Kuebiko

BY : Death_Rattle
Category: Avatar - The Last Airbender > AU/AR - Alternate Universe/Alternate Reality
Dragon prints: 5256
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Avatar: the Last Airbender or any of the characters. I do not profit from my writing.

...an intermission? And honest-to-Tui intermission? Thank the spirits, thought Katara, her mind already doing its best to wander from the fiction that had been playing out in front of her. I was beginning to wonder if there was even going to be an end all of this...

A temporary end, she reminded herself, the worst being yet to arrive. The glorious Fire Nation victories over the evil Avatar were next, after all. Maybe Her Royal Highness would ask for her to go get some fire-flakes? ...from the other side of the island? She could only hope.

Unlike the peasant behind him, his royal highness was definitely not relieved by the delay. Stopping before all the fun parts. Why do stage plays need intermissions anyway? Did the poor actors get tired? The Phoenix King wondered, if briefly, before turning to something far more interesting than a blank stage.

"You've been a good girl, just as I asked, Azula" he managed an honest smile, stroking the raven hair that had partially spilled onto him from the head that was buried in his shoulder.

good girl

Azula basked in the glow of Ozai's approval (as always). Welcoming the warmth of her father's touch, as well as another sort of warmth which was flooding her on the inside as a result of his praise, she nuzzled against him like a cat deer in heat.

"Of course, Daddy," she purred, her lips nearly touching his ear. "Anything for you."

Anything for me

The Phoenix King smiled and sat back. "On your knees" he commanded, taking a sip of the blood red liquid in his goblet and exhaling a preemptive sigh - smirking at a passing thought. He somehow wished that the royal box weren't so secluded. But... there will be time for that a little later. For now, some indulgence.

His Queen required no further instruction. Azula dropped to her knees, eager to please her husband and father... as always. She fumbled around with his robes, trying (and failing) to hide her awkwardness. She was unused to such things. Typically, her Daddy would handle any obstructive clothing - whether his or hers. Nonetheless, Azula was quick about it. She knew better than to keep Ozai waiting...

Indeed, she skipped the needless prelude of kissing, teasing, touching... and went straight for what he really wanted - her lips wrapped around his cock, her warm mouth enveloping, and her tongue stimulating the underside of his shaft ever so skillfully. Manicured hands crept upward, caressing her father's rigid abdominal muscles as she pleasured him.

"Water bitch"

The words eventually arrived, being suppressed by all that pleasure - his Queen's masterful skill, accentuated by her faint grip around his abdomen electrifying his nerves to the complete expense of everything else.

"Bring me... more"

A still half-full goblet of wine hit the armrest.

The Phoenix King wasn't even trying to hide his actions. I guess he wants a repeat of two weeks ago, the waterbender thought to herself, thinking back to the first time she had the pleasure of seeing the Phoenix Queen 'pay her respects'. Though that time wasn't deliberately engineered.

Katara briefly considered simply bending the wine from the bottle into the goblet, though she knew very well that wasn't what the man wanted. Azula had made the costs of disobedience against her father very clear.

Sigh

Getting up from her seat behind them and rounding the corner, she saw the man's smile as she came into view. Though Katara could swear she was walking briskly the distance seemed unreasonably long, as if the spirits were lengthening time itself, until... finally. She made his goblet full again, and-

Wha- Get your hands off of me!

Ozai's smirk widened and his grip - both on his daughter's scalp and his slave's hand - tightened "Look at me"

Silence. Nothing but the methodical movements of the Phoenix Queen's tongue, not audible above the background noise of the commoners.

"Do you not see this to be the natural order of things? You serve my daughter, who serves me.... should there be a break in the chain, there are consequences for breaking that order. Should you do well, you shall be-" he cocked his head back, the vast pleasures of his daughter's mouth and the look of defeat in the water bitch's eyes having sent him over the edge, filling Azula's mouth with his hot and sticky approval - causing him to (voluntarily or not, Ozai wasn't sure) let go of the waterbender's hand.

"Thank you" Katara's eyes widened, noticing that the Phoenix King was referring to her. "You're dismissed." he turned to his daughter, pushing the dark-skinned girl out of his mind.

"You've been a very good girl." he ruffled Azula's hair. "I'm thinking of showing everyone just how appreciative I am later... I'm looking forward to a bigger audience for your reward."

Azula, too, ignored any and all thoughts relating to the waterbender. Instead she just smiled up at her husband and father, focusing solely on him. "Mm, is that so?" she asked, barely able to contain her excitement. "I do hope this intermission is short then. Your little princess is aching for relief, Daddy."

Dutiful as ever, she remained down on her knees in front of him (he had not granted her permission to return to her seat).

Ozai eventually sat up straight and awkwardly fixed his robes, taking a drink before patting his daughter on the head and then moving his hand to her seat.

Ah. Just in time, he noted, the curtains of the play opening to the next scene.

Azula sat down beside her father, just as the actor portraying him was revealed along with a makeshift bunker. The faux Fire Lord sat in the center of the room surrounded by faceless men in full armor - his royal guards, no doubt. Though the man appeared appropriately cautious at the sound of a metal door creaking open, followed by swift footfalls belonging to none other than...

"Prince Zuko? Is something the matter?"

"Yes" the scarred man began. "You're the matter, Father! I am here to tell you that your reign is coming to an end!" he spread is arms up in the air enigmatically as the crowd gave a unanimous boooo.

"I'm going to retake my place as rightful heir to the throne." the actor finished, as the real Ozai gave a hearty laugh at his son's portrayal.

"Rightful-" the faux Fire Lord laughed, sharing in the Phoenix King's amusement. "Really, Zuko? Patricide? If only you were capable of such a feat... why, perhaps I could be proud. Alas, you are a coward." He stood up, maintaining an air of regality. "Azula is my one, true heir. She is stronger than you, better than you - in every way. So long as she draws breath, you will remain exactly as you are. Nothing."

"If only that were actually true! But I know the real truth! You only say all those good things about Azula because you have a wicked love for her. You're blinded by your favoritism, you can't see the stronger, better heir. The future man of the Fire Nat-" the actor stumbled as he got hit by a bowl of hot stew.

Boooooooo

"Go back to the Earth Kingdoms!"

"Pleblord!"

More booos and laughter.

"SILENCE!" bellowed the Phoenix King, slamming his goblet down on the armrest, creating an indent. "Incorrigible mongrels" he mumbled to himself.

Meanwhile, the scarred actor had shaken himself off (thankfully, most of the material in the bowl had missed, leaving his costume unmarred by the liquid). "...the future man of the Fire Nation Royal Family! At the end of this black sun, your blood will be on this very floor, spilled by the Avatar your precious daughter failed to ultimately kill."

And speaking of Ozai's 'precious daughter'...

Azula cringed at the mention of her failure. Once more, as if to seek-

She was unsure what she sought, exactly. Regardless, the Phoenix Queen's hand clasped tightly around her King's and she buried her head into his shoulder.

"THE AVATAR?! IMPOSSIBLE!"

"Oh it's possible, father. The Avatar has been saved by a sorceress of unimaginable power! A woman from the south pole, the last waterbender of her kind! The Avatar can never be defeated, and he will give me the throne in exchange for a few cities full of worthless commoners. He's on his way into these very tunnels right now, and I've made sure your precious daughter won't be able to stop them."

The crowd sounded again, though this time to gasp.

"On top of having no bending, she has no friends. Nobody to help her."

Katara shared in the crowd's collective surprise, but for different reasons. A sorceress of unimaginable power? Were they talking about her?

The actor's handsome face fell. "No..." he shook his head in disbelief. "My Azula..."

"TRAITOR!" he roared with righteous anger, charging the faux Prince. "You are no son of mine!" Quick as a flash, the scarred actor brandished his swords in self-defense, prompting the audience to gasp once more. And in an instant, several men dressed as royal guards moved to subdue him.

"Forget the traitor! Defend your princess!" the not-Firelord ordered, narrowly avoiding the steel of his not-son's blade as his guards dispersed. The already restless crowd grew fearful...

"Should any harm come to my beloved daughter, the punishment you received three years ago will be merciful by comparison" the actor declared. "If only I had forsaken you then. Instead, I try to teach you respect... I give you one last chance to prove yourself worthy, and this is how you repay me?!"

"He didn't bother with the swords" Ozai mused as the curtains closed. "He was too much of a coward to attack me even after I dismissed my own guards."

The next began just as quickly as the last ended, showing the Crown Princess fighting handily with the Avatar, even alone and without her bending - gracefully dodging blasts of air, water whips, and the brute's hammer.

"He said 'it wasn't his destiny'. Fancy way of saying that he's a pussy."

Azula laughed at Ozai's crude albeit, astute (or so he thought) conclusion. "Perhaps so..." she mused, her golden gaze locked on the raven-haired actress – though only momentarily. She raised her head and turned her upper body inward, towards her father. "Were you..." A delicate, manicured hand came to rest upon his chest. "Were you worried about me..? During the eclipse?"

"I'll definitely admit the thought of you being out there leading away those savages made me nervous." He answered, with reduced conviction. "However I had every confidence in you. You were never the reckless type - you had everything planned. The layout of the tunnels, your agents. There was nobody more capable than you were"

"I failed you, in Ba Sing Se..." she reminded him. Those all too recent events remained the then-Princess's greatest source of shame and regret. "I would have done anything anything at all to keep the Avatar and his little band of freaks away from you. No matter if it was reckless. I didn't deserve your trust... perhaps I don't deserve it still."

"Failure in Ba Sing Se? First I've heard" the Phoenix King responded honestly, having heard of this for the first time.

"I should have killed the Avatar... but I didn't" Azula offered, her eyes downcast. "And instead of doing as I was told, I lead my brother home, not in chains but by my side, to be honored as a war hero... only for him to betray you- betray us!"

"I will not hear this!" he exclaimed, again slamming his goblet down and causing some of the red liquid to be lost. "He used our love against you. I will not have that fool shift one iota of blame to you. How would you know water bitch back there was some kind of resurrectionist?" Ozai exclaimed, not fully realizing all the implications. But already he wondered if Katara's act could have an encore.

Azula took a deep breath.

Not now, not tonight

Part of her wanted to come clean, tell him what he'd seen in the play's opening scene wasn't true but... letting him believe she'd had no choice but to lie to him was so much easier. What would he think if he knew the truth behind her deception..? Agni, her self-interest could have been their downfall! He'd be right to be angry with her, what she did was so stupid and foolish and selfish-!

He can't know

The Phoenix Queen finally spoke. "'Tis true. I had no idea she was a...," she let out a small laugh. "...sorceress of unimaginable power." she jeered, mocking the claim that Zuko's actor had made onstage only moments ago.

The Phoenix King, however, did not think the subject at hand to be a laughing matter.

The crowd cheered as the great Crown Princess regained her inner fire and vanquished the last of the invaders - the father of the water bitch and the brute falling in battle along with many of his comrades. The waterbender kept silent despite the universal acclaim - the events only proving how full of lies the whole thing was: her dad was definitely still alive. Wherever he was, Katara hoped he was continuing the fight.

"Azula, Azula!" sounded the strained voice of the Faux Firelord as he rounded the corner of a false tunnel, seemingly out of breath.

"Are you..?" he looked her over. "I'm so glad you're alright." Father embraced daughter.

"Of course" the raven-haired Fire Princess replied, nowhere near as distraught as her Lord Father. "Is... is something wrong?"

"Zuko betrayed us, my daughter. He knew we would be apart and seized the opportunity... leaving you to the Avatar's mercy with no bending and no allies. I feared the worst."

"Did he... did he try to..?" Azula ran an hand across his face.

The actor shook his head. "An idle threat. The boy showed his true colors - a coward, through and through." He took her hands and kissed them in turn. "You're all I have left in the world." Another kiss, atop the crown of her head. Then another upon her cheek. "Be my princess forever." Father and daughter locked lips.

Awwwww

"Father..."

The faux Princess grasped her father's hands in her own. "I don't deserve it. I... I've told you lies - lies that left you at his mercy." Scarce tears left her eyes.

"What-" Concern washed over the man's face at the sight of his 'daughter' in distress. "Hush, my princess..." He brushed away a single tear that had made its way down her cheek. "You can tell me anything. Please... trust me as you once did."

"Zuko... he knew about us. He... he's going to tell everyone. He told me he would unless I did what he wanted"

"Traitorous bastard!" the faux Fire Lord growled. "Fear not, my daughter" he embraced the young woman once more. "The word of a traitor counts for nothing. As well, Zuko is going to pay for what he did." He held her gaze. "Soon enough, our love shall be known to all the world - and celebrated by all. Just as it should be."

The two embraced for a little longer before the curtains closed on the cooing audience. Well, mostly cooing. Katara was stubbornly silent waiting for it all to end. Each time the curtains opened again she wondered just how long this play would go. Why wouldn't they just show Aang dying and get over with it all? She wondered how anyone Fire Nation or not could be captivated by this dull showing of a depraved romance - an expected victory against those whom are already weak and beaten down.

The thick curtains again opened and showed her Mistress's weird friends again, though this time with an unusual flair. The assassin with knives in her hair was dressed in flowing red with a gold embroidery, looking into a full-length mirror, examining herself.

"What do you think about this one?"

The brunette wrinkled her nose with obvious distaste. "That dress is like soooo not your style, Mai!"

A pause.

"I wonder if they can like... dye it black?"

The raven haired woman sighed. "It's not supposed to be black, Ty Lee, it's-!" she turned to her right.

"Girls" addressed the smooth voice of the Faux Princess. "Mind if I join you?"

"Uhh-! ummm..." Not-Ty Lee stammered, nervously. "It like, totally wasn't my fault!" she blurted. "Mai s-said, sh-she said... "

"Yes, what did Mai say, I wonder?" asked the raven-haired royal, eyeing the suspicious assassin.

Total silence.

"You weren't the only one" Mai answered finally. "Zuko came to me, too. He said we had to leave the caldera during the day of the eclipse or he'd tell everyone about you."

She crossed her arms "So that's why you left me and my father alone during this most stressful time"

"We didn't think Zuko was actually going to help the rebels. I thought he was just going to challenge you to an Agni Kai or whatever."

"We had nooooo idea! Honest! This is like so messed up!" added the brunette, who then pulled her royal friend into a tight embrace. "Thank Agni you're alright" she said. "Your father... is he..?"

The Faux Princess allowed a slight smile. "He's fine. We're both quite alright." she answered, returning the hug and putting her forehead against the acrobat's. "But my brother escaped along with his new friend: The Avatar."

"And you want us to help?" Mai returned a grin.

"Indeed." she began, decoupling herself from her vacuous friend. "I have uncovered information which tells me exactly where my brother and his friends will be. Ladies, we're taking a trip to the prison of Boiling Rock"

The curtains closed once more, providing actors and stage crew alike with an opportunity to prepare for the next scene. "It's not true, you know" Azula declared, positively dreading what was about to happen onstage before her very eyes. Yet another failure... betrayal...

"No one made them do anything."

"Makes their failure even more ridiculous, doesn't it?" Ozai commented, absolutely ignorant of his wife and daughter's distress to the whole matter. "They betrayed the most powerful woman in the world of their own accord. Some people are just intent to be foolish, wouldn't you say?"

"Indeed they are" she concurred. Although... 'foolish' was not exactly the word that came to mind whenever the Phoenix Queen would think of her (former) friends, regardless of the fact that she had referred to them as such.

You're both fools

Perhaps they were, perhaps they weren't. In any case, that didn't matter. They had done so much more than betray her trust. Mai and Ty Lee had hurt her - in ways she never knew they could.

They were supposed to be my friends, remain by my side - always

"Well, I am certain they have come to regret such foolishness," Azula declared, though she was unsure of whether or not her assertion was at all true. Nonetheless, she continued. "How could one not? Considering, as you said, I am only the most powerful woman in the world."

The Phoenix King was about to speak but cut off by a large BOOM.

Or, as large as the theater pyrotechnics could make it without risking damage to their flammable surroundings. The crowd gasped as a man none other than the Fire Prince stepped out from the smoke, followed by a woman of strange complexion - a hardened criminal obviously. The poor mock guards standing in their way stood no chance - mother's covering their children's eyes as fake blood spilled out of them, the faux Kyoshi Warrior giving no mercy wielding scarlet knives.

"We have the warden. Start the gondola!" not-Zuko barked in an uncharacteristically commanding voice, accentuated by the ruffians not far behind him.

"I'm sorry sir, I can't do that" managed a scruffy man, as his assailant's sister and her allies stepped forward from the right of the stage, coming out of the darkness again - the Fire Princess again brandishing the armor she wore when fighting with the Avatar and his brutish fiends.

"Azula"

"Brother. I'm afraid I can't let you leave - not after what you've done. What you tried to do, to me, to father..." she shook her head, taking another step, the stagelights centering on her. "Keeping you here in a place designed for simple criminals is mercy enough for a Prince who betrayed his nation."

His smirk widened. "Not this time. You're hopelessly outnumbered!" he shouted, his overly confident demeanor drawing a laugh from the crowd - and the Phoenix King.

"You and a bunch of pathetic criminals against me and my allies? I'll take my chances. Girls!" she pointed.

Silence.

It was the raven-haired assassin who finally broke the quiet. "I'm sorry Azula, I can't help you with Zuko. I guess you're on your own" she said dully, leisurely walking past the Faux Princess and taking her side by her hidden ally.

"Ye-eah!" the pinkish girl spoke up. "Like, it's totally mean what you're doing to Zuko" Thock. Thock The royal hit the ground. "Mai and Zuko make like, the cutest-"

"Grab her." Zuko bellowed, no longer caring about what the acrobat was doing - his call being met be murmurs of approval by some of the not-so-civilized men behind him, to the dismay of the audience. "We're leaving"

The faint noises of the stands grew to a standstill as their hero was dragged, the dignity of free movement removed, on the fake metal floor.

FOOM

A mixture of not-fire and quite real fire ballooned from the center of the group as the restrained warden of Boiling Rock freed himself, causing two of the miscreants to catch fire and flail around on stage (They weren't in any real danger, Azula assumed, their clothing probably specially designed for the spectacle. Impressive, even). "You're no niece of mine!" was his war cry as he tackled down the assassin in the middle of a throw, his reinforcing guards mere seconds behind already unleashing attacks of their own.

The Faux Prince backed away seemingly in shock of the firefight erupting around him, before turning like the coward he was and running, smashing the lever to the gondola and stepping off the platform - the woman with the bloody knives being the only one to follow.

The Phoenix Queen, meanwhile, was at the edge of her seat, shocked still as her onstage counterpart. Remembering was one thing but witnessing a reenactment..? Re-living that fateful day... Azula shivered. The curtains drew shut, leaving one lasting image: her actress, paralyzed and powerless while guards moved to help the woman stand upright. And to think...

No more than a few short months ago, she had been left in such a state - by them, no less. And for what? Or rather... whom. If nothing else, the scene was accurate in that regard. Mai had chosen her brother, after all. And Ty Lee? She had chosen Mai when push came to shove- or was it Mai and Zuko? Regardless, she betrayed-

Betrayal... are you certain of that?

Yes! It should have been me she chose, every time!

Protecting her friends from another friend amounts to betrayal..? What would you have done?

That doesn't matter.

Once more, the Phoenix Queen blinked back tears and found comfort leaning against her Daddy.

Ozai scoffed. "I thought you told me that warden was a weak fool." he shook his head. "No, this can't do at all!" the great Phoenix King decided. "Remind me to find that playwright and have him redo this scene for the future. That man didn't save you. You were the hero that day."

You were the hero

Azula immediately perked up. "Yes, you're right" she agreed. "The warden did nothing, save for getting himself captured - then attempting to kill us all by ordering his men to cut the line to the gondola" she scoffed.

His ears perked up. "He what?"

"You mean... they didn't tell you?" she asked, incredulous. "That man tried to kill me!" she affirmed. "Luckily I managed to escape but I assure you, he had every intention of letting us all die in order to protect his pride. Some nonsense about escape attempts and his flawless record..."

"WHAT!?" The Phoenix King's exclamation echoed throughout the theater, bringing an end to any casual scene-break conversations. "The man tried to kill my daughter to save his own pride? And this man is still alive? I should have known wretched Ukano's family was rotten to the core. His wife's brother, his daughter, all tried to hurt you."

A pause.

"I'll have them all executed"

Azula's face fell. Damn Ukano and that foolish warden to Koh's lair but... Mai?! She opened her mouth to speak, to protest-

Silence.

It felt as though some mysterious force had stolen her voice. She didn't want her (former) friend dead, of course, but the fact of the matter remained - there was no reason to keep her alive anymore. No good or logical reason anyhow and... certainly no reason that would satisfy her husband!

Instead, Azula just smiled then asked "Is there no limit concerning how many people you would execute on account of me?"

"None at all" Ozai said with a satisfying look on his face as the curtains were once again opened, revealing an entirely new location - foreign lands and architecture which Azula could tell was some warped, propagandized version of the inverted air temple where the Avatar and his friends had been hiding. One thing that wasn't foreign, though-

"Katara!" bellowed the voice of not-zuko, his voice seeming demanding and overly dramatic as always, facing another woman on the opposite side of the stage. "I need to speak with you"

The real Katara had to do a double take. That woman looked more like Azula than her. Dark hair, pale skin. Last time anybody checked, nobody water tribe had eyes the color of amber. And since when did she strut around in a qipao?

The audience, however, did not share the waterbender's surprise.

The actress, who had been busying herself tidying up (at least they'd gotten that part right) sighed exaggeratedly. "I'm a little busy here" she said, turning to face the scarred man. He did not react in the slightest. "What is it?" she asked, exasperated.

"My sister keeps getting away." he said darkly. "She has friends everywhere. I remove one of hers, two more grow in her place to protect her. No-brained loyalists doing what they've been programmed to do from birth." A burst of red and yellow as the Fire Prince grunted in exasperation. "I want her out of the picture. I want her dead!"

He paused, looking into the woman's eyes

"If your magics can bring someone back from the dead, surely they can take someone there, too."

"Perhaps..." the woman replied, cryptically. "I guess we'll never know." She turned her back toward the man, choosing instead to focus her attention on a nearby pile of apparently soiled clothing. "If I could use my powers for such a heinous crime - and I don't know that I could - I never would. Save your breath, Zuko" she added, for good measure.

"Now leave me be. I have clothes to wash, Your Highness."

"Really? You wouldn't want to get back at the people that killed your mother, your father? My sister is evil, she wouldn't think twice about destroying everything you care about!" he exclaimed. "When we defeat them, I can bring them all to justice. The killers of your father. Your mother."

"I know you're holding back" he added.

"No!" The tunic she had been 'scrubbing' hit the water with a splash, some of its contents spilling over the wash bin's edge and onto the stage. "I won't be like them - I'm not a killer!" Tears sprung forth from the young woman's eyes - expressive enough although definitely not blue.

"Of course I'm holding back. If I don't, I'm no better than they are."

"If you keep holding back, you let people like my sister win!" he shouted. "You know I'm right, Katara. Blood must be answered with blood! My father did this" he pointed at his fake scar. "to me, to his own son! He is so unfair!" the Fire Prince exclaimed, causing a wave of rowdy laughter from the crowd. "And I know my sister would do the same. To beat them, we must fight like them"

"You're right..." not-Katara said. And with nearly all of the real Katara's confidence, she said "We can't let them win for all of our sakes."

"Of course we can't. With your help, I will take care of my sister and assume my rightful place once and for all. I will bring all of them to justice. You'll see."

As the actor and actress made their exits Ozai shifted in his seat. "So is it true he really sought the help of the water bitch to defeat you? He didn't even give you the benefit of a fair honor duel, instead relying on the assistance of some water tribe savage?"

"Well...," Azula began.

A pause as she considered that fateful day and the events that had transpired.

"...no. I guess it wasn't fair from the beginning. Zuzu had her there all along. I had no one - except for myself."

"Coward." he said simply. "Coward, coward, coward. Agni, he's my son! And somehow, he can't even have one moment where he stands on his own." Ozai shook his head. "He's lucky you spared him at all"

Azula turned toward her father and smiled. "Forget Zuzu. I'll give you better sons."

"Of this, I have no doubt. The beauty of your mother without her accompanying weakness. Our dynasty will leave echoes that last millennia. Nobody will remember the stain on our memory that was my first son!" he exclaimed.

"Our heirs will be the strongest ever. Just as the prophecy foretold" The Phoenix King added, remembering the words of his late father before turning his eyes from his beautiful wife back onto the stage, where both their lookalikes now stood.

"Azula" the faux Fire Lord began, slowly clasping her hands in his. "I have been most fortunate to have you as my daughter and heir. Our nation would be fortunate, perhaps even moreso to have you as their ruler. As Sozin's Comet approaches, granting me with the power to finish the Great War once and for all, I must ask something of you."

The Fire Princess knelt before her father, bowing her head with respect. "Thank you. I am ready to do whatever you ask of me. Anything to serve you, Lord Father"

"Rise." A simple gesture of the hand accentuated his command. "I ask more- much more than I have ever asked before, my daughter: to watch over our homeland in my stead, to lead its people with all of the strength I know you to be capable of. As of today, you are no longer a princess. As of today, I name you Fire Lord Azula."

"And as of today, I shall be known as...,"

Once more, the theater provided pyrotechnics befitting of such an occasion as several flags depicting the Fire Nation insignia were replaced.

"...The Phoenix King! Just as this world will burn, it will be born again - a new and better world in which all the lands are fire. I shall rise from the ashes and rule over everything."

And in the blink of an eye, levels of noise and excitement rose to staggering heights as the crowd went wild.

The actors waited until the cheering died down before continuing. "Father... I have no words" she said, standing straight up and walking towards her lord father, grasping her hands in her father's before kissing him on the cheek. "This is an honor that you would entrust me with this at such a young age. I won't let you down."

"And... it'll be another great honor to end the war together."

"Together-?" The actor's handsome face fell, if only slightly. "No, My Azula. I need you now. The Fire Nation needs you now - Zuko, the traitor, will look to take what he perceives to be his, destroy what we've built. You cannot allow this happen. Please, My Love. Keep our nation and its people safe."

He turned his back toward the dejected young woman.

"I shall face the Avatar once and for all - alone."

"Bu-But-!" the actress stammered. "You can't face him alone, father, he's...!"

She rushed into an embrace. "Don't go alone, please. I want you to come back."

The faux Fire Lord turned Phoenix King returned his daughter's embrace with every bit as much conviction. "Hush, My Princess..." he soothed. "I will return to you."

Father and daughter shared a passionate kiss, as though it were their very first (or last).

"I promise."

It couldn't be much longer now. They royal couple were saying their goodbyes, with the now-'Phoenix King' leaving to scorch the earth, which meant he would be... he would be killing Aang. And knowing the Fire Nation, they would make and event out of it. The waterbender could still clearly remember the heart wrenching pain she felt the first time - and she hadn't even seen it. Not something she was intending to rectify.

She stood up and looked over at the royal couple, who were evidently lost in the moment, the Phoenix Queen with her head buried in her father's shoulder. She almost didn't want to ruin the moment. Oops.

"Mistress" she addressed Azula specifically. "I'd like to.. " the waterbender thought quickly. " take a leave to refresh myself."

Although unexpected, the interruption was not unwelcome. As a matter of fact, the Phoenix Queen was relieved upon turning her attention toward something other than the stage - in reality, their goodbye had been anything but romantic and her father's parting words had provided little to no comfort.

Piercing gold met eyes of blue, silently pleading for respite - which Azula resolved she would grant. "Very well, you may-"

"You will stay" the Phoenix King interrupted, seeing right through the waterbender's ploy. "You watch. It's a shame you weren't there to see me slay your pathetic friend. This will have to do."

He seemed to laugh to himself.

"I doubt they'll show it." Ozai said finally, cryptically, his pauses seeming to suck the air from the room. "He had the opportunity to end it, you know. He used the same parlor trick as my son. I should have known"

"No matter, though. He was too weak to take the chance. Those who can't kill to survive don't deserve it."

Azula knew Ozai to be cruel of course but... this? It was not that she necessarily disapproved of needless cruelty (on the contrary she approved more often than not). Merely she wondered... why was he even bothering to torment her slave and what could he possibly stand to gain by doing so? The waterbender couldn't fight back in the slightest-

Why do you care?

I don't, it's just-

Yes you do.

Alright so she did but... her Daddy had been content to ignore the girl up until this point (save for barking orders at her). His sudden interest in her made no sense! The Phoenix Queen most certainly had no delusions about treating those lesser than her as equals, however the fact of the matter remained: Katara was her slave, and therefore hers to torment, as often (or seldom) as she deemed necessary. As of now, it was unnecessary - Katara knew her place.

Though some small part of Azula was still expecting Katara to storm off against the Phoenix King's wishes... to say something... anything. Instead she sat in silence, resigned to the fact that she was unable to do or say anything at all under pain of death (or worse) as the battle raged on.

The crowd cheered with each and every blow, until the not-Phoenix King's opponent was downed in a spectacle of pyrotechnics, the ruler falling into a short victory speech announcing the new era in Fire Nation History. Katara listened intently but could hear no voices of dissent - and then nothing, as the musicians changed their tone from upbeat to foreboding, the crowd responding with silent anticipation.

It was uncanny; a scene familiar. Katara recognized the (actually somewhat decent) rendition of the very courtyard where she had fallen, with the Faux Princess kneeling on the dais, in front of the red-robed men that she had heard were called fire sages (though, they didn't seem very sage-like to Katara, if they crowned her).

"And by the authority of fire, the authority of Agni-"

"Your Highness, watch out!" yelled a child's voice before quickly being silenced by his mother, causing some faint murmuring in the stands

"-I hereby crown you Firelo-"

Katara squinted her eyes and finally saw what all the commotion was about. Not-Zuko dressed up in that ridiculous costume with the blue mask, followed by that woman who was supposed to be her, creeping up from the side of the stage.

In one swift motion, the fire sages toppled over and fell to the ground as though some mysterious force had taken control of their bodies, causing the audience (as well as the would-be Fire Lord) to react with express shock. The woman portraying Azula took a fighting stance - to no avail. She crumpled upon the dais, rendered apparently helpless. A scream resonated throughout the theater as the waterbender laid hands upon her forehead.

"Bear witness to my power... a power granted by Tui and La, the great moon and ocean spirits themselves, so that I may cleanse this world of evil."

"What are you-!"

Fingertips dug into porcelain skin without mercy and the princess was cut off by her own cries of pain.

"The mind is such a fickle thing, really..." Katara's actress smirked in a manner most uncharacteristic of her real-life counterpart. The crowd appeared nothing short of horrified. "Let us see how you fare once I turn it against you."

Her shrieks of pain pierced the ears of everyone watching until they unceremoniously stopped, the raven-haired woman slowly writhing on the ground, as if in pain, strands of her hair seemingly falling right off her head and leaving clumps on the ground around her.

The Fire Prince drew his sword, drawing a look from the sorceress.

"Wait!"

Her gaze shifted between brother and sister in rapid succession, several times.

"You can't-"

"I can. This is my chance to finally get rid of her, to take my rightful place on the throne!"

He raised his sword.

"You can't fight me at my best so you resort to this, little brother?!" she yelled with a chaotic energy that Katara actually considered rather on point. "You're pathetic, you're a disgrace to the family!" the actress's voice seemed to crack as she released a wild flurry of azure streamers, the surprised blue spirit barely avoiding, his mask being knocked off revealing his disgraced face. "Father was lenient before, and I but after he hears about this? You'll wished you had taken my offer of a prison cell" Another flurry.

The Fire Prince responded in kind. "You don't deserve the crown! Father just gave it to you because of your twisted re-"

Boom

A puff of smoke from where a bolt of 'lightning' struck.

"Shut up, brother. I'm trying to celebrate becoming an only child!"

The Fire Princess continued to unleash false flame with little restraint, her brother barely keeping up as she glided around on flame as if she could fly without the ropes tied to her back, until suddenly-

CRACK!

In a moment, it was over, the Fire Prince collapsing onto the ground, his mouth open as if to say something. But all that anyone could hear was the maniacal laughter of the Fire Princess - already disinterested in her fallen brother. "Where are you, filthy peasant?!" she yelled out, looking among the pillars for the waterbender. "Playing a little game of hide and seek?"

Her opponent closing in, Not-Katara darted out from behind the safety of a nearby pillar and scampered away in a manner most unbecoming of the real Katara. However, the waterbender proved no match, wild ribbons of cerulean sending her crashing down onto the stage.

"Running and hiding like dear brother? Didn't really work out for him did it." Said the Fire Princess, standing above the waterbender, leaning down and grabbing her by the collar with abnormal strength.

"Did you two fools really believe you could-" she paused, giving a rather poor rendition of Azula's trademark smirk. "Of course you did. Worthless savage"

"Please!" Katara's actress struggled. Amber eyes went wide with fear as she turned toward the audience - silently begging for their sympathy - then back again. "I'd take it all back if I could! Zuko is a coward, I never should have helped him! He tricked me! He used the death of my family to suit his own selfish wonts!" she exclaimed. "I know what I did to you was awful but... please. Have mercy."

"And that's why you did this to me? I don't see wh-"

She turned her head to several approaching figures.

"Your Highness." said a green robed agent of the Dai Li (or the best rendition the playwright could muster) "What wo-"

"Who... who are" the ragged haired woman shook her head. "what are you doing here?" The waterbender hit the ground hard.

"Princess? We heard the commotion, we're here to-"

She backed away. "Traitors. More traitors" she turned to run, a few agents following her while some stayed behind - grabbing the waterbender and the disgraced prince while the curtains closed.

The Phoenix King shifted in his seat as the intermission was announced. "You're no longer needed" he dismissed the waterbender, who had sat through the whole thing in various states of disgust.

He waited for the woman to leave, which, given her state of hurry, certainly wasn't long.

"An interesting interpretation of events, wouldn't you say?" he said aloud, with a smirk. "I imagine once this playwright's tour is complete a lot of pesky rumors will die with it"

Though her sanity (or rather lack thereof) was a sore subject to say the least, the Phoenix Queen, too managed an honest smile. "Indeed. There would be little sense in denying the truth, after all," she replied. Of course, Azula was not ignorant or delusional - she knew very well that what transpired onstage only moments ago had been just about the furthest thing from the truth. Nonetheless, she also knew better than to argue against a far more favorable explanation regarding her... issues: they were not really hers at all, the 'sorceress' had plagued her 'once sound' mind with some sort of curse.

"Agreed. No point in having the peasantry worry over nothing. After all, there will be no more cause for concern anymore, will there?" he held her close and stroked her hair.

"Of course not, Daddy" Azula affirmed, accepting her father's touch along with its familiar warmth. "As long as you're here to look after your little girl, she has nothing to fear."

A pause.

Ozai could practically feel the creaking in his aging bones. "Let's go for a walk" he said suddenly, gently pushing the Phoenix Queen to the side while he unceremoniously sat up, untying his daughter from the armrest and holding the leash in his hands, moving to walk out of the royal box to look for the balcony he had seen previously.

"Make yourself useful." he growled to the water bitch as he passed her. "Bring me more refreshments before I return."

As if you don't have enough already, Katara shook her head slightly.

The Phoenix Queen peered over at the selection of various wines and liquors (which definitely did not need replenishing) then offered her servant sympathetic eyes and a knowing smile upon realizing just how unnecessary her father's request really was. Still, Ozai was in charge and on this evening in particular he had every intention of demonstrating just that - if his demeanor thus far had been any indication.

Unlike the aforementioned waterbender however, Azula required no such lesson. Indeed, she had no doubts as to who was in charge as she followed her husband and father close behind, a gentle tug of her brand new and specially crafted leash serving to drive the point home.



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