Flames of Regicide
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar
Summary: On the Day of Black Sun, Zuko's confrontation with his father has a lethal yet positive outcome. Now Firelord and Ruler of a war-torn world, he forges his own path and his own destiny. Luckily, and surprisingly, he has Azula on his side. Now if he can only keep her from killing everyone that disagrees with him, which is more of a challenge than the Avatar has ever been.
It was a default expression for her, when she was feeling anything pleasant.
Hiding one's emotions is a rather complicated exercise to force into a routine. Azula had tried to be like her father, keeping everything hidden behind a mask of calm that hinted at the angry fires one might unleash by displeasing him, only showing amusement in a form of mockery. But she found her mind was wired a bit differently than her father's. She couldn't maintain indifference, so she went for something a bit more elegant: superiority…almost smug, if she were a commoner. Behind this smirk she could hide just about anything: joy, pleasantly surprised, interest, fascination, even love. Also anger, if she was winning.
It was a good thing she was always winning.
Like right now. The ragtag invasion had been defeated, a majority of them captured except what had fled with the Avatar's flying pelt. And the maiden flight of the first airships had been a success. Though, a few years too late in her opinion. Loathed as she was to consider the glory it would have given her traitor of an uncle, these ships would have been wonderful in dealing with Ba Sing Se during the Great Siege, with far less casualties for the Fire Nation. Granted, she wouldn't trade her own bloodless victory for anything. As a bonus, she now had her own secret police of elite earthbending turncoats! She was almost prouder of that than taking the city itself.
Still, the airships would at least aid in keeping order over their new, vast territories.
Her smirk widened as a bit of whimsy came over her. Maybe she'd have a province renamed in her honor? Maybe whatever territory Ba Sing Se would be considered part of? Unless it was counted as one all on its own. Maybe one down south in that case?
The curve of her lips fell back under control as she mentally moved on. So yes, yet another advancement for Fire Nation Technology. What else? Well, they had some new devices to study. Like those underwater vessels. And while there was still resistance across the fallen Earth Kingdom, this invasion comprised of a great many powerful enemies from different lands, and clearly some of the more intelligent ones they would have to worry about were now being prepared to be sent to various prisons.
Hmm, oh! Unless her eyes had deceived her from her place on the airship, Caldera had taken minimal collateral damage and there should be absolutely no civilian casualties; Idiots that ignored the evacuation notwithstanding. A lovely imagery, the capital being practically untouched from damage after such a raid.
Honestly though, what exactly were the fools expecting to happen? Her father would not be taken prisoner, he'd kill them all the moment he could, even if it meant killing himself too. After all, Ozai's rule was one of strength. And he had left them all pertinent instructions if he was somehow taken prisoner by the Avatar: Give them nothing.
Even if, by some crazy streak of luck, they had managed to kill the entire royal family today, it would mean nothing. Not for the invaders anyway. It would only make their situation worse, actually: All the warlords and pretenders to the throne, tearing each other apart and burning down the world in vengeance and ambition. The world would burn without the royal family to temper their firebenders.
Azula caught herself frowning now. She only frowned when she couldn't help it. The thought of the Fire Nation falling was a vastly too unpleasant notion. Especially for someone like herself, who could vividly and accurately imagine all the endless ways a civil war like that could play out for another hundred years…and maybe longer.
She dismissed that pessimistic thought, turning it to ash in the proverbial wind. The world was theirs, even if it was struggling still.
And disregarding all that, everyday life was a positive now for herself. Her father was pleased, as much as he could be. Ty Lee was an eternally pleasant distraction from all the headaches and frustrations that came with being a princess. Though, while Azula had never said much against her friend's claim to see auras, she doubted it now. Why? Because to Azula's keen eyes, Mai was practically glowing; relative to normal, at least. Even with Zuko's issues, the young noblewoman was clearly delighted with the return of the banished prince, in her own way. And as troubled as Zuko claimed to be, he clearly delighted in Mai's presence just as much.
Zuko brought an entirely different kind of frown to her face. She'd be lying if she said she wasn't happy he was back. And as Zuzu says, Azula always lies, so she never says it. She hadn't lied though: not the night their father became Firelord, not at Ba Sing Se. She handed him his redemption on a silver platter. She didn't expect gratitude, she admittedly deserved his suspicion, but dear Agni couldn't he just be content? All he had to do was sit back, learn to be the Crown Prince again, snuggle up with his betrothed, and let the rest of the higher ups iron out the wrinkles in solidifying their hold over the world.
Then, when father died- or maybe even retired? Unlikely, but who knows what victory would do to his priorities. Either way, Zuko would become Firelord of the World, a post-war world at that. And Azula could go find her own little corner of the new territories to make something of her own. Would calling it New Caldera be too much? Sure, she could call it "Azula" like she renamed Omashu after her father, but naming a city you would live in and rule over after yourself somehow felt uninspired and, to use a commoner's word, lame.
Regardless, wherever she went, she was taking Ty Lee with her. And Azula was going to make that girl ringmaster of her own entire circus. Agni knew Azula owed the chi-blocker that much. She'd even promise not to set the circus equipment on fire.
Oh, Azula knew she was a nasty friend at times, but she had needed Ty Lee for this, her and Mai.
After all, they were the only ones she trusted to help her drag her brother home alive. Granted, that hadn't been needed in the end. Luckily Iroh had turned traitor, giving her the perfect scapegoat that allowed Zuko's return to be a completely welcomed event. There was the matter of the Avatar being alive, and she hoped she put enough fear into Zuzu to not lie to her about something that important again. Really, this changed nothing for Zuko. The Avatar was The AVATAR. He survived a hundred years in an ice cube without aging. Coming back from death's door, or even from beyond it, was hardly that surprising for an entity that instantly reincarnated into a new babe every time it died. She just needed Zuko to be less of a DumDum so she could clean up his messes.
She was very good at cleaning up Father's messes, he made sure of that.
Zuko's messes were comparably easier to manage, it was just the lack of communication and trust that made them problematic. Yes, she earned the second issue, but she really hated it when she was trying to help him.
Azula shook her head. Thinking about her brother always complicated things, something she could only hide so much. Today was a good day for the Fire Nation, showing they could prevail even in their day of absolute weakness.
But there was always a catch.
She turned to regard the soldier racing to her with a sharp gaze, but kept the menace to a minimum. "Yes, what is it?" she asked sternly as the man paused to catch his breath.
"Princess, there's been a break out! General Iroh, he escaped!" he informed urgently.
"What?" she exclaimed, gritting her teeth. Zuko couldn't have, could he? He wasn't that stupid, wa-? Oh Agni, no. "Who released him?!" she demanded. She had to know what this man knew, what information was already being spread.
"No one, Princess! I saw it myself! The bars were ripped opened from the inside!" the soldier corrected.
Azula kept her scowl in place. Now was not the time for smirking or remotely happy thoughts. Zuko wasn't a traitor, Iroh was just more dangerous than she gave him credit for. Then her eyes widened, her scowl no longer faked. "Find an officer and relay that information to him, to have it spread out! If he is still in the area, we can't afford to let him slip through our grasp!"
He would. She knew he would, if he was escaping, but there was no need to make it easy for the old coot.
The more worrying notion was that he wasn't trying to leave.
"Yes, Princess, right away!" the soldier obeyed, already running off to fulfill such orders.
An action Azula mirrored as she raced back to the palace, back down into the secret tunnels. If Iroh killed her father, that was a major problem. Yes, the Dragon of the West was a traitor, but it would not be hard for him to rally proper support to his side- especially if he killed his own brother in battle.
Could he do it? She wasn't sure, and that bothered her. Iroh should have been wasting away in the prison cell, yet clearly he had not. She knew the power gap between the two wasn't significant, thus a match could go either way. Much as she'd prefer to believe her father wouldn't fall to a tea-fanatic, she didn't have the luxury of blind faith.
She also knew that the Fire Nation could NOT handle a Civil War right now!
More to the point, if Iroh killed her father yet didn't via for the throne, there was no telling what Zuko would do. She had been willing to gamble on Zuko siding with her and the Fire Nation against their uncle's treason, but she wasn't convinced he'd be willing to sign the old man's death warrant if it came to that.
Azula calmed her mind as she neared the bunker, making a mental checklist of things to do.
First, make sure her father was alive
Second, find out where Zuko was. Also, discover if Zuko had done anything stupid.
Third, figure out just what to do about Iroh.
Fourth, assuming nothing else went wrong, retire for a well deserved rest.
Fifth, mental note: Get more Dai Li agents in her personal guard. She just realized they would have made this trip down here so much faster.
Reaching the door, she steadied herself before entering the room.
Azula couldn't contain the gasp that escaped her throat.
Her father lay against the wall, scorch marks and ash all around him. With the small smirk on his face, Azula could almost believe he was fine, that all was well.
If not for the hole in his chest.
It was wider than a fist, and the wound entirely blackened and cauterized. She could see and smell the burnt, human flesh. There were angry, spasming marks spreading out along his chest, shrouded only by the ruined and scorched remains of his royal attire.
Azula knew, intellectually, what she was looking at. Her father was killed by lightning. But she only knew one lightning strong enough to do this kind of damage: Ozai's own lightning. How could-
Her eyes grew distant for a fraction of a second. Iroh had redirected his lightning. Did Father not know about that? She assumed it merely a technique she hadn't learned yet. Prodigy or not, she was only fourteen. One can only learn so many techniques and abilities in her short years.
But where were the guards? There should be a line of dead guards somewhere, meant to guard the Firelord with their lives. The only ones here were herself, her father's corpse, and-
Some logical, perfectionist part of her mind berated her for not noticing the sword next to a pillar. And from there, the leg just barely in her field of vision. She came forth, throwing away all confusion and plotting to confront this assassin or failure of a soldier-
-But all confusion returned tenfold as she came close enough to see who it was.
He was sitting against the pillar, holding the point of one the swords against the ground. He was uninjured, at least externally, but all she could see was the hard stare he was giving her. As if he was waiting for her all along.
It was like an eternity for her, but in reality, she pieced it together within the first second; Zuko had killed their father, and used that lightning redirection technique to send the Firelord's own attack against him to do it. It was incredible, and somewhat terrifying. Ozai's power had been something Azula still had no plan of surpassing, not for another decade or two at least. And, yet, Zuko had slain him. Element of surprise or not, it was amazing in its own right.
As well as being the most amazing mess Zuko had ever created. A global one, she realized in the next instant as she looked back to her father's corpse. The Firelord, her father, was dead. That was true, that was fact. The only question was, what to do now?
Option one, do nothing. Get Zuko out of here; let someone else find this mess. That would be pure chaos. It would make them look weak. It would be like a gut punch after they felt so mighty for fending off the invasion. And it would embolden their enemies everywhere. No, no, that would not do.
Option two, she becomes Firelord. Unlike the Northern Water Tribe, the Fire Nation had no rules or taboo against female leaders and warriors: the Royal Family just had the cosmic coincidence of having more boys than girls born into it. With her success at Ba Sing Se, and her own connections she had been forging over the years, she could take the throne rather easily and push through this mess. What became of Zuko would depend on him. A prisoner, an exile, or just end up like Uncle Iroh before te Agni Kai: the throne being passed over to the second born with himself still being a prince. While his value among the nobles will have lessened, it shouldn't be much of concern for Mai's parents.
Option three, the final and hardest option; the option no one expected from her, she knew.
She took a deep breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Why?" she asked bluntly, leaving all the obvious meanings of that question unspoken.
Zuko didn't answer at first, taking a breath himself. It wasn't to calm his nerves, she could tell. He was in pain still, from the lightning. Her father's lightning was fierce and powerful, she could only imagine having it course through her body and out again. "I don't know."
"I need better than that, Zuko!" she hissed, glaring at him like an angry viper.
He wasn't fazed by her. Of course he wasn't. He stared down their father and won. She could only imagine how much less dangerous she had to seem right now in comparison.
Azula decided to change tactics and cover another base. "Just tell me you didn't do this for Uncle Iroh, Zuko."
"Uncle?" he repeated curiously. "What does he have to do with this?"
Zuko was a horrible liar, so it was nice to know this was genuine. "He escaped," she answered simply, scowling as she dared to glance back at the corpse. "I assumed this was his doing until I saw you."
She caught his eyes narrowing and she knew what he was thinking now. "What are you going to do, Azula?"
There were a thousand and one accusations in that question.
Was she going to kill him, her brother? Declare him a traitor? Execute him? Torture? Throw him in prison and let the inmates take care of him?
Just like always, he never thought things through. She supposed that was her job.
"Isn't it obvious, DumDum?" she asked without a hint of humor in her voice. She saw him tense, but his eyes widened as she knelt down next to him and carefully placed a hand on his arm. "Whatever you need me to do, Firelord Zuzu."
"...What?" Zuko asked after a long moment of silence.
Azula rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "Come now, Zuko, you mustn't look so shocked when your subjects give you their fealty. It's best to look more indifferent, to remind them it is expected that they do so," she lectured with a small smirk.
"You're crazy," he stated, and she didn't deny him. "I just killed Dad."
"Yes, you did. And the smell is revolting," she stated wryly. She made the deliberate choice to not suppress her own wince when Zuko gave her a disbelieving look. "Sorry. I don't know if you ever figured it out, but horribly scathing, witty comments are how I cope with stress."
Zuko blinked at the admission. "What?"
Azula rolled her eyes. "Just let me help you up, idiot. We have to get you to the private infirmary and figure out just exactly how we want this to play out," she said before pausing to give Zuko a hard look. "Unless there's something else I should know?"
"...I didn't plan on it going this way," Zuko stated with a tired voice, looking to his dead father. "I thought I'd be lucky to get out alive after I confronted him. But then the lightning came."
"You expected to be long gone from here if you survived," Azula concluded with a frown. "And you wouldn't have gone rogue without telling Mai."
"There's a note on her bed. It just said I was sorry and that I was leaving," Zuko stated warily. There was nothing to implicate Mai in anything.
"I'll dispose of that then, after we get you out of here," Azula decided, very aware that Zuko never released his sword grip.
"Why?" he asked with a scowl.
He wasn't referring to the letter anymore, she knew. Why help him? Why not do away with him? Why any of this?
The distrust in his eyes didn't hurt her. She deserved it. Her being truthful, in his experience, was the exception and not the rule.
"I don't know," she repeated his words coyly. "Maybe you just inherited the metaphorical leash Father kept me on when you killed him."
"...Azula, that just sounds wrong," Zuko stated flatly.
"I'm hardly at my best right now," Azula replied with an eye roll. "Now, we can discuss my mental issues after we deal with your heath and political issues."
With great reluctance, Zuko released his grip on his weapons.
"Look on the bright side, Zuko," Azula stated, putting one of his arms over her shoulders, helping him stand with a groan from the prince. They paused to give one final look at their father's body. "You can't say he didn't look proud of you in his final moment."
End of Chapter
And there we go, the first chapter of Flames of Regicide, my very first Avatar fic. And I love Azula. Not just because she's crazy, but because there is so many ways to interpret her craziness. Such as her actually, genuinely caring about Zuko all along while still being herself.
For the record, the conversation between Zuko and Ozai did not go as it did in canon, even ignoring the lightning. Regicide Zuko is very similar to canon Zuko, but they are NOT the same, as will soon be made clear.
Don't worry, he's not going to start trusting Azula without reservation or anything.
Now with Ozai dead, the whole world is about to go through a tumble. Next chapter, Zuko and Azula have a very needed discussion about many things.
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