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.

The Phoenix King slept soundly as always. His Queen, however, lay wide awake, simply unable to shut her eyes and calm her thoughts. Not that that was much of a surprise, of course.

12 Hours. That's how long it had been since... that. And now here they were, sleeping in silken sheets at eachother's side as they had always done. As usual. The status quo. Well, almost. Azula's arms and legs were not wrapped around her daddy's form as was her usual wont. No, she wouldn't. She wanted to, and she didn't.

How could she after what he had done-?

She shivered, pulling the sheets up to her neck as though they would provide safety and security. Just last night (and every night before) simply being with him had made her feel safe. And now, her husband and father was the very thing she felt she needed protection from. It didn't make sense-

It doesn't make sense? Agni, you've got to be kidding.. what if he does it again?

Azula was perfect, a prodigy. She was a princess, then Firelord, then a Phoenix Queen. She was undefeated, unconquerable. Nobody ever had the upper hand on her, nobody. Even at her weakest, against her strongest foes: the Avatar, even her brother. She always had a plan, a way out.

Never in her life had she been powerless. That was, until this morning, the one time she was truly powerless. It was laughable really, she'd shot lightning straight through the damned Avatar's back but when it came to Daddy all she could manage were pitiful pleas in between somehow even more pitiful sobs as she squirmed beneath him. Agni, she hadn't even called for help-! Surely, the water bit- Katara had been just outside the door, not to mention dozens of agents sworn to protect her! Why had she done what amounted to... well... nothing?

Reality left a bitter taste in her mouth, like the juice of unripe lychees. She'd done absolutely nothing while her own husband and father held her down and ravaged her like a common whore. Would she do nothing the next time he-?

No! There won't be a next time, Daddy said he wouldn't!

What's to stop him?

Nothing. Nothing at all. Trust is for fools, the Phoenix Queen remembered her own words that she spoke into that Agni-damned mirror. So daddy was the exception, then? She would just trust that he wouldn't use her like that again? Or would she allow it again and again - barely willing to slap him in her own defense, hours after the fact at that!

Just flimsy assumptions and promises. If he could violate her so casually in the starry room, then could he not break his own word when he pleased?

He could break his word tonight. Suppose he changed his mind..? decided to teach her a lesson after all, make her regret having struck him. Suppose she did something to anger him further? Her father was awfully easy to anger (and that was putting it mildly). Half the time she barely even understood why he was angry, the finer points were all but lost on her. Most often it was something to do with the way she talked or acted, sometimes the way she dressed - practically anything could set him off, it seemed.

Hot, stinging tears pricked the corners of her eyes. No, she couldn't stay here. She couldn't sleep next to him.

Every time she contemplated moving closer, every time she thought about wrapping herself around him all she could imagine was him turning her around on her back, his golden eyes glinting with the faint starlight filtering in from the balcony. Punishing her again for her insolence, over and over again. Reminding her again who she belonged to, and what happens when she speaks out of turn. The Phoenix King's punishment wouldn't end here, they never did. Zu-zu's disgrace certainly didn't end in that fateful Agni-Kai. Would hers end tonight? Or maybe she should consider herself lucky that hers was heard by so few, only the water bitch and some others sworn to secrecy?

Either way, she was not about to find out. Taking care not to disturb her husband and father (who was fast asleep as well as unlikely to hear anything over the sound of his own snoring, thankfully) she slipped out of bed and shuffled over to the armoire-

creeeaaak

The Phoenix Queen stopped dead in her tracks. Golden eyes shifted nervously, fixating upon her father's form...

Which remained unmoving. She breathed an inaudible sigh of relief. Hastily, she snatched up a robe that had been messily draped over the creaky, albeit ornate, armoire door. She did not bother to shut said door, for fear of waking of father.

She did, however, shut (and latch) the door to the bedchamber she'd once slept in. Save for a layer of dust, everything inside remained largely unchanged. Nay, just as she'd left it... from partially melted candles atop the vanity to red lipstick kisses littering the mirror. It was downright eerie, as though she'd somehow stepped back in time.

Not even bothering to make an attempt to brush the dust off, Azula curled up in her old bed, pulled the covers up to her neck and closed her eyes.

⁂⁂⁂

She was missing. Ozai was cold and his Queen was missing. Gone. Absent. Not here. Now, had they been in the palace it wouldn't have been entirely out of character - she sometimes left her room in the night to train or even to read. Midnight rendezvous with allies - Azula could be a strange girl. But she hadn't done such in some time, and she certainly had no reason to on her honeymoon. No, this was too much to be a coincidence, Ozai concluded as he got out from under the covers - exhaling a nice hot breath to combat the evening chill.

With a robe hastily thrown over his shoulders, the Phoenix King was ready to find his daughter. Where had she run off to? he idly wondered. The girl could be anywhere, especially if her wild nerves had acted up again, sending her into one of her mad outbursts just as she had been in earlier. The door was ajar - the girl had been in such a rush that she hadn't even bothered to close it. A flame in hand, the Phoenix King quickened his pace, his bare feet warping the wooden panels below them - creak. creak. creak. with each footfall. Was that-

No, just a servant cleaning up the mess in the they had created in the bath.

One floor down, not in the dining room, and-!

That was odd. The Phoenix King rarely ever got to see the Dai Li. They were usually hidden in the shadows, or at the very least crouched upon rooftops. They had an uncanny ability to be an unseen, unheard force of nature with their spiritlike transience and cryptography. Mystifying in their entirety. And yet here they stood, in front of Azula's old bedroom (well, the one she slept in the few times they actually visited here). He was certainly visible to them, he made no effort to conceal himself, and yet they didn't move. It was eerie - in the flickers of the firelight the two men at the door looked like statues. Imperial firebenders would stiffen and stand at attention with his arrival, but these men didn't acknowledge him at all, it was as if he wasn't there.

The Phoenix King would never admit it to anyone (barely himself, even) - but the prospect was scary. Would they turn on him if he got closer, as retribution for what he did to their master? He honestly couldn't say.

Ozai took a step forward. The earthbenders remained, unmoving. Another step, and another. Eventually the great and powerful Phoenix King was at a slow walk, each step bringing the agents closer and in clearer view. He could see their eyes, both of them looking straight forward. If it wasn't so damn uncanny Ozai might be angry at the men for their disrespect. But instead he felt something unfamiliar.

The men wouldn't part. They wouldn't allow him to pass.

"I'm here to see my daughter" he said.

Nothing.

"You will let me pass"

The flame in his hand rose.

The Phoenix Queen awoke (much to her dismay) with a start, the commotion just outside the door causing her to become fully alert almost immediately. She sprung out of bed, resolving to make a run for it. What was in actuality two seconds, perhaps three, seemed to take an eternity. Finally the latch jiggled free from its resting place upon a set of hinges, unlocking the door...

Which swung open, revealing her father and husband (flame in hand) plus two Dai Li agents who appeared to have been guarding her despite not receiving any orders to do so.

"Stand down!" she ordered, her tone much more shaky than intended, somewhat lacking in its usual confidence. "Father-?" gingerly, she reached out to touch his wrist, urging him to lower his flame. Azula's uncertain golden gaze held Ozai's apparently furious one.

With Azula's touch his flame extinguished instantly, leaving both of them in darkness. The agents of which she had commanded to stand down left for the shadows, leaving the two alone (or, at least, as far as they could tell).

"Azula" he spoke aloud, taking her hand in his. He didn't really know what to say. His wife had forsaken him! Running away like a child after a spanking. And yet, the events previous gave him pause - here, his daughter was not the weak and pitiful woman he had punished in the bath. Though she hadn't used any words, coming here, under the protection of her agents was a statement. This called for something the Phoenix King didn't usually display: restraint. "Why are you here?"

"I..." Azula hesitated. Why was she here? She was afraid of her own father and husband, so afraid that she could not even bear to sleep next to him.

A small flame rose in her hand, this time illuminating the corridor with a soft blue glow. "I couldn't sleep" she said, honestly, simply. It was true, granted she'd omitted a few details...

"What was that all about?" she asked. "...with my agents?" she added, clarifying. Had they outright refused him entry ? Withal, did he believe that her agents had been posted outside the door, refusing him entry under her orders ? She would never-!

The Phoenix King raised an eyebrow at his daughter's comment. What was that all about? Didn't she know? Was she not the one who had...?

"Your men wouldn't let me see you" he said simply, levelly, as if it were completely obvious that she hadn't been the one who had been the one behind it all. Though there was still a doubt in his mind - after all such deceptions were not above his daughter. Though now was not the time to levy any such accusations. "They wouldn't even speak to me"

"Well I-"

A pause.

At first, she'd thought to tell him she'd given no such orders. However, the fact that he thought her capable of doing so spoke volumes. Ozai thought his daughter clearly capable of defending herself against him now when, in fact, she was not. Of course, she was physically able to defend herself against someone who would do her harm (as were her Dai Li agents if and when necessary). Merely, she was unwilling to fight back when that someone happened to be her father - a different matter entirely.

"The Dai Li are here to serve me. Nothing more, nothing less" Azula said, cryptic as ever. "No matter. You're here now. What is it you need, Father?"

The Dai Li are here to-?

The Phoenix King repeated it all in his head, his eyes narrow and staring into his daughter's own. He wanted to do something, to put an end to his daughter's insolent displays of defiance. Who did she believe she was, ordering her men, her mysterious agents to face him so? He raised his hand, and-!

...

Nothing.

Something told the Phoenix King that this was a conflict not worth fighting right now. That it would push his daughter away as before, but this time permanently.

"Nothing, nothing at all" he said simply, turning to leave.

The guilt set in immediately, dropping down into the pit of her stomach like dead weight. "Daddy! Wait!" Azula pleaded, frantic. Delicate hands grasped her father's wrist just before it slipped out of reach. "I gave my agents no such orders, they acted of their own accord," she explained.

"Please... they're sworn to protect me."

As well as guilt, there was fear. And how could there not be? He'd raised his hand (to strike her, presumably). He'd considered it, perhaps worse. How could she have allowed him to believe she'd disrespected and defied him so blatantly? After everything that had happened...

"I would never order my agents to stand against you. You must know that." the Phoenix Queen reassured her King, thus dissolving a fair amount of leverage. For now.

Ozai was forced to stop, his hidden (or perhaps not so well hidden, if not for the darkness) apprehension disappearing in favor of a smile. Please. Daddy. The magic words washed over him, the ultimate indicators that he was now in control. He turned around, his demeanor as if nothing had happened. Though Azula wouldn't ever truly know just how relieved she had made her husband by her simple actions and scarce words. She'd never know that the shadow of fear she so easily projected onto others fell on her father, as well. The fear of losing his queen, the fear of her rebelling just as Zuko had done.

"They should be punished" he proclaimed, simply. "Ensure for me they never repeat it, my Queen" he placed a hand upon her shoulder, ready to pull her back to their suite, before pausing once more. He desired his wife at his side, indeed. But he also desperately wished for this to never repeat.

"Tomorrow" he clarified. "Shall I tuck you into bed, my little Princess?"

And just like that, it was as though he melted. "Tomorrow" she agreed. They deserved to be punished.

Shall I tuck you into bed, my little Princess?

Ever Daddy's girl at heart, Azula could not resist such an offer. "Yes, Daddy." As a child she would wait for hours, until he finished with his war meeting, hopeful that he would pay her a visit... tell her all about what went on during said war meeting, slip her a rice candy or two, and then finally tuck her into bed for the night.

And with that little affirmative, the Phoenix King swept up his daughter and placed her in his arms, her flame having since melted away. It was practically routine now, carrying her in his arms, using her to slip aside the silks to place her squarely upon the mattress. Pulling up the covers once again and tightly wrapping them around her. Except this time (with great reluctance) he did not join his daughter and wife. Instead, he left a kiss on the crown of her head before turning to leave out of the door from which he had come.

⁂⁂⁂

The sun had barely risen when the waterbender witnessed the Phoenix King leave the room she had under surveillance. Surveillance. Sounds like something Sokka would say. Surveillance. Stake-out. Spying. Katara was listening to the sound of her element, keeping her mind's eye on the movements (or lack thereof) of her King and Queen. The water in their veins, though free of manipulation without the full moon's power, telling the waterbending master through silent witness. She wondered if she closed her eyes for a moment, she could experience even the most fleeting moment of what Toph felt every day of her life.

He's gone

It wasn't really her job. She wasn't the only servant they had brought with them of course. The cooking wasn't usually delegated to her.

If anyone else asked, she'd say Ozai told her to. If Ozai asked... well, she'd think of something. He was probably too busy being frustrated at his daughter to really care.

The doorknob was hot. It was to be expected, that much she had learned from Zuko. The Phoenix King drew his power from anger, and his power created heat. Power he couldn't control. She twisted.

Nothing. Nothing was there - nothing at all!

She looked the room up and down: empty in its entirety. Her face gained a tinge of red, she felt stupid now holding a tray of food for nobody. Had her master awoken before her? It wasn't out of the question, after their midnight rendezvous, despite the fact that generally she woke before Azula so that she could attend to her early morning duties. Regardless, Katara wanted to find her before her father did, at the very least so she could see how she was. And thus Katara awkwardly closed the door and made her way around the home, in the opposite direction the Phoenix King had gone. With any luck, she would find her Master in the lounge or in a living room, spending some time away from her Daddy.

Though Katara did not find her Queen there, instead she was drawn to a previously unoccupied room with posted guards who certainly weren't there before.

She approached uneasily, expecting confrontation - only to be surprised when the green-robed agents parted seamlessly for her and without instruction.

As evidenced by the sound of unsteady knocking (followed by total silence as she waited for a response), the uninvited, although expected visitor was quite hesitant it seemed. "Don't be shy," Azula coaxed. It would be Kat- the water bitch come to check up on her, surely. That was what she did... she checked on people, she cared. It was all so very endearing, really. Had she been this way, caring if slightly overbearing, with her friends, too..? with Zuko?

It's why I helped your brother

Giving Katara a quick once over as she shuffled into her old bedchamber, Azula's blank expression quickly turned sour. The scent of whatever it was the other girl had brought with her wafted throughout the room, overwhelming her senses.

The Phoenix Queen wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Ugh!" she snarled, ever dramatic. "I'm not hungry."

..so it was a lie. So what? Big deal. She didn't need to eat right now. And no one needed to know she was lying, least of all her slave.

Even though the waterbender knew for a fact that she hadn't eaten much of anything for long over a day, Katara believed Azula. It took more than an empty stomach to make someone hungry. She set the tray down, undeterred. "That's okay. Thirsty?" she asked, looking Azula over and satisfied that there were no further bruises.

Azula's affirmation was no more than a simple nod as she straightened up a bit, having been resting languidly against a plush heap of embroidered pillows. Whatever this was, she had to admit it felt... nice. Strange. Though still nice, nonetheless.

Someone cares for me who doesn't have to.

It was like being with a friend- with Mai or Ty Lee. The latter, moreso. Whenever the then-princess went hungry, Ty Lee had noticed, as though she were bound to, without fail. Granted, Azula never quite understood her (former) friend's fixation with her eating habits-

Would Katara attempt to convince her to eat something as well?

"Here" she extended her hand, having approached the Phoenix Queen with her head down. "It's your favorite. At least that's what Ming told me"

The waterbender turned, as if to leave. She couldn't say what she wanted to say. She couldn't do that to Azula. But Katara couldn't just put her head down and be silent, pretending nothing is wrong. Like everyone else. There had to be more she could do. There had to be something, something she could do to mend the broken Princess... to break the King's firm grasp on her, on everything. Something Katara had never tried before. To breathe fire into the box, and then to restore it.

She had been thinking of everything wrongly. Rather than thinking like Toph - stubbornly asserting righteousness. She had to be more like Aang. She need a different angle. Rather than telling the Phoenix Queen what to do, she had to just... be there, help. When no one else would. It was something the Phoenix Queen couldn't understand. Unconditional support. Unconditional love wasn't in her dictionary. For her, the concept didn't even exist. Everything had to have a reason, a motive, a place. And Katara only knew one way to prove her wrong. Or start to, anyway.

"Your Highness,"

A deep breath.

"You should consider eating. Your father would want you to be healthy"

The Phoenix Queen had, at the very least, been half-expecting some sort of attempt to persuade her but... this? Why, it was just about the last thing she had been expecting.

Azula was no fool: Katara had little but contempt for the Phoenix King. Perhaps rightfully so, his own wife and daughter mused. Even she could admit the man made himself rather difficult to like, let alone love. He was all the more difficult to understand and so, the waterbender's persistent feelings of ill-will towards him were only natural she supposed.

Your father would want you to be healthy

Still, even a slave could see that Ozai cared for his daughter, regardless of how poisonous his affections may appear. Regardless of all that the aforementioned slave had so recently witnessed-

Punishment. Or rather, its aftermath.

Azula grimaced. That sort of punishment would never again be necessary, she resolved, staring down into her glass. The repugnant chill that surged through her body was followed by a large swig of unsweetened coconut milk - indeed, it was her favorite - then a sudden realization.

This time, Katara was right.

"You're right," she conceded. "Very well, then."

The waterbender gave a genuine smile. "Good" she said, retrieving the tray again and bringing it over to where the Phoenix Queen was perched. "It should be just as you like it. But if you need anything else, just call for me"

"Thank you, Katara."

Thank you for everything

⁂⁂⁂

It seemed like forever since Ozai had been the one performing kata alone. Usually it was Azula, ever studiously practicing forms to perfection with her father only occasionally joining her for a spar. But this time the air above the grounds was quite clear of cerulean. In truth, it was difficult to call what the Phoenix King was doing practice. The blasts of orange and yellow were uncontrolled, with only the thin veneer of firebending forms.

Frustration, anger, they powered flames with equal ferocity. Turning weak and pathetic Zuko-like spurts into plumes that could consume a dozen men.

Frustration: Azula was his. His Phoenix Queen, his wife, his daughter. And yet there was a part of her that was difficult, a part of her that refused to cede to him. The part of her that kept the Dai Li as her own. Leaving his bed for another is something Ursa would do - the whore didn't want anything to do with him and neither did he her. But Azula? He would not have expected this.

zzzZZZTTT-Crrrrk!

The searing pain of untamed electricity. The powerful, dangerous mixture of chi and unbridled emotion. Power that the Phoenix King could not command.

Where was that water bitch when you needed her.

She needed a reminder. Maybe more. A reminder of whom she belonged to, a reminder that everyone knew who she was and who's she was. And he needed to do so now before the thoughts of the previous night festered in her mind, creating a problem far more serious.

The Water Bitch. Exiting her bedroom as she often did (though Ozai wondered if she had the same difficulty getting inside that he did) "You!" he brandished his arms, reddened and even charred in places from his furious charge. "Fix this. And where's my wife?"

Where's my wife?

Impatient as ever. Azula knew better than to keep Ozai waiting. So she slipped out of bed, smoothed her hair, and set off to find her husband. Thankfully, it was not at all difficult.

"I'm here, Daddy."

The Phoenix Queen nearly gasped in horror as her golden gaze fell upon his wounds, which Katara had begun to tend.

"What happened?"

"Nothing!" he barked, before easing himself. "Nothing at all. Merely an accident." he elaborated as the water bitch finished with his wounds, leaving at his wordless command.

"I was just coming to see you" he nonchalantly explained. "It came to my attention yesterday that the Island has begun festivities in our honor. The word of our arrival has brought practically every merchant in the Fire Nation to these shores. We are of course, invited to partake as we please. I wish you to accompany me. I am interested to see what has been prepared for us." Ozai finished, looking his daughter over and noting her unfinished appearance. What had the water bitch been doing in her room?

Truthfully, Azula did not feel like leaving the estate. She had half a mind to crawl back into bed, as a matter of fact. Merchants, festivities... it all sounded so, so... exhausting.

Life was exhausting enough as of late. For Agni's sake, it felt as though she had not slept the previous night (even despite her attempt to achieve some semblance of peaceful sleep).

Ozai was exhausting - moreso than life itself at times. And, judging by his 'accident', he was angry. Daddy was angry with her. And for what..? Why? He was the one who-!

The Phoenix Queen shuddered.

"Oh."

Silence for a moment.

"I... I don't feel much like celebrating today. I'm sorry, Daddy. Could you get along without me?"

"I suppose I could" Ozai answered truthfully, though with disappointment. It certainly wasn't unexpected that Azula would act this way, considering her recent punishment. Though he knew it wouldn't be long before the Phoenix Queen would crave him again, if she was not already. It was merely a matter of providing the opportunity.

"However, what would be the point partaking without my Queen at my side? They are celebrating our new union, Azula. They crave a glimpse of their queen, my, they hardly know what you look like" He stared into her eyes. "And I crave to show them that you are mine." a cautious step forward, careful not to completely invade his daughter's personal space for fear of upsetting her. "I'd also like you to be there to help me select to a few keepsakes, to remember our time here. And how could I do such a thing without you at my side?"

Azula managed an honest smile, noting her father's (dare she say?) gentle attempt at persuasion as opposed to his usual demands and forcefulness. As well, she noticed something unusual... hesitation perhaps? It was obvious, he'd meant to avoid physical closeness just then.

He knows

He'd hurt her, and he did not wish to make the same mistake twice.

"On second thought, I'd like to join you," Azula conceded, with a step forward thus closing the distance between father and daughter. "Very much so." Her rightful place was at his side and of course, her King agreed. Ozai would be (again, dare she say?) incomplete without her- his Queen. Yes, it was all so simple and yet it was perfect.

The Phoenix King and Queen belonged together.

I crave to show them that you are mine

Indeed, she was his - even still. Once more, Azula would wear the marks upon her neck with pride as they stood before a horde of adoring (and some, not-so-adoring) subjects.

"I'll need to borrow the water-wench...," she muttered, fully aware of her bedraggled, although still striking appearance. "I must look a sight!"



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