Seduction: Part 1
The objective part of Jet's brain was interested to note that pain could be associated with colors. Behind his closed eyelids, he saw oranges, blues, and the occasional purple, but the main palette here were shades of red.
That wasn't such a big surprise.
When he wasn't contemplating colors—which, in all honesty, only distracted his conscious mind for a very small portion of time—he was trying to go back down into the blackness where there was nothing. No memories of being crushed by merciless earth. No echoes of the sound of his own bones breaking under the impact. No recollection of that first explosion of unparalleled, inimitable pain that had him believing he was finally at his life's end.
Because, that then begged the question; why wasn't he dead?
The few times Jet had managed to open his eyes and break through the heavy cloak of unconsciousness, he'd hear a voice, see a face. He hadn't been able to focus enough to understand what the voice was saying, but the tones were warm and helped him relax. Both were unfamiliar to him, but he'd begun to associate them with comfort. His aches had been soothed, his nightmares pushed aside when he heard that voice. Sometimes, he'd feel the touch of a warm, soft hand against his face, and peace settled over him, calming him so that he'd wondered if maybe he was dead and in the Spirit World.
It could have been months, days, or hours after Lake Laogai, when Jet was finally able to open his eyes and keep them open, confirming that he was not, in fact, dead. He was surprised to find himself in elegant surroundings, possibly in Ba Sing Se, if the color scheme was any indication. He was lying in a bed that was bigger than some of the rooms he'd lived in over the years. He was dressed in cream colored pajamas made of the finest silk, and for a brief moment, he thought he was dreaming, or perhaps the Dai Li had control of his mind again. Then he tried to sit up and nearly blacked out when his chest felt as if it was going to implode.
Jet fell backwards onto the pillows with a strangled gasp. He stared up at the ceiling, his eyes blindly tracing the patterns of the tiles as he breathed through the pain. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he clutched at the sheets with white-knuckled fingers. He was so focused on hanging on to consciousness that he didn't realize someone had entered the room, until a pair of clear amber eyes invaded his view.
"Jet," the voice said, as low and as silky as the clothes he wore. "It's alright."
She put a hand on his cheek, wiped his forehead with a soft cloth, and sat down at his bedside. He stared at her face, thought it looked familiar somehow, and he realized, this was the woman who'd been taking care of him. No, not woman. Girl. She was dressed in the yellows and greens of the Earth Kingdom, but not in any particular style exclusive to Ba Sing Se. Her ebony black hair was pulled back and up in a tidy bun, though strands artfully framed a face that could have been in any classic painting. He stared at her and the clean lines of her beauty, and felt his pain ebb.
"You're finally awake," she said with a smile. "I've been so worried about you."
"Who are you?" he asked hoarsely. "Where am I?"
"You're in my home," she answered. "I'm Azula."
"Azula," he repeated. "How did you find me?"
"I saved you from the Dai Li," Azula answered. "They're my enemies, too, Jet."
"Did you get crushed by a boulder, too?"
"My situation is not quite as dramatic. You know what they say: my enemy's enemy is my friend."
"Whoever said that is a fool," Jet said, coughing.
Azula's smile widened. "Maybe, but you're alive because of it."
"Are you some crazy heiress who needs a new pet project or something?" he demanded.
She arched an eyebrow at him, her expression turning imperious.
"You're a lot smarter than you look. Here, you must be parched."
She slid a firm hand under his head and lifted his head slightly. With her other hand, she held a cup of cool water to his lips and he drank it greedily.
"Careful," she chided. "You've been seriously injured and have been asleep for the last week. I was afraid you weren't going to make it. I tried to feed you, but you were hallucinating for most of it, and were only able to take a few bites at a time. Your stomach isn't used to being full, so drink slowly, alright?"
"Yes," he said as she set him back down and he felt suddenly tired.
"Good. Now, rest. I know you're excited about being awake, but you're still weak. I've had the doctors in to see you and they say the only cure for you is rest."
"Why are you doing this?" Jet asked, even as he began to drift off.
"I already told you," she said quietly, brushing the hair from his forehead with a gentle hand, but he felt the scrape of her nails against his skin. "Rest."
Azula sat with her legs crossed at the knee and her arms folded over her chest. She watched the boy sleep the kind of sleep reserved for the very young or the very...injured. She'd nursed him with a patience and care that would have shocked anyone in her acquaintance, but Azula knew that her hard work would pay off in the end.
It had been her good fortune to stumble across him and his cohorts trying to leave the city. It had been easy disposing of the other two, but this one she'd recognized from the intelligence files gathered by her men. He'd been the leader of the Freedom Fighters, a ragtag group of young vigilantes who had managed to rout the Fire Nation time and again. What interested her about Jet was that he wasn't afraid to sacrifice the innocent, if it meant hitting the enemy where they hurt the most. It was a surprising trait in a supposed 'freedom fighter', but one she knew would fit her needs. It also helped that he had an obsessive personality, as his dogged pursuit of her brother and uncle had shown. He was the perfect tool to keep at her disposal. She wasn't sure for what yet, but it never hurt to have a secret weapon.
Of course, her biggest challenge would be breaking him of his hatred of the Fire Nation, or at least convincing him that helping her would not be helping it. Even though he was weak and vulnerable, he'd still looked at her with such suspicion, and she knew it would be a long uphill battle. That was fine. She had time. Zuko was taking care of the daily workings of Ba Sing Se and she would let him play King, so he could get a taste of it before she took it away again.
Jet stirred, shaking her from her thoughts, but he didn't wake up. He reminded her of her brother so she knew exactly how to handle him. She just had to approach this situation the same way she had Zuko's. She would learn how to push his buttons, how to pull his levers, so that in the end, she would be in control. Compliant underlings were the key to her power. That way she could focus her energies on the larger plan, rather than on whether or not they would do as she said. She'd perfected the method with Mai and Ty Lee, but they were her childhood friends. She'd had years to influence them, and there was the added benefit of their lack of hatred for the Fire Nation.
Swallowing a yawn, Azula started to get up. It was late into the night, and she should be in her bed, getting some much needed rest, but she thought that he'd be awake by now. She'd wanted to talk to him while he was still in his most vulnerable place, but he didn't seem to want to comply with her wishes. She hoped this wasn't a portent of things to come.
She was halfway out the door when she heard his low groan. Throwing a glance over her shoulder, she saw him open his eyes, and without a second thought, she stepped back into the room.
"Hi," she said softly as to not startle him.
"Hi," he said, his eyes tracking her as she walked towards the bed.
Azula made a show of checking his temperature, brushing the hair from his forehead, meeting his narrowed stare as she did it. Intelligence sparkled in his eyes, as did wariness, and again she was impressed that he was able to maintain his state of mind, despite his grievous injuries. Others would have been completely incapacitated from the pain and from the memory of the experience. She'd seen him cry out from nightmares and knew he suffered in mind as well as body. Yet, he wasn't grateful to her, nor was he giving up. He was at her mercy, but still he looked at her as if he challenged her to try something.
"You're looking better," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"I don't feel better," he retorted.
"I don't suppose you would so soon after your...scuffle."
"Is that what you'd call it?"
"I just did."
He smiled hesitantly. Azula reached down and picked up the bowl of soup she'd brought for him. Before she straightened, she heated it up, so that when she held it up for him to see, it was steaming.
"Are you hungry?" she asked.
"You have no idea."
"I can guess. This is just some light miso soup, so I think it'll sit nicely."
Azula put the bowl down so that she could lift his head up and slide another pillow underneath. He winced at being moved, but didn't complain. He greedily drank the soup she spooned into his mouth and she had to force herself not to make a face when some of it splashed onto her hand. She forced him to eat slowly and he didn't look happy about that, but again, he didn't complain. When the bowl was empty, she put it back on the ground and met his unwavering gaze.
"Why do you hate the Fire Nation so much, Jet?"
"What's with the third-degree? Who wouldn't after all that's happened? The only people left in this world who don't hate the Fire Nation are a couple people already living inside it."
"Not all of them?"
"I find it hard to believe that all the citizens are fans of Ozai."
"Fire Lord Ozai," Azula said, with a narrowing of her eyes.
Jet frowned. Azula silently cursed. She hadn't meant for that to come out, but the way he'd said her father's name with such derision had made her back go up.
"You never know who could be listening," she added lamely.
"Who are you, Azula?" he asked suddenly. "Really? With a name like that, I'm afraid you're the one who's listening."
"A name like what?"
It wasn't the most eloquent description, but Azula could see his point. She rearranged the blanket covering him as he watched her, waiting for her answer, but from the growing anger on his face, she guessed that he already knew the answer.
"I am Fire Nation," she said simply.
"Or what? You can barely move. Face it, Jet. I'm your only chance at recovery."
"Then I would rather die," Jet spat, his eyes bright with rage.
"That's ridiculous," Azula said dismissively. "You haven't even given me a chance to explain myself."
Azula stood and she stared down her nose at him.
"Later," she said. "I'm tired. I'll come back tomorrow."
She started to go, but then she turned to look at him over her shoulder.
"Rest, Jet," she said with more gentleness. "I know you're angry and confused, but let your body heal before you deal with other problems. Promise me that."
She didn't bother waiting for his response, but she'd seen the confusion slowly bleed into the anger on his face. A corner of her mouth curving up, Azula left him to his thoughts and was sure she would come back to something interesting the next day.
"What's the Fire Nation to you?" Jet asked the second Azula walked through the door.
He'd slept fitfully the night before, thinking about her and her reasons for taking care of him, and things weren't adding up. She treated him with a kindness that surprised him, but she had to have a reason for that. There just had to be a reason. Since he had nothing else but his thoughts to occupy his time, he'd nearly driven himself mad considering the possibilities.
Azula slid a warm hand underneath his neck to help him drink the tea she'd brought. He tried to turn his head away, but her hand held him in place, displaying a strength he hadn't expected, so he had no choice but to drink. She didn't answer as she waited for him to finish drinking, and he wondered if she was some kind of crazy sadist who got off on having complete control over him. She didn't look like it, but he wasn't a great judge of character.
"Do you have a family, Jet?" she asked conversationally.
"I did. The Fire Nation killed them."
"I...I'm sorry," she said, her golden eyes widened with surprise, then empathy. "Unfortunately, that's a story you hear too often in this war."
"Do you have a family, Azula?"
She tilted her chin up and he saw the defiance there.
"I do, but what I wouldn't give to have them wiped out by the Fire Nation."
A muscle on Jet's cheek twitched. Azula was a puzzle to him, but he was at least sure that she was as sensitive as a rock.
"My father is a domineering tyrant who sees his children as nothing more than pawns in the greater scheme of things," Azula continued as she looked away from him, her gaze going inward. The one person that could have controlled him was my mother, but I lost her when I was young. He was obsessed with my mother, and that obsession drove her away."
"That sounds like a real bestseller," Jet remarked.
Azula's look was sharp.
"You don't believe me?" she demanded.
"I reserve the right to trust in a Fire Nation girl who hasn't given me a believable explanation for why she's helping me."
"You asked about my family and I'm telling you. I have an older brother who's a bumbling idiot, but I think that when push comes to shove, he's going to get my...inheritance."
"You're a girl. You don't have an inheritance," he snorted.
"You don't know who I am," she said defensively, her pride clearly wounded at his words. "I'm not just a girl."
"Then, tell me."
She sat at his side, her hands resting on her lap, and her legs crossed at the knee. Her eyes were like molten gold as they met his frank look and he could see confidence in her that seemed out of place on a girl who looked as delicate as a flower.
No, that was wrong.
She was beautiful, but she wasn't delicate. She had to be a Firebender; he could feel the waves of heat coming off her. The greens and golds of the Earth Kingdom looked wrong on her, but she wore them with the air of someone who was forcing the style to change in order to suit her—not the other way around. He couldn't help it. She intrigued him.
"Between myself and my brother, I'm more suited to ru...to claim the inheritance that our father will leave behind," Azula said. "If we were judged on our merit rather than our gender, the world would be a different place."
"Sounds to me you've got issues that have nothing to do with me," Jet retorted, impatient with her.
"Don't you think that if smarter people were the leaders, this war would not have started?" she argued.
Jet stared up at her, saw that she truly believed what she was saying, and he was even more curious to know exactly what it was she wanted with him. What could she possibly need from him that she would take the time to care for him and to explain herself to him? He didn't like that he was at her mercy, and though she'd made no move to do him any harm, he was still expecting her to turn on him when she deemed him useless.
"Maybe, but a smarter Fire Lord doesn't necessarily mean he'll be more peaceful," Jet replied.
"A smarter Fire Lord would know that more power can be gained during peacetime, because resources wouldn't be wasted on pointless fighting and endless violence."
That was an answer he didn't expect from a Firebender, but Jet's shock was outweighed by his exhaustion. He was suddenly so tired. His eyelids felt like they weighed a ton, but he held on to consciousness because he wanted to hear what Azula had to say. He needed to know what she had to say.
"Azula," he said tiredly. "Who are you?"
She sighed, looking as tired as he felt, but he could see the spark of determination in her eyes. She was frowning, and he noticed that the expression looked perfectly at home on her face.
"You might not know me, but I think you know my brother," she said.
She pulled out a piece of parchment from the folds of her tunic and set it on the bed.
"You're tired, Jet," she said and she pulled the blankets over his shoulders. "I'll come back later. Get some rest."
After she left, Jet picked up the folded paper and opened it to find a very familiar scarred face.
"Wanted: Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation," he read aloud. "Li..."
Li was Azula's brother. Li was really Prince Zuko, the son of Fire Lord Ozai. That meant Azula...
"She's the damned princess," Jet spat, and in an angry move that made him gasp with pain, he crumpled the wanted poster and dropped it on the floor.