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.

She-The fucking Phoenix Queen - felt like skipping down the seemingly endless corridors of the royal palace (and most likely would have done so, provided no one would actually see her). Somehow, it all sounded even more ridiculous than having wanted to scream ...Still, she walked with an extra swing in her step that simply could not be helped. She then, quite audibly, burst forth the doors of her chambers with a smile plastered across her pretty face - something which also, simply, could not be helped.

"Water-wench," Azula called, addressing the waterbender whom had been busying herself with whatever mundane tasks that servants did in order to pass the days. Granted, her voice was different this time, lacking its usual impatience or malice. "Restore your queen's appearance to pristine perfection" she ordered.

My, does she seem happy, Katara noted, again cringing at being referred to as water-wench. You'd think that a happier Firelord... Queen, whatever, would mean she might avoid insulting her favorite slave. But hey what do I know, I'm just a snow savage

"Of course, Your Highness", said Katara, her voice every bit as dull and usual as would be expected from someone who hadn't had a good day since well, this happened. The waterbender immediately got to work, though her appearance wasn't that... so that's new.

Katara connected the dots. "So your da-" she stopped herself. She was getting better at this, though she had yet to decide as to whether that was good or bad. "the Phoenix King, gave you a new crown, huh?" she asked, taking said object out of Azula's hair so she could work on it.

"Indeed," The Phoenix Queen confirmed. Though she became disheartened, ever so slightly, the instant her beautiful, wonderful new crown was plucked from its proper place atop her head by less than worthy hands. Had she been in a foul mood, Azula may have punished the water-wench for such insolence ...But alas, she did not allow so small a thing to sour her good humor nor ruin a most splendid day.

"And, is it not simply the most magnificent crown, the most glorious thing those peasant hands of yours have ever touched?" she marveled.

For a second, Katara considered answering the question. What was the most glorious thing she had ever touched? Any number of things in the great library could probably be considered invaluable. Aang's staff, a relic from an almost-dead culture. Many of the scrolls Pakku had given-

But of course, the questions Azula asks aren't meant to illicit truthful answers. "Yes, Your Highness" she resigned, before quickly dampening the hair and beginning to comb it.

Katara certainly wasn't a fool, the Phoenix Symbolism was obvious in the hair piece's design, meaning it must have been the crown making her the Phoenix Queen. "So, I guess this means everything is official now?"

"Indeed. Father wishes all to know that I am his queen," Azula replied, overcome yet again by that incessant need to squeal with excitement - like some stupid, love-struck little girl!

Though once more, she refrained. "As well, if that had not been enough to show them all whom I belong to, some foolish Lord had the gall to ask my hand in marriage on behalf of his worthless son!" the (former) Fire Lord added, incredulously.

"Now what, do you propose, the Phoenix King plans to do about this?"

Reject his offer...?, Katara thought to herself, knowing, like the last question, she also wasn't expecting a truthful answer here, either.

Of course, Katara could empathize for some healthy dislike for social-climbers who treat their children as cattle to increase their station - after all, it wasn't too long ago that Yue was on everyone's minds. Nobody really liked Hahn, but nobody wanted anything to happen to him or his father either.

What was that...? Right, Agni Kai, that's a safe bet, Katara thought to herself. They love fighting eachother for things (and people) here.

"Challenge him to an... Agni-Kai?" Katara guessed, slightly butchering the pronunciation of Agni Kai.

"Yes! Father challenged him to an Agni Kai!" The Phoenix Queen exclaimed, ensuring to put forth extra emphasis on Agni Kai as so to enforce proper pronunciation. If the snow savage was to remain in the Fire Nation, she needed to learn. All in all, however, Azula was pleased that her new servant agreed - fire duel, such is only the proper thing to do given her father's predicament!

"An Agni Kai is a duel of fire, typically, to the death. When one man offers another insult, his honor is at stake and so, he must fight for it. This poor excuse for a man has done my intended grave insult..." she explained.

"...Father said as much, declared before our entire court that the fool would pay for trying to take what was his."

A grave insult

Katara didn't know why, but she felt the need to keep talking to the Phoenix Queen. Sure, she could always service her as fast as possible and see if Ming was done with her duties, but for some reason she felt... obligated. She had promised Zuko she'd help him deal with his sister. The battle had failed, Katara could still feel the scars, which her water could not heal (even if it could, Azula had promised to double them if she tried. Something about 'remembering your failures for as long as you live').

But even still, just as the waterbender had done with Zuko in the crystal catacombs, there was another way to deal with the Phoenix Queen - to connect with her. An enlightened idea? no. A good plan? Surely not. But it was her only plan. Azula had to be human, she had to, even if it was buried like it was for Zuko.

Okay, so Katara wasn’t really sure of that, not even close. She was a conqueror and a killer. She gave Katara pain, she gave Zuko pain, and she smiled. She was sick, and she was most definitely the one who belonged in the cell. But Katara knew there was a chance. Azula felt pain too, she had seen it. The evidence was right there in her hair. And if a thing could feel sorrow and pain, maybe it could feel compassion too. Maybe

"To the death?" she finally asked. Not that she really doubted Azula (though both Zuko's Agni Kai hadn't ended in a death), but she needed to hear more. She needed more to work with.

"But of course! Rest assured, Father will kill him - if need be," Azula declared, golden eyes ablaze. "...Only if need be. This, snow savage, is a matter of pride - and pride, is what makes a man," she continued, as though Katara were slow. "Phoenix King Ozai is very proud, to say the least. That is why, more than likely, Lord Shing's pathetic life will be spared - just barely. A living example, a cautionary tale, warning all others who may be foolish enough to do the same."

Noting the other girl's apparent discomfort, the Phoenix Queen could not help but to wonder...

"In the Southern Water Tribe, where you were born, what makes a man?"

A matter of pride?, Katara thought to herself in disbelief. The guy had done the upper class equivalent of asking her out. Admittedly, she agreed that it was pretty scummy but... ugh. Fire Nation.

As for her question... the waterbender squicked at the notion. When she had fought the warrior-princess in the field, Katara had assumed Azula was like her in the respect that she didn't want to kowtow to the idea that men are men and women are women. But the Phoenix Queen had asked her a question, and she had to answer. "Well, most of the men in my tribe went off to fight in the war." she answered honestly. All of them, actually, Katara thought to herself, remembering that her brave brother was still just a boy, despite his tactical achievements. "But what makes someone a valuable member of the tribe is their willingness and ability to help other people. Everyone does something to contribute, even the children. We need to hunt, scout, clean, cook, weave..." she trailed off.

Men went off to war.

And so the women, presumably... did not? Amber eyes regarded with a sudden, albeit strange, and newfound curiosity. Azula admitted, however begrudgingly, that Katara was an excellent waterbender - leastways, from what the then-Princess had seen. Withal, her servant once made for a fierce and (dare she say?) worthy opponent. Where had the water peasant acquired such drive, such determination ...What (or whom) had made her so eager to fight when, given cultural expectations, she did not have to? Her father, perhaps? Had he wanted his daughter to be strong, to be powerful... to make him proud? Maybe, just maybe, they shared something in common. She was so very tempted to ask...

"What's your father like?"

Katara was taken aback by the sudden curiosity in her, but she welcomed it. It was easier to talk to the Phoenix Queen when she was actually interested in her. The waterbender finished with the hair by bending all of the water she had used to dampen it out, and began fixing the Phoenix Queen's make up. Which of course, involved looking into Azula's harsh golden stare as she answered. "He was the chief of my tribe, and he left when I was very young to fight the Fire Nation" she said, simply. "You might remember him for leading the attack during the eclipse. He's smart, funny... and wants nothing more than to protect the ones he cares about." Especially after they took mother... nothing was the same after that. "Even though it meant leaving them behind"

Indeed, Phoenix Queen Azula remembered Chief Hakoda... though she was not about to admit such a thing, he had managed to cause quite the ruckus during those final years of the war. As to the man's current whereabouts, however, she could not say and would venture a guess that (what was her name... Katara?) knew as much- or rather as little as she in that regard.

"Ah. Yes, of course. I remember him" Azula said, flashing a smirk.

Then, she thought of that time- that one Agni-forsaken time her own father had left her behind. "My father left me once," she confessed, although was unsure why exactly she had confided in the water-wench.

"It was awful." Awful? Awful did not even begin to cover-

"Of course, he came back!"

Mother left and never came back.

"My mother never did though."

"Do you know what happened?" Katara asked softly, being... gentle? as she continued to work. "Mine was taken away from me" she added, not elaborating as it was not needed.

For the first time, Katara felt like she was getting a little closer in understanding the Phoenix Queen. Even though she had gotten some form of closure, the loss of her mother at the hands of that pathetic man still festered within her, causing pain whenever mentioned.

She didn't even say goodbye.

"I suppose... nothing happened, really. She just never loved us."

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