Looking out toward the familiar coastline of Kyoshi Island, Zuko felt an odd sense of calm he had been lacking ever since he became Fire Lord; he was always concerned about all the issues he had to deal with as the ruler of the Fire Nation, but now, as he finally looked upon the island he had once called home for a few months of his life, he didn't feel that concern. He was no more physically distant that he had been when he was in Ba Sing Se, but he did certainly feel emotionally separated from his role. No longer was he Fire Lord Zuko, but just a seventeen year old boy, returning to a place he had missed; he didn't miss the chores and struggles he had experienced there, but the happiness he held. When he was on the island, no matter how stressed he had been about his quest, his uncle's fate and his own position as a banished Fire Nation Prince stranded on an Earth Kingdom Island, he still felt a sense of being detached from his issues, that being of his banishment and his isolation from everyone he knew.
He felt a familiar hand tap his shoulder, the Prince turning back to face Suki, who had a bright smile on her face, "So, are you as excited as I am?" she asked him, making the Fire Lord chuckle, realising that he was excited, although perhaps not as much as the Kyoshi Warriors, who hadn't been home for many months.
"Well, not as much as you and the girls are." he admitted, before turning his head around to gaze toward the other Kyoshi Warriors, who were standing up by the very front of the ship, intently watching as they approached the island.
His girlfriend placed her arms over the railing beside him, leaning down slightly as she looked at the coastline, a relieved expression on her face, "You know, I wasn't sure when we left the island, if we'd come back winners."
"You thought you were just going to drop me off in the Earth Kingdom, didn't you?" he asked her sarcastically, having known even at the time, that no matter how much they disdained the Fire Nation, the Kyoshi Warriors were his friends, and they stuck together all the way to Ba Sing Se.
Suki snickered at his question, making a smug smile, "Oh, and let you fend for yourself? That was never going to happen, your majesty." she assured him, making him roll his eyes.
"I can protect myself, you know." he acknowledged his own strength, making the Kyoshi Warrior turn to face him, leaning a shoulder on the ship's railing.
"So, what, do you not need us to guard you anymore, Fire Lord Zuko?" she quipped in response, to which he shook his head.
He trusted the Kyoshi Warriors far more than his own guards, and wouldn't dare go about without their protection; even if he could defend himself quite proficiently with both firebending and weapons, warding off assassination plots and attempted coups was something that Zuko he couldn't exactly do alone.
"And leave myself in the hands of a bunch of powerful firebenders wearing masks? Not anytime soon."
"You really should vet the Palace Guard if you're that worried about them." she admitted, making the young Fire Lord tilt his chin up, remembering that a certain someone would already be dealing with that issue.
"Interim Fire Lord or not, Azula will always be looking in that direction. I'm sure she's already established her own imitation of the Dai Li in the time I've spent away from the palace."
Suki chuckled at his suggestion, before her eyes widened, realising that his words were only half a joke, "Uh, she's not actually going to do that, is she?"
"I wouldn't put it past her." he shrugged his shoulders, "The Fire Nation is in a time of turmoil; she wants to protect the peace, and a secret police is her most straight-forward way to ensure that happens. Who knows, maybe she's just laying around in the spa all day with Ty Lee?"
"That's quite a possibility." his girlfriend acknowledged with a humoured grin, "I've checked her schedules since we've be staying in the palace, and she does go there a lot."
"Hey, love-birds!" he heard the familiar voice of Nakata calling over to them, the Fire Lord turning around to face the other Kyoshi Warriors, who were still standing by the front of the ship, "Ready to go home?" she asked the pair, Suki and Zuko looking at each other for a moment, both of them making a smile of approval.
"Yeah, we are." the Kyoshi Warrior grasped his hand, before they both began to walk toward the front of the ship, looking out as they approached a pier; to their annoyance, the bay around the village wasn't accessible by the Royal Barge, so they would have to land at another village on the island, and then walk across to the warrior's village.
As the ship came to a halt by the long stone pier, the Fire Lord was reminded on the last time he was there; it was when he and the warriors left the island, taking a fishing vessel across to the mainland, where he had been found by Azula within a few hours, much to his shock. It felt unusual for him to return to the island in a ship, rather than the way he had first arrived, which was by being washed ashore after his ship was sunk.
As they approached, other warriors turned to face them, Nakata pulled out a scroll, showing it to the Fire Lord, who raised a brow with confusion, "Uh, is that for me?"
"Well, not just for you." she admitted, the other warriors looking amongst themselves and snickering.
"What's so funny?" he narrowed his glare at them, Esumi punching Nakata in the shoulder.
"Come on, tell it what it is." she prodded, the Kyoshi Warrior simply gesturing to the scroll.
"He can read it himself." she declared, the Prince raising a brow at her before unfurling the scroll; he swore he heard Suki snicker beside him, but instead of focusing on that, his attention was drawn to the rather obvious title of the document- 'The Adventures of the Blue Spirit'.
"Oh spirits." his eyes widened, before he face-palmed, his girlfriend tapping his shoulder before she gestured to the scroll in his hand.
"It gets better." she assured him, the Fire lord's eyes turning back to the document, where he read out a subtitle, "A story based on true events, written for stage."
His eyes widened with shock, before he turned to Suki, "Oh, you've got to be kidding me." he mumbled in an exasperated tone, not happy that there'd maybe be another play that put him on stage; he knew at the very least that Nakata's portrayal of him couldn't be any worse than Pu-On Tim's 'masterpiece'.
"Hey, I recommended that she make it a stage play. We can rub it in the face of the Ember Island Players and their mockery of us." she argued in favour of the Kyoshi Warrior's piece.
The Fire Lord made a smile at the amateur playwright, "I'm sure this'll be great. So, what, it's a fictionalisation of our adventure?"
"In a way, yes. I thought I captured the emotions of our journey quite well. I took some creative liberties when it came to your back-story, of course."
"Wait, so is this about Prince Zuko, or the Blue Spirit?" he asked her, the Kyoshi Warrior raising a finger.
"You'll have to read it through to find out." she suggested to the Fire Lord, who looked down at the document, opening it up to look down at the first few lines; it seemed to be a scene depicting the Kyoshi Warriors finding him, not what he had feared, which was that it was discussing the events of his banishment.
"Huh... so were you going to try and get some theatre troupe to play this?" he asked her, who nodded with a click of her tongue.
"That's the idea." she acknowledged, "I was guessing that your position as Fire Lord might help that a little bit."
"I mean I could fund the play, but wouldn't that make it essentially propaganda?" he asked her, the warrior raising a brow.
"I don't see how it's propaganda... it's just a way of showing the world what we've achieved." she explained to the group, Suki turning to face Zuko.
"Maybe you're in need of some propaganda." she admitted, "It would really help dealing with unrest in the Fire Nation, without needing... what ever Azula's got planned." she suggested, the Fire Lord nodding with agreement.
"Huh, that's a fair point. I should send a letter to Azula about this, maybe she'll be able to help you, Nakata." he offered, the Kyoshi Warrior grinning brightly.
"Oh, that'd be awesome. Finally! The world will hear about our adventure!" she raised a fist, before she was interrupted by a number of Zuko's elite guards approaching the group.
"Sir, we'll put the plank out now." one of the guards told him, to which the Fire Lord simply gestured across toward the pier.
Four of the guards raising the large walkway up in their arms, lifting it down toward the pier, before putting in place; Zuko then smiled at them, pointing back toward the ornate bridge of the Royal Barge, "Thank you for that. You're now off duty, as I won't be needing any guards on Kyoshi Island." he assured the group, who looked amongst themselves momentarily, before bowing, turning their heels and heading back toward the bridge.
The Fire Lord then stepped onto the end of the plank, momentarily checking that it was properly in place, and that he wouldn't accidentally fall into the water by accident, before he began to stride down, followed by the Kyoshi Warriors in file; the people around the pier looked at them with shock and surprise, Zuko taking note of whispers that mentioned two things- 'Kyoshi Warriors' and 'Zuko'. The fact the people in the port village knew his name meant that his story had gotten around it seemed, without Nakata having to make a play of it.
Suki stepped up beside him, whispering to him with a smile, "Huh, seems like somebody's famous."
"I mean, I am the Fire Lord." he acknowledged the obvious with a casual shrug of the shoulders.
"So, Mr. Fire Lord, are we going to go straight to the village, or did you want to sign your autograph or something?" Amari asked him mockingly, making Zuko narrow his eyes at her with disbelief.
"I'd rather avoid the crowd." he admitted, before he focused ahead of them, looking at the port village, where there seemed to be a few dozen eyes on him.
Once they reached the end of the pier, he diverted to the left, leading them along past the market, heading toward the edge of the village, where he could spot a path that led up into the lightly wooded hills above the settlement; he wanted to get to the village as quickly as possible, so he could make sure the group could get their rest. As they walked along, he suddenly found locals approaching him, all looking amazed to see the man that they could clearly recognise as Fire Lord; he immediately regretted having his hair tied up, which revealed his scar for all to see, which was the main way that even the most ignorant would be able to recognise him from.
"It's the Fire Lord." he heard a man whisper, before his attention was drawn to a small girl, who approached him.
"Uh, Fire Lord Zuko, can- can you show us the swords?" she asked, making his eyes widen, another small child nodding alone, raising their hand.
"I wanna see the swords!" he asked him, making the Kyoshi Warriors laugh at him while he nervously looked at the small crowd that had surrounded him.
"Uh, swords, right?" he asked, the small children nodding, with even some of the adults looking on with interest, "Would one of you help me with a demonstration."
"Oh, that's not fair; I thought we only got to fight you with sticks." Amari complained, making the Fire Lord's only eyebrow twitch.
"Hey, hey, this isn't a fight." he clarified, before pulling out one of his katanas, "Now, which one of you would like to have the honour?"
The eyes of the warriors looked amongst themselves, all of them gravitating toward Suki, who was probably the only one who wouldn't want to fight him; usually she was rather eager to spar, but usually their sparring was an intimate affair, rather than something that was public for all to see.
"Urgh, fine." the head warrior conceded, before she herself drew out her own katana, "Let's do this. I won't go too hard you." she assured the Fire Lord, almost mockingly, making him grin, knowing that she was prodding him into enjoying their fight- the more competitive they got, the more fun it was for both of them.
As the two of them took their fighting stances, the commoners that were eagerly watching tensed up, as their duel had yet to begin; their eyes locked, Suki cocking a smirk, before she gestured with her open hand for him to attack. He rolled his eyes, not wanting to actually harm her, but conceding to her wishes, stepping forward and swinging his katana around, before striking her own, hoping to disarm her; he didn't succeed, his girlfriend reminding him of her own physical strength as she forced him back before swinging her on katana to slice at his slide. He stepped back before ducking under another slice, now from the opposite side, sending the blunt side of his blade into her own slide, making her grunt as she herself was forced backwards; taking the opportunity, he returned to his full height, swinging down overhead, aiming to disarm her of her katana. She was able to hold off his blade, but he quickly stepped back, suspecting his was about to trip him; the smirk on her face proved that to be the case, when after two steps he found himself tripping over a retracted fan that she had dropped on the ground. His eyes widened as he fell onto his backside, but he was able to roll backwards and return to form, Suki now some distance away from him; he noticed that his hair had somewhat come undone, a few strands of hair now lining his face, which he blew out of his eyes with a blow, which seemed to amuse Suki, whose own hair still was in perfect condition.
"Come on, fight!" he heard a little girl demand of them, making him snicker; for all his power, he had ended up using his skills to have a mock duel with his girlfriend, all for the enjoyment of some commoners he had never met before.
The two them raced back toward each other, both intent on ending the duel then and there; he swung first, switching sword-hands to fool her as he slashed from the right, but didn't expect her to somersault on the ground, right under his swing, before she whacked him in the back of his right leg with the blunt side of her blade. He grunted with pain as he dropped his right leg down, but somersaulted forward once more to dodge her next attack. He turned back to face her, readying himself in a defensive stance while Suki strode forward, holding her katana casually as she approached him; her grin was so cocky that it could only remind him of his own sister, which was unsettling to say the least.
"Getting tired, your majesty?" she asked him, although the tone made it hard to discern whether she was genuinely concerned or simply mocking him.
Although he was pained in his right leg, he still took the effort to climb to both feet, eyeing his girlfriend's katana as she began to swing it about, trying to throw him off guard with which angle she would strike from; he took note that she had stepped forward with her left foot, and thus expected a strike from that direction. His assumption was proven correct, and he swung his blade in concert, striking it downward, as if he were intending to cut into the ground. Her eager handling of her blade meant that she accidentally dropped it when he applied enough force, leaving her disarmed as he himself put his blade back into its sheath. There was an awkward silence for a few moments as Suki took a deep breath, before the crowd cheered out in response.
"Did you see that?!" a small boy shouted out, another child speaking with a similarly amazed voice a moment later.
"He just struck it right out of her hand!" she exclaimed, imitating the motion Zuko had made when he disarmed her, before another pointed to the other blade that was holstered on his right leg.
"And he only used one!"
Esumi cleared her throat, leaning down to address the children, "So, did you think the Fire Lord is good at fighting."
"I think the Kyoshi Warriors are better." one of the boys suggested, "They've got fans, and are great at punching too!" he suggested, reminding Zuko that the warriors he had spent the past few months with weren't the only Kyoshi Warriors, but rather just one group that originated from their village.
"We are pretty good at punching." Sawa acknowledged with a grin, imitating a strike to Amari's head, which made the other warrior flinch downward as if to dodge.
"Hey, don't scare me like that. I might actually punch you in the face." she warned her fellow warrior, making the kids look amongst themselves.
"Could we see you all fight?" one asked, Suki clearing her throat.
"I think we've had enough fighting for the morning. If you really want to see us fight, then come to our dojo." she suggested, the children looking amongst themselves.
"Ooh, can we go?! Can we go?!" one asked someone Zuko guessed was their parent, who shook her head with frustration.
"You have chores to do. I'm sure all you little ones have things to do." she told the children, whose faces dropped with disappointment; the Fire Lord looked at the Kyoshi Warriors, gesturing with a tilt of his head along the path, his suggestion being heeded immediately as they followed him along the path, Suki momentarily stopping to pick her fan up off the ground before she caught up with Zuko, continuing to walk alongside him, her expression turned into a smirk.
"You know, I really appreciate that these kids are as interested in fighting as we are. Maybe we've got some future Kyoshi Warriors just waiting to be recruited." she suggested, making him snicker, thinking of the idea of a bunch of nine year olds protecting him against assassins with fans and swords.
"Oh, well, I don't know how that'd work in the palace." he joked, making his girlfriend snicker.
"I wasn't suggesting you be guarded by children, by the way. There will always be another generation of Kyoshi Warriors; that's how it's been ever since our group was established." she admitted, before tilting her head up, "One day, we'll have to retire. It's like any profession."
"We're artisans- artisans of war, to be precise." Sawa piped up, the other warriors nodding along.
"That does have a nice ring to it." Amari agreed, "What you think, boss? Should we rename ourselves the Hammers of Kyoshi?"
"As cool as that sounds, we use fans, not hammers. The Kyoshi Warriors is far more succinct- elegant." Sawa argued in favour of their name, making ZUko nod with agreement.
"I'd say that too. You don't want to sound too pompous; you're cool, but you let people think you're cool, not rub it in their faces."
"We kinda do that to our enemies, though." Esumi admitted, before her eyes turned to Amari, "I'm talking to you, o great and mighty 'piercer of the voice-box'." she reminded her of what she had done to a Fire Nation soldier; it had been self-defence, in the end, but that didn't make it any less gruesome.
"Never mind a new name!" Suki chided the group, before gesturing ahead of them; they had been climbing up the hillside, and in the distance he could make out the distinctive statue of Avatar Kyoshi; he could tell it was their one, as it still had burn marks received from when Zhao's men had invaded.
Sitting on the throne of the Fire Lord, Azula felt an odd sense of calm; she was usually far too concerned with the matters of running the Fire Nation, which had grown more of a challenge in her brother's absence. Her mind was not currently focused on the threats that faced the Fire Nation, and at a greater level, the peace she had forged itself, but rather on a far more personal matter. Although she had not gotten what she had initially desired in joining the Avatar, that being the death of her father, she still found herself to be at peace with her actions, and with who she had become; she wondered if it was how Zuko had felt after he had decided to join her in Ba Sing Se- to be absolutely certain of himself. She was certain that she would serve her brother as a loyal advisor, and ensure that his reign would be the greatest of any Fire Lord to date; he was young, and thus had a long time to make a lasting impression and effect on his nation.
Her blue flames lit the throne room brightly, and although the glare of her fire obscured her vision somewhat, she was certain when she saw a figure walking down toward her that she knew who it was; it had to be Mai, having learnt the way the girl took herself with each step, light on her feet and her head held high, but not haughty- calm, like a hawk waiting to strike its prey. As she approached the Princess, she didn't have to make herself known, Azula dropping the flames in front of her, stepping up from her throne; usually she would desire to act stern and intimidating toward her subjects, seeing that she was Interim Fire Lord and not simply the Crown Princess.
"Mai. What occasion has led you to grace me with your presence?" she asked her in a tone that she made specifically jovial, as to assure her she wasn't being sarcastic; she genuinely wanted to know why her friend had specifically come to meet her in the throne room, when she could have called on her to meet in the gardens, or even at her home.
"I'm learnt something." she told her, walking closer to the throne, kneeling down, as Azula would expect any of the FIre Lord's subjects to do, "Something that concerns you."
"Oh." she raised a brow, pursing her lips in consideration of what she might reveal, "Now, I'm really interested."
"I have learnt of an organisation which seeks to reinstate your father on the throne, operating in the Fire Nation Capital itself." she revealed, Azula's flames heightening as she tensed up, realising that she couldn't remain calm indefinitely- things always needed to be dealt with.
"That's unfortunate." she softened her thoughts into more amiable words, "And what is the nature of this organisation?"
"They meet at a hideout, down in the port town; it's an old warehouse that has been converted. Their numbers aren't too large, but they are growing. I'd say... a hundred perhaps, but that was only one meeting, the organisation might have sponsors or hidden members who don't want to risk revealing themselves."
"Ah... and how did you come across this organisation?" she asked the teen girl, who looked up at her with a tense expression; Azula could tell immediately that Mai had some like of personal tie to the organisation.
"My father." she explained, "I am unsure if he is the leader or not, but he is certainly part of it."
"What is this mysterious group of traitors called?" she asked her, making the usually stoic girl purse her lips into a smirk.
"The New Ozai Society." she clarified, the Princess's eyes widening, before she snickered; to think an organisation that sought to overthrow her brother was given a name in homage of her own re-titling of Omashu- the very fact itself indicated to her that Ukano led the organisation, seeing that he was the former governor of the city, after the insane and ancient King Bumi liberated the city in the name of the Earth Kingdom.
"Oh." she raised a finger, "Now, that is what I call a funny coincidence. Would that explain why your father decided to not accept our gracious offer of returning him to the ranks of the Fire Lord's ministry?"
"I think so." Mai admitted, before her eyes narrowed on her, clearly serious in her expression, "I don't want my family to be caught up in this whole ordeal." she admitted, the Princess nodding at her as she approached, placing a hand on her shoulder, the flames of the throne dying down behind her.
"I understand that." she acknowledged her friend's concerns, before she smirked, knowing that she had something very different in mind from arresting Ukano, "Your father will not die, but neither will he be publicly humiliated, you have my word."
Her eyes widened, actually surprised by what Azula was telling her, "You're not going to have him arrested on the spot?"
"Of course not." she assured her, "Your father will disappear if he continues his operations, as will all of his compatriots." clarifying her intentions; throwing her father and the other conspirators away in prison was not her exact intention, but to be sent to prison and thus find themselves educated on their mistakes.
"Disappear?" she asked her, the Princess smirking.
"Of course, I will make sure they become non-threats to our regime with as little violence as possible, but I have decided I will give anyone with similar ideas a fair warning first."
"A warning." she raised a brow, before looking her in the eyes, "That wouldn't happen to be some kind of spectacle, would it?"
"A spectacle, perhaps." she confirmed, before tilting her chin up, "But not the not a false, dramatic kind of spectacle. Something that will show the people of the Fire Nation that their new Fire Lord does not take treason lightly."
"And what will you do to show that... resolve?" she questioned her, sounding curious as to what the Princess intended.
She grinned at her smugly, not wanting to reveal the big surprise before she had the opportunity to scare her potential enemies, "Well, you'll find out soon enough. I'll have a speech organised by the palace office." she declared, her friend raising her brows, before the Princess began to walk through the throne room, "Now, did you want to discuss anything else?"
Mai turned to her, her stoic expression barely masking the obvious unease she was feeling about the situation with her father, "I don't, but if you don't mind, you could join me to the exit."
"I guess I could." Azula acknowledged, tilting her head forward to gesture her to follow, her friend's tense stance lightening for a moment as she followed her along through the throne room.
"Are you enjoying your time as Fire Lord?" she asked the Princess, who couldn't restrain herself from chuckling.
"Oh, there's not much too it really. Now I get to sit on an uncomfortable chair surrounded by flames and order people around, instead of doing the same on my own two feet." she acknowledged the fact of the matter; as her brother's closest advisor and functional deputy, her word was law in the palace unless it contradicted something her brother himself had ordered.
"So, it isn't very different, then." Mai concluded, before she raised her hand up, "My life has been pretty boring ever since we got back from our escapade in the Earth Kingdom."
"We did burn down Chan's house on our little vacation. That was fun, wasn't it?" the Princess suggested with a grin, remembering that evening quite fondly in hindsight, as she had both gotten revenge on the boy who ignored her, as well as making up with Zuko after their relationship had been strained.
"I guess that was fun." her friend admitted, "I just wish I had gone in to get more food before you and Zuko burnt it down."
"Ah, yes." she reminded herself that Mai had mostly concerned herself with the free treats rather than boys like she and Ty Lee had, "Free food is quite useful, isn't it?"
"You get your food for free all the time." her friend raised a brow at her, rather sceptical that it held the same weight for the two of them.
"You're right, Mai. If you ever want to feast on deserts, please, feel free to come over to the Royal Spa. You, Ty Lee and I could get a nice manicure and wash together, and there's as many free deserts as you could ever eat." she suggested, her stoic friend making a curt smile at the suggestion.
"That would be far better than the place I go to... I'll consider it." she admitted, the Princess making a small smile, although she tried to mask it by making it smug; she was genuinely appreciative that her friend was considering to spend time with her, even if she was effectively bribing her with the unparalleled treatment of the Royal Spa.
As they exited the throne room, the Palace Guards who had been stationed outside looked at her, and all Azula needed to do was flick her finger, and they understood her command; they were follow her along, but stay behind, and as she walked along with Mai, they did just that, staying a far enough distance that it didn't stifle their conversation.
"What will you be doing today?" she asked her friend, hoping to make conversation, but also genuinely intrigued in how her friend might be spending her time; she was unsure if she had any hobbies to speak of other than her fascination with throwing knives.
"I don't really have much to do. I might read... there's some interesting literature that's been appearing since your brother took the throne."
"Literature you say? Are people speaking their minds a little more rather than focusing on the war?" she asked her friend, who pursed her lips in thought.
"I'm unsure. People have a lot of opinions. Some of them are... a little unusual."
"Like what... enlighten me." she asked of her friend, who pulled a knife from her robes with her left hand, flicking it up into the air before catching it with her right.
"There's people who think that bending is a curse upon the world... I can't blame them, seeing what benders on both sides have done during the war."
"As stupid as that idea sounds, it does have merit. Bending is one weapon that gives certain people power over others, but then again, without that power, we'd have chaos."
"What, do you think the world would be so bad without bending?" she quipped in response, Azula shrugging her shoulders.
Bending was the root cause of both her ills and her own power, which in the end had allowed her to escape. If she had been born a non-bender, there was no way she could have wielded the power she had procured for herself, let alone have her father hold any respect for her; not that that specific thing was an issue for her anymore, but she knew that she earned the respect of her nation through her bending prowess and achievements, which both went hand-in-hand.
"I don't know, honestly. I would be worse off without my bending for sure; there's only so far being a genius can get you if you can't bend." she argued, Mai raising a brow.
"Do you really think that's true? I thought some of the highest ranking officials in the Fire Nation government were intelligent non-benders." she argued, the Princess nodding; she did know of a few well-mannered and smart non-benders in her brothers ministry, but they, unlike her, did not have to deal with the expectations of being a Princess.
"The expectations put upon a Princess are different from a noblewoman like yourself." she simply put it, "Being a master bender is what is expected of me; I just had the luck of being a prodigy. If I had been born with Zuzu's bad luck... well, perhaps someone else might have found themselves banished by father." she admitted, making Mai look away, her face stoic, but her hands trembling; although she hadn't considered it before, what happened to Zuko, it must have hurt for Mai, when she actually came to understand why it had happened.
"That... that would have been unfortunate." her friend covered up her unease by softening the gravity of what her brother had experienced.
"It was unfortunate for Zuko to go through what he did." she acknowledged, "He didn't deserve it, but... it set him on the right path. He's his own man now, and I think he'll be a great Fire Lord."
"That's assuming he'll remain Fire Lord." Mai suggested, reminding her of what they had previously discussed.
"I'm here to make sure nothing of that sort happens. I am sure my brother will agree with whatever countermeasures I devise against such threats." she declared confidently, knowing that she would have already dealt with the New Ozai Society and their chagrin before he returned to the homeland from his little trip around the Earth Kingdom, "And I have no intention of taking the throne for myself." she added, just to ensure her friend that her position as Interim Fire Lord was just that, for an interim period.
"I wasn't thinking of you." she admitted, the Princess nodding.
"Oh I know that. No insidious cabals are going to uproot the great vision we have for the Fire Nation." she assured her friend, as they made their way up toward the front of the palace, the massive doors being opened for her by the guards that were stationed, the bright light of the midday sun shining down into the hall.
"What exactly are you going to do, Azula? I can't read your mind." she asked of her bluntly, coming to a halt by the doorway, the Princess smirking confidently, sure that her friend would be relieved by her intentions; she didn't want to kill a number of her father's loyalists just because they believed he'd be a more competent Fire Lord.
"Oh, well, I intend to remove the possibility of a reactionary coup from the equation." she argued, her friend raising a brow, obviously not reading between the lines.
"Remove what? You didn't answer my question." she chided her, her voice showing the slightest bit of frustration.
"I will remove the possibility of a coup, because they are based on the presumption that my father can become Fire Lord once more." she clarified herself, not stating her exact intentions, just hoping that Mai would be witty enough to understand her plan.
Her tense expression, as well as her eyes darting between her and the guards that surrounded them, indicated to the Princess that she indeed understood what she intended.
"You're going to... execute him?" she asked, the Princess scoffing.
"I have no intention of killing my father; ending his punishment now, that would be too easy." she clarified, "So, instead, I will make my brother's detractors believe a lie."
"A lie?" she asked her, the Princess placing a hand on her shoulder, reassuring her that she always had a plan; her plan was intelligent, and it was foolproof at that very moment, seeing that the two people it involved couldn't exactly be tracked down once she was finished with her plan.
"Trust me, it's a good one."
Just like any other firebender, Zuko rose with the sun, and that morning was no different to any other; he wiped the sleep from his eyes, pulling himself up from the mattress, and couldn't help but smile seeing Suki lying beside him. He was so happy that he had returned to Kyoshi Island, which he would admit had been an unusual experience to the say the least. Unlike what he first expected, it didn't feel like a some kind of vacation at all; he felt a home, spending his days doing the ordinary things he'd expect, training with the Kyoshi Warriors, helping around the village, and then enjoying meals with his friends. It was as if the Avatar had never arrived on the island and indirectly sent him on his journey around the world which had ultimately ended with Zuko becoming Fire Lord.
He yawned loudly, although to his luck, his girlfriend didn't wake from her slumber; stretching his arms out, he felt that he ought to start his morning with a cup of tea and some calming meditation, before he started his day; he didn't know what he was going to do, and for the first time in seemingly years, he was glad that was the case. There was no quest to find the Avatar, no fight to survive from day to day, no friends to save, and no duties he had to fulfil as Fire Lord.
Rising out of bed, he glanced over to his bedside table, where he had left his set of cups and a teapot, which he grown to using regularly since they returned to Kyoshi Island; it was tradition that he would serve his friends a refreshing cup of tea, and he had to stop himself from laughing when Amari kept comparing his tea to that of his uncles. He had certainly gotten better, Zuko wouldn't deny that, but he wouldn't say that he was anywhere near as good at him at brewing tea; he had little understanding of which teas tasted best, or the better way to brew each variety, having been constrained by the fact that they only had green tea on Kyoshi Island.
He grasped the teapot with his right hand, before pulling his water skin up, pouring some of it into the pot; the water was cold, but that was no issue for Zuko, who could boil it himself with his firebending. Putting his hand beneath the teapot, he began to heat the water up, making sure he didn't too it too quickly; he had done that once before when he had been too eager for a pot of tea and had scald his hands with the bubbling liquid by accident. Taking his bag of tea leaves, he scattered some into the liquid as it heated; the aroma of fresh tea quickly filled the room, making him take a deep breath, taking a moment to enjoy it before letting the tea settle in the pot, placing it on the bedside table once more.
"Huh... is it tea time?" he heard his girlfriend murmur beside him, surprising Zuko that she was indeed awake; he turned to face her with a smile, her dazed eyes meeting his own.
"Yes, it is." he smiled at her, gesturing over to the tea cups, "Did you want some?"
"That'd be nice." she mumbled, before wiping the sleep from her eyes, "Oh... it's only sunrise." she looked out of the window taking note of the orange horizon to the east.
He grasped the teapot, pouring out some of the steaming hot liquid, before handing it over to his girlfriend, who smiled at him appreciatively as she took the cup into her hands, placing it on her lap as she sat up on the bed; she scratched her scalp, pulling her hair out of its matted form, before turning to face him.
"So, what did you want to do today?" she asked him, the young Fire Lord unsure how to answer her question; he didn't want to anything in particular, if he were to be completely honest- he would enjoy his cup of tea as well as her company, but after that he didn't really consider.
"Drink my tea." he joked, reaching over to grab a cup for himself, before his expression became more serious, "Honestly, I don't know. How about you decide?" he asked her as he poured himself some tea.
"I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to go for a morning run." she suggested, Zuko tilting his head to the side.
"Huh, not a bad idea. Beats sitting around meditating until the Kyoshi Warriors force me to do something." he acknowledged, making Suki grin at him, knowing that her friends were more than likely going to commandeer whatever activity they decided to do together.
"Good point." she agreed, taking a sip of his tea, her lips pursing as she raised a brow at him, "You're good at making tea, Zuko."
"That's what everyone's saying these days." he acknowledged, before taking a sip for himself; he thought the tea wasn't half bad, but he knew that the tea leaves his uncle used were better tasting than the ones they had on Kyoshi Island.
"You know, I didn't think this is where I'd be a year after finding you." she admitted, the Fire Lord rising a brow; they were in her house, after all, so he was somewhat confused by why she she'd have thought she'd be anywhere different.
"Well we're in your house." he acknowledged, his girlfriend rolling her eyes as she took another sip from her teacup.
"I don't mean it like that. I didn't know you were a firebender, let alone a Prince. You're the Fire Lord now... I found the future Fire Lord on a beach." she noted the absurdity of their meeting; he was always a Prince, but to his girlfriend, it must have been the most shocking escalation.
"I guess a lot did happen. A lot of good, I'd say." he argued, the Kyoshi Warrior raising a finger to her chin.
"Well, other than your sister throwing me and all my friends in prison... yeah, I think we had a good year." she smiled, raising her cup up, "Well, to our next year of shenanigans?"
"I'd prefer a year of peace." he admitted with a quiet voice, before his eyes moved up to her own, making a small smile, "Yeah... another year." he clinked his cup with her own, making the two of them chuckle before drinking down the rest of their tea.
Suki made a deep exhale, before placing her cup down on her side of the bed, "Now... who can run faster to your Royal Barge and back?" she asked him with a cock of her head.
He narrowed his eyes at her, glancing down at her attire, noticing that she, like himself, was only wearing undergarments, "Uh don't we need to get dressed?" he asked her, the Kyoshi Warrior pursing her lips, before she threw the blanket they were lying on up at his face, shocking Zuko momentarily as he flinched backward.
Falling off the bed, he grunted as he fell on his backside, immediately throwing the blanket off of his body before he looked up at his girlfriend, who was quickly pulling her tunic over her shoulders; he rolled his eyes, understanding her intentions well enough as he grabbed his pants, pushing his legs through them, before he grasped his tunic, which he had dispensed of the night prior.
"Did you really want to race to see who could dress themselves quicker?" he asked her accusingly, the Kyoshi Warrior feigning innocent.
"I thought you liked competition." she suggested, the young Fire Lord sighing as he pulled his boots over his feet, making his feet feel awkward as he forced them into the shoes.
"Not when I'm nearly naked and half-asleep." he argued as he finally retrieved his outer robe, throwing it over his shoulders as he pushed his arms through the sleeves.
By the time he had gotten to his feet, he saw Suki was already dressed, ready to run out the door, "Come on slowpoke, I'm sure you can catch up!" she prodded him; Zuko sighed with frustration as she darted out the door.
"Why'd she have to make it a race?" he mumbled to himself, before he followed her out the door, following her as she raced down toward the beach, where she'd be able to take the quickest path toward the port.
He was able to catch up to her by the time they reached the first hill slope, gritting his teeth as he shouted out to her, "Come on, you're making this too easy!"
"Am I?" she questioned him, the young Fire Lord prodded into increasing his pace, making his way behind her as she wound up the rather haphazard path that moved between numerous lanky conifer trees.
As he reached the top of the hill, he smirked as he found himself ahead of Suki, but quickly realised he should have been focusing on the path ahead of him rather where she was, as he tripped over the exposed root of a tree, falling face first in the dirt. He grunted as he hit the ground, but the only sound he could make was a groan of annoyance as he tried to pull himself up from the ground; instead of running ahead of him, his girlfriend had approached him, leaning over to help him up.
"Zuko, you really should have been looking ahead." she chided him, the Fire Lord wiping the dirt from his face as he looked back up to her.
"I got distracted." he admitted, making her raise a brow as she helped him up.
"Yeah, that's obvious enough." she acknowledged, before the two of them looked forward along the path, "So, are we still going to run?"
"Uh... maybe not a race." he suggested, before he turned to the right, glancing at the morning sun as it slowly rose through the clouds that sat by the horizon, "Just go along and watch the sunrise."
"That'd be nice." she smiled at him, before narrowing her glare at him, "But we're jogging." she stressed before she began to pick up her pace; he followed after her, feeling a pain on his hands as face as he tried to keep up pace.
He followed after Suki, who wound downhill, leading him along the rough path that traced around the coastline of the island; Kyoshi Island wasn't that large, after all, but even then, he realised that it was a challenge to maintain a fast pace. As they wound around a slope, he finally made sight of his Royal Barge, although it was still some distance away, sitting at the end of a pier in by the north tip of the island.
"Ah, my ship's still there." he acknowledged, his girlfriend raising a brow at him.
"What, did you expect it to sink again?" she asked, making him shake his head.
"No, that old ship was far smaller and easier to sink that this one; I was more worried about them going off and leaving without me."
"You're still Fire Lord, aren't you?" she questioned him, almost accusingly, making Zuko chuckle; nothing had changed since he arrived at he island, even if he felt like it had.
It wasn't as if Azula had suddenly become a megalomaniac dictator and would do anything to stop him from returning; he was constantly reminding himself that that version of Azula, she was as good as dead- not in the sense that she was a completely different person, but that their bond was stronger than ever. Him becoming Fire Lord was a bonus on top of gaining that relationship, a burden he would have to carry because there was no one else who could; he wanted to lead his nation down the right path, but he honestly wished his dreams could have been achieved without his effort- despite all his evil, he wished that his father had been a good father, that Fire Lord Sozin hadn't ruined and distorted his nation's culture and identity for his own imperialistic ambitions.
"I am." he confirmed, before his eyes widened, "I became Fire Lord... spirits, it's crazy to think that's what's changed for me this past year."
"And you became a fugitive in between." she raised a finger before she began to continue pacing along, the young Fire Lord remaining by her side; his life had changed so much, but he actually felt like he was more himself than he had ever been before- he was the true Zuko, scrubbing away all of the lies and obligations.
"And now, I'm here, and I'm happy that I can just be myself." he admitted, the Kyoshi Warrior grinning at him, punching him in the shoulder.
"You can always be yourself. You've just got to get the confidence to express yourself." she suggested, before he shrugged his shoulders.
"I can express myself in front of you." he simply stated his observations of the facts, making her grin at him, kissing him on the cheek, avoiding the splotches of dirt that he had accidentally covered his face with.
"I'm glad you do. You're going to be a better Fire Lord than any before." she assured him, making him blush; if only he was as confident in himself as she was for him; he turned to her, grasping her by the hand, realising how much she had helped him, and more than that, how much help he had received by opening up to others.
"Well, I'm going to need some help." he suggested, the Kyoshi Warrior cocking her chin up as she gave him a grin of assurance.
"I'm not going anywhere."