddy's little girl

Azula stayed there, shivering and bare as the day she was born, curled up on the floor with her knees against her chest... bleeding, burning, aching from the inside out. For how long, she could not say. The only thing she knew for certain was that in this room, it was still night. Here, it would always be night. Eyes wide open, eyes wide shut...

Why?

WHY?!

WHY?! WHY?! WHY?!

Over and again, the Phoenix Queen asked herself. Until-

She saw a deceptively kind face... blue eyes filled to the brim with emotion...

Liar's eyes,  Daddy called them. The water bitch had liar's eyes - she ought to put them out! And that insolent tongue? Best to cut it off before someone else does. 

This is all her fault! All of it!

Really now?

It was all her! She... she told me to stand up to him-!

Just as she had done many (too many) times before, Azula picked herself up to stand. She could not break. For she had been broken, shattered, then pieced back together... over and over... over and again until finally she didn't know which pieces went where, which pieces were even her. She could not be fixed any more than she could be broken.

With a sharp intake of breath - and it fucking hurt to breathe - the Phoenix Queen wrapped a silk robe around herself, then set off in search of the waterbender whom had left it there.

As though fate (or perhaps something else entirely) had intervened, golden eyes met blue.

"I hope you're happy."

The waterbender's head turned on a swivel to meet her Mistress. She had come out of the washroom in a worse state than she arrived. It looked as if she had been attacked by a vicious animal. Scratches, bites, and bruises littered her skin, all in various states of early healing - some still bleeding. A shroud of black already starting to creep around her eye, accentuated by ragged (moreso than usual) hair and a bleeding lip. Nowhere had been left unscathed.

Katara couldn't be surprised at what she saw, not anymore. She had planted the seed of disobedience in her head, and Ozai had punished her. And now Azula was here to do the same. Katara deserved it. In some twisted way, Azula had been right all along. They had both been right. But the truth was that it didn't matter.

"I'm sorry" she said honestly, simply.

"Do you see?" Azula asked. "I want you to see. I want you to look - really look at me." She spoke with a sharp staccato. "Memorize. Every. Last. Fucking. Detail."

"I want you to close your eyes at night...," she continued. "...and see this. I want you to remember what he did to me, imagine how it felt. And... I want you to know that it was all your fault. You did this to me, you and your naïve idealism - your hope. That's your punishment."

And Katara did look. Tears welled in her eyes. She felt like crying. Katara, for the first time she could remember, felt like dying. She didn't want to live in this dark world anymore.

"I understand. I'm sorry" she managed, barely keeping eye contact.

I could heal, a small voice in her mind spoke out, against all the cold and darkness. But could she really? Or would Ozai punish for that too, just as Azula had promised to do unto her? Katara kept silent. She didn't know what to say anymore.

The Phoenix Queen leaned up against a nearby wall - to ease her pain, although she would never admit it - for much needed support and winced, everso slightly. Then, a question which had plagued her many times before...

"Do I deserve this, Katara?" She'd felt compelled to ask. "Have I brought this on myself? Perhaps it's not your fault at all... perhaps it's not even his fault. Suppose I deserve it - every time I've ever suffered, and everything that's yet to come."

A silence. Though her head was bowed, her eyes were doing their best to run over the form of the Phoenix Queen. Did she really believe that it was deserved? Was there a part of her mind that knew its own sins, believing that they required reckoning? Katara wondered. She had always known that Azula held secret unhappiness within her, hidden discontent of the way things were. It was why she cut her hair, why she lied to her father and husband. But... could she be discontent with herself? It seemed unbelievable, the warrior-princess and conqueror, the great Azula of the Fire Nation.... not good enough for love. Deserving of torture and pain. Not that Katara didn't agree she was deserving of punishment. The things she had done to her alone were enough to warrant punishment, not to mention the crimes her nation committed that she supported through indirect aid. And Toph was right. If it weren't for the spirit oasis she'd be directly responsible for the death of Aang. But was it these things that Azula believed made her deserving of such things? If not, what was it? Katara wondered.

"No. Nobody deserves... this" Katara said finally, truthfully. "Not even you"

Azula certainly was no saint. She had killed Aang. Helped Ozai with his... plan. And if Zuko was to be believed, she wasn't a very good sister, either. But those kinds of acts should put you in a prison, not the fire pits of Agni where your crazy father tortures you if he doesn't like the way you talk. That wasn't justice.

"Not even me?" Azula repeated. "Where you were born- in your tribe... what would they do to me..? to my husband? What do they do to people like us? Deviants. Murderers-"

"Liars."

A pause.

"I lied to you the other night."

"Oh" she said simply, not particularly surprised.

"Well..." she paused for a while, thinking. It was such an absurd scenario - the Phoenix King and Queen living in The Southern Water Tribe. "We didn't really have many judgements when I was a girl, nothing that big, but before I was born our tribe used to have a court and council of elders who would pass judgement on people who had committed crimes." she explained. "If you did, they'd, well-" how was it that Gran-Gran explained it? "-make you right your wrongs." As if it's possible for him to do that, she thought to herself. "And if you didn't, you'd be put away where you couldn't hurt anyone else until you became deserving of forgiveness. You and your" she gritted her teeth "husband would probably be separated, so he couldn't... do this to you anymore"

right your wrongs

That sounded like something Uncle Fatso would say, along with a few (several hundred year old) proverbs. Perhaps a melodramatic monologue of some sort.

"So we would have to say we're sorry..? then, do something to prove that we're sorry?" Azula asked, demanding clarification. She received an affirmative nod from the waterbender in response.

I'm sorry!

"I see..."

Daddy, please-!

"And... they would separate us, you say? They would actually keep a husband from his wife? Even if-"

I'm sorry!

"I'm sorry..."

You should be.

"I'm sorry!" she cried, clapping her hands over her ears. "I'm sorryI'msorryI'msorry-"

It was dark - eyes wide open, eyes wide shut - she lay there, forced against the floor, completely helpless, screaming as though someone would come to her aid.

You're my little girl.

"I'm your little girl."

Katara had heard about people who were crazy, but she had never seen it unfold out in front of her. Sure, Gran-Gran forgot things sometimes. There was that strange man in the river village. And Azula on the day of the comet of course, though she was definitely both competent and terrifying on that day. Not anymore. Nothing prepared Katara to see her enemy, Azula the warrior-princess, curled up on the floor screaming apologies to nobody.

She was weak, harmless, helpless, broken. Ozai had taken the strong, powerful villainess in Katara's mind and reduced her to a crying little girl, begging for intangible forgiveness.

It all happened so quickly. The waterbender was kneeling, holding the wounded Queen in her hands tightly. She may not have been apologizing to her specifically, but-

"I forgive you" she admitted, simply, honestly.

"I forgive you" Katara repeated, this time with more conviction, hoping to stem her Mistress's crying and deranged apologies.

But the Phoenix Queen was broken, trapped. Trapped in the same place as Katara. Though, Azula's warden was not just a person - it was her own thoughts and memories that kept her bound and pacified, too. No, definitely not just a person, her father, someone you're supposed to trust, believe in, look up to. Except 'Phoenix King Ozai' was nobody she should be looking up to. And Azula had nobody to tell her that.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry

You're not the one who should be sorry!, Katara wanted to say. She almost did, but not after last time. No, she definitely did not want to make things worse. The Phoenix Queen had had a bad enough day as it was. Enemy or not, she needed someone who would be there for her, not someone to gloat and say I told you so. That's something Ozai would do.

I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry

She didn't know what to do. Katara had broken the icy box. It was in an odd state of being neither open or closed. It didn't make sense, it was a contradiction. And the waterbender couldn't help. She could heal injuries of the body, protect those who couldn't protect themselves (or damn well try). But mending the mind was foreign to Katara. Could Azula trust anyone? Had she? She wondered.

"What do we have here?" said the ever familiar, malevolent voice of Phoenix King Ozai, attracted to the screams of his daughter. Katara wasn't quite sure whether she was afraid of what Ozai was going to do to her (He'll probably think I did this), or of what he was going to do to Azula.

Despite all expectations, he stopped, silent, looking over at the pair with what Katara could only imagine to be a knowing look. He's done this before!? Katara wondered, in shock. Azula hadn't seemed to have noticed her father, however, her sobs and words not changing even by a note.

"I'msorryI'msorryI'm-"

"Azula"

Katara didn't know what to do. Her body was telling her to run. Her heart was telling her to stay. And her mind? This was one fight it couldn't resolve.

"I'msorryI'msorryI'm-"

"Azula!"

Her mind turned to the only other place where she could turn to for advice.

"Take him out!" Toph urged. "Fire bitch isn't gonna help him, now's your chance!"

"It doesn't matter what he's going to do, you don't want to be there for it"

"Let him" said a scarred voice Katara couldn't remember being so dark. "Leave her, get out of the way!"

She couldn't hear the voice of Aang. The darkness of Ozai had pushed him away.

"I'msorryI'm-"

"Azula!"

SNAP!

Back to reality. He was here-!

He was real.

"NO!"

Azula scrambled to her feet, practically knocking Katara over (as well as a wooden stool) in the process, backing herself into a nearby corner like a frightened animal. Golden eyes went wide as saucers as the Phoenix King approached his daughter and wife, who was trembling wildly. She had nowhere to run...

Fear.

Pure, unadulterated fear stole the breath from her lungs and the color from her cheeks. The little queen went pale as a ghost, her injuries serving as the only semblance of something living, marring a vast expanse of porcelain lifelessness... blue, green, purple, red, black... a grotesque array of colors painted upon the canvas with cold indifference.

Once more, Azula sunk to the floor.

"No." she whispered, softly.

No. No!

Katara had never seen the Phoenix Queen so scared. Scared? Terrified. Blue eyes darted between pairs of gold. Fuck all life being sacred. That man had to go down - he was evil even to his own daughter. And it's not like Azula can really stop him if he wanted to do all of the things she promised he wouldn't. At least this way she'd have a chance. Her fist clenched.

The waterbender looked back at Azula. What am I saying? If he... she'll have nobody left without me

Nobody left without me

Katara had to live. For Azula's sake.

It was like the waterbender wasn't even in the room.

"Azula!?"

Ozai was furious. How dare she react to me this way? Had she learned nothing? It was incredible. She insults him while he cares for her, receives her rightful reprimand, and now this? She was almost acting like Zuko. Like she didn't understand what her place was. It was pathetic. Far below what the Phoenix King expected from his daughter.

"Azula! What are you doing?"

"I-I..."

I'm sorry.

"...I'm s-s-"

I'm sorry-I'm sorry-I'm sorry-

NO!

A scream. Piercing, like glass shattering. She's screaming and screaming and screaming-

Then nothing. Azula, the Great Phoenix Queen, went limp as a broken doll - empty, tossed away as though it were not once adored and called pretty. She was nothing, her thoughts were nothing... nothing... nothing. She couldn't go back there. She couldn't go back to the day with no sun, the darkened room with little stars.

"Nothing... nothing... nothing... nothing..."

Ozai shook his head. Her issues had decided to ruin their perfect honeymoon, of all the times! Of course, the Phoenix King was not dark to the obvious - it was his punishment that had sent her over the edge, justified or no. Though daughter had committed a grievous insult earlier, the machinations of her mind had no intent - indeed, Azula regarded them with as much disdain as he did.

Enough disdain that he did not want to deal with it - wives in hysterics were beyond Ozai's patience right now.

"Azula" he said softly, firmly. "Your daddy loves you" he said, struggling to keep his tone level and not sag, showing his disinterest and apathy.

He turned, gold eyes locked with blue. "Girl! Clean her up! Avoid the marks you know you should, fix everything else. Deliver her to me by sundown" he commanded with a low growl. Katara clenched her fists as he left.

Your daddy loves you

The once broken doll stood proud, pieced together by the puppet master. He would pull her strings until she danced to his tune...

Your daddy loves you

Spinning round and round in pretty little circles...

Your daddy loves you

Forever.

"He loves me..."

Her voice was naught but mumbling, soft and barely audible. The intent may have been to convince herself of what she'd said, more so than-

Katara. She knows... she's seen... FUCKING LOOK AT YOURSELF!

Nonetheless, the Phoenix Queen attempted to convince the other girl as well.

"Daddy loves me."

I forgive you

"I forgive him. Do you forgive me for that, too?"

'I forgive him'

Said the girl who was just cowering away in the corner of the room, tears in her eyes, hugging her bruised and bleeding legs. Said the girl who had just gotten raped and beaten by her own father and husband. Said the girl who had so many scratches, bites and bruises that the waterbender could hardly find them all. Let alone mend them as she had been instructed.

And yet, somehow the very same girl could forgive her tormentor for everything.

He gave me everything

Broken. The Princess was broken. There was hardly another word. The Phoenix King had taken her and beaten her. Destroyed her belief in herself. Did she really forgive him? Katara doubted it. Katara doubted Azula knew what forgiveness even meant.

How long?

Such a simple question, one she hadn't asked before. She had been asking the wrong questions. How does one break down a ruler? He didn't have too. He just had to break a child. Azula had no chance. She may as well have come out of the womb broken. He was there, every minute of every one of her days.

He gave me everything

"Hold still" the water bender instructed, moving on to a reddened gash on her cheek.

Instinctively, Azula flinched, ready to-

What? Nothing, that's what. And the next time? You'll do nothing. Pathetic. Maybe you wanted it... slut.

"Don't touch me!"

Tell him that.

Blue eyes went wide with... shock? No, this was something else entirely. Katara felt sad for her, pitied her even - her! - Azula, the Great Phoenix Queen! Impossible..! unthinkable! A slave-!

HOW DARE SHE?!

"What? You feel sad for me?" Azula snarled, lashing out as a result of wounded pride (which in that moment hurt far worse than anything Ozai had done to her).

"Poor little Azula, her Daddy's always so cruel to her," she mocked.

"Save your pity, Katara. I'd sooner die than relish in it! Once more... I have everything I've ever wanted. Everything."

The Phoenix Queen took Katara's hand, and this time, it was her turn to flinch.

"Now... fix me up nice for Daddy, won't you?"



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