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.

As Ming descended the stairwell, making her way down to the palace dungeons, her heartbeat was pounding in her ears and an intense rush of adrenaline hit, making her stumble. She didn't really know what to feel, other than fear, or just what to make of all of this, but from the moment she'd awoken and found Katara missing, she knew something must be terribly wrong. Unless the royal couple were away on a trip (they were not) then there was no good reason why she should be absent. She'd checked the kitchens, the laundry, all the usual places the waterbender was assigned, and nothing, no trace of her. So finally, she'd plucked up the courage to ask one of those men in green robes and funny hats. If anyone knew anything, it would be them.

Katara had attacked the Phoenix King's personal guards the night previous, the man had said, as well she had been caught conspiring with the recently deposed prince, Zuko. He'd also let slip where she was being held. Well, okay either that or he wanted her to go and help Katara, she was unsure which.

As she came upon her final destination, Ming hoped beyond hope that nobody would ask her what she was doing down here, and if they did, she hoped even more that she would be able to come up with a lie that would satisfy...

To her dismay, she was met with five men, all in armor, guarding the doorway.

"Halt!" one said, his expression unreadable beneath his helmet.

Ming hesitated. "I..." She'd never been a very good liar, she was passable at best.

A pause, as she tried to think of what in Agni's name she could say to get past them.

"I've been sent to attend to the prisoner's wounds," she finally said, though it came out sounding like more of a question than a statement.

Katara had to be injured. Knowing the Fire-

Knowing the Phoenix King, she had no doubts the poor girl had been whipped, burned, and...

And let's not think about what else, her mind scolded.

Unfortunately for the both of them, the men did not move, or speak a word.

There was a long moment of silence as Ming wrestled with her thoughts, yet again. She wanted to just scream at them and shove them aside but... no, no, she couldn't. If she did, she'd end up in the next cell over, for sure. Besides, it was five against one and those were not good odds, even for a master firebender and well, she was far from a master.

She'd have to use her words.

Ming cleared her throat. "I've been given a direct order from the Phoenix Queen to see to it that the prisoner receives adequate medical attention, as she is needed for further questioning," she declared, with much more confidence now. Her eyes narrowed. "Shall I inform her that you are refusing to comply?"

"No!" the men exclaimed, all in unison.

Were it not for the fact that she was so worried for her friend, Ming might have laughed at how quickly they'd changed their tune. Although, if she were being honest, she'd most likely have done the same. The Phoenix Queen's bad side was a place no person in their right mind wanted to find themselves.

"P-Please, go on in, miss!" one of the guards stammered, unlatching the door and moving aside in order to allow her to pass.

Ming braced herself, to the best of her ability, for what she might see as the old door swung open, and she entered the dimly lit room.

Using her bending to light her path, she approached with trepidation, her footsteps echoing, even despite the fact that she walked slowly and softly.

Before long, she caught sight of a rather pitiful looking figure, dressed only in tattered red robes.

"Katara!" she exclaimed, rushing over.

"Oh no..." she said, more to herself than anything, as she assessed the damage. Her face was freshly bruised, the broken blood vessels forming unsightly purple splotches upon her cheek. She'd obviously been struck as well as denied any water to drink, judging by the state of her dry and cracked lips. But worse than that were the burns on her legs, angry and red and already blistering. For a moment she feared she would be sick, it was by far the most gruesome thing she had ever seen. Thankfully though, she was able to maintain her composure... for Katara's sake.

"I'm here to help, okay?"

"M-Ming?" Katara rasped, her bleary eyes opening.

"Yes, it's me," she reassured. "Don't speak, you need to save your strength."

Those monsters! How could they do this to her?!

Ming felt her eyes welling up with tears, a mixture of hurt and frustration that someone so kind was subject to abuse of this nature, and that there was nothing she or anyone else could do about it. She clenched her fists, and tightened her jaw, willing herself not to cry in front of Katara for it would only make the situation worse.

Her vision still blurry, she scanned the room, frantically, for something, anything she could use to help the girl...

Aha!

She hurried over to an old wooden bucket, which had been placed, strategically, as far away from Katara as the layout of the room allowed. To keep her from using her bending. Assuming it wasn't empty, that is...

Upon realizing it was indeed filled with water, Ming nearly breathed a sigh of relief.

She moved to pick it up, albeit with some difficulty, and, as quickly as was possible, awkwardly lugged it on over to Katara (who was in desperate need of it by the looks of her).

With even more difficulty, she lifted the bucket as high up as she could manage, Katara doing her best to meet her halfway.

The very instant the rim touched her parched lips, Katara drank as though she was a man wandering through the desert, dying of thirst, who had just discovered an oasis.

She gulped greedily, uncaring of the water dribbling down her chin and all over the front of her robe, stopping only when a series of coughs forced her to.

With a grunt, Ming set the bucket down, the liquid sloshing, some of it spilling onto the stone floor.

"That's better, isn't it?" she asked, rhetorically, sounding almost breathless.

"Th-Thank you." Katara coughed again. "Thank you, Ming."

Blue eyes met amber, and she smiled an honest smile.

After all that had happened, Katara was beyond grateful to see a friendly face and more than that, she was actually helping her.

She had to wonder if Az-

The Phoenix Queen.

She had to wonder if the Phoenix Queen knew her own maidservant was here, helping her. She assumed not, not after the way she had treated her this morning, as though she was her... well, her enemy.

She's always been your enemy, get that through your thick skull!

No, there was no doubt about it now. Azula was not her friend, and she cared for no one save for herself and her 'loving' husband – she'd even said as much not two weeks ago! Ugh, she felt so stupid! She almost couldn't believe she had even cared enough to encourage her to stand up for herself, or that she'd been there to help her after the emotionally stunted egomaniac she'd married had shown his true colors.

She never should have trusted her.

"Does it hurt terribly?" Ming asked.

"It did at first but not so much anymore," she answered, honestly. She was unsure whether she was becoming numb to the pain, or whether her wildly racing thoughts and emotions were keeping her from focusing on anything else.

Ming nodded sympathetically.

"I'll be right back with a burn salve, okay? We'll have you feeling better in no time!"

⁂⁂⁂

Azula exhaled, long and slow, as she felt the hot, almost scalding, bath water envelop her.

The past twenty four hours had been... difficult, to say the least. What with a damned war meeting first thing in the morning, jumped up peasants making demands of her, her erm.. fight with Daddy, and now all of this unpleasantness surrounding Katara's attempt at breaking brother dearest out of prison. She was beyond relieved to have some time to herself and to just relax, for a change. She hadn't been home long but it was long enough to remind her why she had left for Ember Island in the first place.

Sighing heavily, she leaned back against the cool marble, letting the tension in her upper body go. She closed her eyes, trying to focus in on the soothing sensations of both the heated water and the strong scent of jasmine (Daddy's favorite).

It wouldn't last long, she reminded herself, so she may as well enjoy while she can.

Hopefully, her father wouldn't be too angry after having had the time to calm down and get cleaned up himself. Their spontaneous tryst after the 'interrogation' had surely helped in that respect as well, Daddy was always in a better mood after sex.

Regardless, he'd want the girl punished, that went without saying. Azula could scarcely imagine just what sort of punishment would be in order for such an offense though, having rarely been on the receiving end of the Phoenix King's anger herself.

Were he to ask her, she'd be tempted to say that Katara-

Oh, so it's Katara now? the voice in her head chided.

Were he to ask her, she'd be tempted to say that the wench had been punished enough (that was more or less the truth, her burns had to hurt). That wouldn't suffice though, she knew it wouldn't. Daddy was never one to 'go easy' on traitors.

All that she could reasonably do, she supposed, was attempt to talk him down from whatever it was he did have in mind. Even then she had to be careful, she couldn't have him thinking she was going soft on her.

Aren't you though? that ever-nagging voice demanded. She knew the consequences, and here you are, agonizing over how best to help pull her out of the hole she dug for herself. Pathetic. She's only a slave, you know.

Sighing again, she sank further down into the tub.

⁂⁂⁂

As his daughter had hoped, the Phoenix King's overall mood was indeed improved, significantly.

The interrogation had been a success, and not only that, he'd been able to let out much of his frustration afterward – with the help of his ever-loyal wife and heir of course. Whatever negative feelings remained had been all but abated, too, thanks to a trip to the royal spa. An upper body massage, a salt scrub, and a good shampooing of his hair, and he was practically a new man. He'd even asked one of the girls to give him a sprinkling of cologne, as Azula had commented favorably on it the last time he'd done so.

By the time this was all said and done, Ozai had almost forgotten his troubles, and the water bitch, entirely. Were it not for a servant informing him that the Phoenix Queen would arrive any moment, he'd very likely have wandered off to find something to amuse himself with. What, was he going to read these stupid scrolls on his desk? They couldn't contain anything important anyways, pressing matters were brought to him face-to-face, not written down for him to peruse at his leisure.

Any moment was right. Not two minutes after the servant had poured the wine and scuttled off, he heard the door to his office open with a soft creak, and Azula stepped inside, smiling.

"Father," she greeted, warmly, and bowed her head.

He looked her over, greatly pleased with what he saw. She was wearing the robes he'd had commissioned for her, with dragons and fire lilies stitched into the luxurious, red fabric. Her hair was done the way he liked it, too, mostly down but with the shorter layers gathered into a small topknot, her new crown adorning it. Black kohl around her eyes and a stain of crimson upon her lips completed the ensemble.

"Azula," he finally said, his gaze focusing in on the collar around her neck, marking her as his. "Come, sit down."

Azula did as he asked of course, taking her seat and making herself comfortable in the plush chair, her daddy staring down at her. If she were being honest, she was more than a little frightened, even considering his unusually calm demeanor, and obvious approval regarding her appearance. No, she knew all too well just how quickly that could change, especially when one considered Zuko, and Katara both, were sore subjects for him.

Though there were a great many things she wanted to say, she remained silent. When it came to more serious matters such as this, she dare not speak unless spoken to. No, he'd made that very clear, the fact that they were married now didn't change the fact that she was to defer to him at all times. He was still her father and not just that, he was her liege-lord.

"Drink," he said, pushing one of two filled to the brim, gold and gemstone encrusted goblets toward her.

Azula peered into the goblet, surmising that it must be the seasonal plum wine that Mayor Morishita had gifted them for their wedding. She could tell by its rich color and sickly-sweet aroma, it was Yu Dao's specialty, he had said.

Even though she didn't feel much like partaking (not because she disliked it but because it was just too early in the day for her, quite frankly), she lifted the drink to her lips and took a good-sized sip.

Satisfied, Ozai took several large gulps of the wine, reveling in the slight burn and warmth trickling down his throat.

After downing more than half of it in one go, he slammed his goblet down on the desk.

"I trust you know why you're here, my daughter?" he asked, looking her over again and noting that she appeared to be nervous, as her cheeks quickly flooded with color and heat.

"Yes," she said, seemingly breathless.

His gaze then trailed downward, taking in the bruises he'd placed upon her beautiful neck, some covered partially or fully by the collar, and stopping at the sliver of cleavage revealed by the cut and style of her robes. He wondered if she was wearing her bindings. By the looks of it, she was not. He'd find out for himself, were it not for the fact that he was rather tired.

"You look stunning," he told her, and she perked up instantly.

"Thank you, Daddy." Their eyes met. "But I can't take all the credit for that, you have exquisite taste."

Ozai's thin lips formed a small smile.

"Indeed."

Silence for a moment, as Azula sat there and watched her father polish off the rest of his wine, still slightly apprehensive about the upcoming discussion.

Ozai cleared his throat. "Well, enough small talk," he declared, his tone changing from playful to stern. "That damned slave girl, what are we going to do about her?"

Azula exhaled audibly a breath she did not realize she had been holding in.

Yes, what to do about her, that was the question...

"She'll have to be punished, of course," she said, because it was the right thing to say.

"Of course," Ozai concurred, grabbing the nearby pitcher and pouring himself some more wine.

"Although, I am beginning to wonder whether or not all of this is even worth the trouble..." he began. "...if you can't control her, perhaps we ought to rid ourselves of her and be done with it."

He'd ordered executions for less, far less than what she had done. She was useful at times, yes, he'd admit it but at this point, she was becoming a liability – she could bring people back from the dead, bend blood during the full moon, and Agni-only-knows what else!

"She's dangerous, Azula," he added, and he knew she knew it, too.

Azula felt her stomach drop at the suggestion that they... be rid of Katara.

"Well, yes but-!" She stopped herself, considering her next words carefully. "I can control her, I swear to you!" she insisted. "I just need more time with her, that's all."

Ozai scoffed. "How much more time, hm? Enough to give her the opportunity to murder us in our sleep?!” he asked incredulously, unknowing of just how close that was to actually happening not twelve hours ago. "I think not. While I do admire your determination, and understand your desire to finally break her, to conquer..." Oh yes, he understood that all too well, what with his single greatest conquest sitting right there in front of him, perfectly pliant. "...we cannot take that risk."

Azula, meanwhile, wanted to scream in frustration. This was not going at all like she'd been hoping it would and worse yet, she had to concede that her husband had brought up several valid points. Katara was dangerous, for one. For two, they had no way of knowing what she was thinking or just what else she may be capable of, and for three... what if she really couldn't keep her line?

Agni, she was being stupid.

She had to be pragmatic here, their safety was more important than her budding friendship (if you could even call it that) with a water tribe peasant. Not that said peasant would even want to be on friendly terms with someone who had degraded her, hit her, and burned her, over something she herself did not even disapprove of, no less.

It wasn't like she wanted Zuko to die!

"Azula?" Ozai questioned, regarding her expression with some concern.

Azula very nearly gasped aloud, his harsh voice interrupting her train of thought, sending her back to reality. "I'm sorry, Daddy," she apologized. "I was just thinking."

And that was the truth, not that anything productive had come from it.

There had to be some way to convince him, something she could do or say...

All she did know right now was that she didn't want Katara to die either. Yes, against her better judgment, she didn't want a girl who used to be (and perhaps still was) her enemy to die.

"Daddy?"

"Hm?"

"Give me the chance to prove myself, to show you all that I've learned from you," she pleaded. "It'd be good for morale, too, I mean, what will our men think if their queen admits she cannot control one waterbender? Yet we expect them to just march on into the Northern Water tribe's capital city!" she further explained, amazed at her own ability come up with things on the spot.

And well, it wasn't as if her reasoning didn't make sense. The Northern Water tribe was a problem that couldn't be ignored. Until or unless it was subjugated, it would remain a threat, possibly the greatest threat there was to everything they had built, everything they had ever achieved in their lives.

Ozai stroked his long beard, as he often did when he was deep in thought.

"I do believe you're right, Azula." He knew it as well as she did. "The waterbenders in the north must be dealt with, sooner rather than later."

There was an uncomfortable pause, then Ozai continued speaking.

"Suppose the Avatar has been reborn, logically he'd exist in the only remaining waterbending stronghold," he said, speaking the words that up until now they'd both avoided mentioning, or even thinking about.

"Very well, the water bitch is yours, to do with whatever you see fit."

Before Azula could thank him though, he added "Under one condition."

His daughter nodded. "Of course, I'll do anything you ask," she replied, dutifully.

"The condition that she is punished immediately, and severely, for what she has done," he told her.

For what she had done was not to be taken lightly, she'd thought to rob him of his chance to bring a traitor to justice. And not just any traitor, his so-called son, the stain marring his otherwise glorious existence.

"O-Of course," Azula said again. And though she was afraid to, she asked "What did you have in mind?"

Her father smiled, a sight most unsettling in this situation.

The truth was, he has several things in mind...

He could simply humiliate her, she was a proud creature, and stubborn, too. Having her paraded throughout the capital, stripped bare, ought to knock her down a peg or two. Punishment walks used to be quite commonplace, lately though they were falling out of style, the Fire Sages considered it to be in poor taste. Perhaps it was time that particular custom made a comeback...

No, he could do better than that, much better.

"Father?" Azula questioned, her tone communicating that she was feeling uneasy.

And that was when it hit him.

He should have thought of this sooner, really.

"Let's not complicate things, tonight I'll give her to the men to..." He laughed a little. "...amuse themselves with."

Azula's golden eyes widened with express shock.

Surely he didn't mean..?

"Amuse themselves?" she sputtered, hoping she'd misunderstood. "No, you can't!" she exclaimed, and the instant she said it, she wished she could take it back.

"And why not, pray tell?"

Her father's words did not register. She was back there again, back in the darkened room with little stars. She could see the rays of light above her, as if she were really there, smell the smoke as the candles smoldered, feel the cold marble against her bare skin... the burning, the pain, hot breaths in her ear..!

She lurched forward, involuntarily, and were it not for her quick reflexes, she'd have fallen face-first into the desk.

"Azula?" … "Azula?" … "Azula?!"

She jumped, the forcefulness of his voice shocking her, reminding her of where exactly she was... the royal palace, her home, in her father's study... not there.

Not there.

"Are you alright?" he asked, in a slight panic, now that he had gotten her attention. "Shall I send for a doctor?" He rose from his seat, to see that something was very much not right. She wouldn't even look at him, as well she'd blanched white as a sheet, and her breathing came in short, sharp gasps.

"...Azula?"

"No! No, it's nothing," she managed, sounding breathless.

"It doesn't look like nothing," he countered, though he was relieved that she'd been able to answer him, even more so when she smiled up at him, their eyes connecting.

"I'm fine, really."

"Are you sure you're alright?"

He brought a hand to her cheek.. she was cold as ice!

"Yes, I just..." she hesitated, trying to come up with a suitable excuse. "...it felt like I was going to be sick, all of the sudden. I'm fine now."

Ozai cocked an eyebrow, a thought occurring to him.

Had it finally happened, was she pregnant? Having been through this, twice, with his first wife, he knew very well that it was a sign, morning sickness, they called it. He didn't suppose she'd know if was indeed with child, she was still so young...

"Perhaps you ought to lie down for a while," he said, gently, the back of his hand ghosting over her forehead, feeling that it was cool and dampened with sweat.

She smiled again, taking his hand in hers.

"No need."

A pause.

"Besides, we have important matters to discuss."

Ozai's expression changed, from soft to prideful. Always, Azula's duties were her top priority. Nothing in this world mattered more to her than to please him, and to see to it that her responsibilities, as a queen, a royal wife, and the heir apparent, alike, were fulfilled. That was what he loved most about her, she never said idly by, and she never disappointed.

"That we do." He sat down again, and cleared his throat. "Last you were saying..?" He reached for his wine goblet, Azula watching as he took a rather generous swig, then another.

"I..." she stammered, unknowing of how to even begin to explain the reasoning behind her objection to... to...

Katara having to suffer through what you yourself suffered through? Worse than that, being taken against her will not just by one man but by several, and complete strangers at that, with no regard for how severely they may injure her.

She couldn't very well tell him her true feelings though. No, she couldn't have him thinking that she had sympathy for a slave, a slave who had conspired with her traitorous brother to usurp her throne, no less.

"Isn't it a bit harsh?" she asked, trying to keep her voice level. "I mean, she has to be punished, of course, but maybe we ought to consider something less extreme than..." she trailed off. "..than having all those men..?" She couldn't even say it.

"Having all those men fuck her?" He snorted. "As a matter of fact, I don't think it's harsh enough for the likes of an insolent water tribe slut. I'll not give her the opportunity to make a fool out of me ever again!”

He was surprised at his daughter, normally she was the first to advocate for brutal punishments.

"I understand," she began. "And I agree with you," she said, despite the fact that she did not.

"But..."

But how could he even suggest a thing like that?! After seeing what it had done to her, after promising that he'd never hurt her in that way again!

Were his words all for naught?

"If I may, Father, the way I see it, there are several problems with this."

Ozai furrowed his brow, considering her words.

Azula always was a smart girl, it was worth it to hear what she had to say at least, he decided.

"I'm listening," he said, stroking his beard again without even realizing it.

Azula was, admittedly, a bit taken aback.

She'd half expected he would dismiss her outright. Now that she made it this far, she was unsure of herself.. she had to think fast.

"Well, what if she were to become pregnant?" It was a very real possibility, one that would be inconvenient at best, and at worst, disastrous. "Either, we'd have to make her have a... little accident. Or risk losing her in childbirth," she explained. "Ordinarily, I wouldn't care what happens to a slave girl but what a waste that would be, after all the work we've put into making her an effective servant."

There was a deliberate pause, giving Ozai ample opportunity to object, before she continued speaking.

"Then there's the fact that a traumatized slave is generally a useless one. We may as well kill her now and get it over with, if we intend on rendering her useless."

Ozai gave a small nod of approval. "Very well, I suppose you've made your point. What will you have me do then?"

Azula's trademark smirk returned.

"Allow me to take care of it. You won't be disappointed."

He sighed, tiring of this conversation in all honesty.

"Alright, Azula."



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