Silk, and Steel
Rating: T, although the rating may go up.
Warnings: AU, dark!Sokka, character death, references to sex and extreme violence, although absolutley nothing explicit, and general conniving and cruelty on behalf of the people you would expect it from.
Disclaimer: The very fact that this is an AU should clue you in to the fact that I don't own either the characters or their world. Actually, the fact that this story is listed in the world's biggest fanfiction archive should clue you in to that. The AU is just an extra clue.
Summary: In a world where Sokka and Katara's father died instead of their mother, we follow the exploits of Sokka, a dark perversion of his former self, as he willingly enters the world of intrigue and deception that is the Fire Nation, and plays a twisting game with his deadly guide, Princess Azula.
VERY IMPORTANT Author's Note: This is an expansion of the Blood-Arc in my story Challenges. If you do not read those three chapters, this story will make very little sense, so go and read them if you haven't already: Chapters 25, 26, and 27. It's a grand total of 300 words.
- Chapter One -
I do not intend to start at the beginning. That would be boring, and besides, it has already been done. So, I will start where I left off, which is of course is somewhere near the middle, though where exactly I wouldn't be able to tell, and I will start with the beautiful Princess Azula.
Azula did not love him.
Azula did not love anyone or anything; she did not love her father and she did not love her nation. I am not even entirely sure if she loved herself, or whether her attempts at advancement were merely drawn from some parasitic instinct—like those of the tapeworm which concerns itself only with its own existence because that is all there is.
No, Azula did not love him. And, to be frank he did not love anything. He had once loved his father—that much was clear. If he had ever loved his nation, Azula wasn't sure. What she did know beyond a shadow of a doubt was that he certainly didn't love himself, and he didn't love her either. But, again, that was fine by her, because she did not love him.
We've established that. Moving on…
He did, however interest her quite a lot. Not that that made her unique in any way. The eerily charming savage interested everyone from Ty Lee to Ozai himself. He had, after all, played a much greater part than Zuko in bringing her father the Avatar. Which of course, had been something of a nuisance, because it had put Zuko back in line for the throne. But, he hadn't known about the Fire Nation's power struggles, so Azula could hardly blame him. And, seeing him in her father's court, Azula had to admit that she would rather have him fighting for the Fire Nation. And, after all, if Zuko hadn't brought the little Airbender back home with him the brat might have actually mastered the four elements and posed something of a problem.
So, all in all, even if Azula didn't love him, she did like him, in her own way, because he was useful.
Oh, and then there was the sex. The sex wasn't bad. She liked that about him the most. And then, there was the fact that they were kindred spirits. Azula wasn't so naïve as to believe in soul mates. (She left those sorts of things to Mai and Ty Lee, who, come to think of it, had become a lot less useful to her since her brother had dragged her little savage up from the frozen corners of the earth.) But, she did believe in kindred spirits, and Sokka was most definitely hers. She understood him and he understood her, and so their relationship was tit-for-tat, and his usefulness would last a long time, so she didn't need to worry about betraying him.
But sometimes, Azula couldn't help but wonder if they were fundamentally different somehow. After all, she still enjoyed the fresh scent of the flowers he would bring her sometimes. But, Sokka, he didn't seem to enjoy anything. Not even revenge. He knew beauty, and recognized it, but he didn't enjoy it. Whenever she was trying to decide what dress to wear she would ask him, and inevitably he would pick the right dress.
"Wear this one," he would say, "you'll outshine Zuko at his birthday party."
Or, "This one, the silk is finer and it will make you smoother."
Or, "This one, the gold dances on your body; you are the true heir of fire."
Or, "This one, the red brings out the demon in you."
And it was always the right choice. But he never told her: "This one, because it is pretty."
Or, "This one, because I like it."
Or, "This one, because it turns me on."
Or, "Anything looks good on you."
Not that Azula wanted or needed his flattery. It was just, perplexing. Maybe Sokka didn't like red. The thought had crossed her mind, so she had had her father bring her clothes from New Ozai.
"This one," he had said. "It is the most preposterous, and perfect for this charade."
He had been right of course, and the evening had been a tremendous success. But apparently, Sokka didn't like green any more than he liked red. So, then she had tried yellow, and for the centennial of the Fire Nation's victory over the Air Nomads she had had her seamstress recreate long forgotten fashions.
"This one, like this," he had said. "It is the most revealing, and therefore the greatest profanation."
Again, he had been right, and Azula had been commended on her cleverness and ability to transform something as barbaric as the mother-superior's habit into something worthy of a princess of the Fire Nation. So, finally, Azula tried blue, and she had Zhao bring her furs. Sokka himself hadn't worn blue since he had first arrived with her brother, and she fretted slightly before asking him to her bedroom. After all, this dress was to celebrate the capture of a band of savages, rebels from the North, and Azula wasn't quite sure how Sokka would react.
But when he entered her bedroom of gold and red and black to find her cloaked in blue furs in front of a mirror, his only response was to ask her if she was not hot under the furs.
"I thought you'd like this one," she said.
And he, playing along, because he always humored her, simply replied, "I do. You pull it off very well, all things considered."
"All things considered?"
"Well Princess, considering that that is a man's outfit."
She frowned. Whoever had been responsible for confiscating and delivering the clothes without informing her that some of them were not for the fairer sex would pay. "Well then Sokka, why don't I show you, and have you tell me what I should wear?" She nodded to the maids, and they brought out dress upon dress of blue fur. Suddenly a full-bodied gown sparked his interest, and Azula nodded to the maid to bring it closer.
Gingerly, he reached out to touch the fabric. "My Princess," he said, "I am, as you know, but a lowly peasant by birth, and the Southern Water Tribe, has, for the majority of my life been a festering hell-hole devoid of anything approximating civilization, but the craftsmanship of this dress is exemplary. One might even say fitting of a princess. Not a princess of the Fire Nation, but a princess none-the-less."
Nodding, she took the dress, and sent the maid away. Without even casting a second glance at Sokka she began to undress and soon was wearing the dress he had suggested. Of course, as was always the case, he had been right.
"Yes, this one," she confirmed to the mirror. "It is only fitting of my station."
And she turned to look at Sokka. "So how do I look?" she asked.
"Like a savage from the Water Tribes."
"Well, you should know."
In reply she received only a guttural grunt.
"Well, do you like how I look in blue?" She asked and again he grunted.
"I like how you look in any color, but red suits you best."
So Sokka didn't like blue either. Well, Azula would have to get creative later. For now however, she simply asked, "And how about you? What will you be wearing?"
"I was thinking of wearing the armor your father gave me for my birthday last year. Or do you think I should play the part of pet savage tonight?"
"Well," she began, curling around him. "I think someone needs to join me in my lack of taste or decency. Spirits know Zuzu won't, and neither Mai nor Ty Lee will have the skill to pull it off. Besides, it'll give me an excuse to hover on your arm all night."
For the third time that night, a guttural growl escaped his throat and for the first time that night, a smile graced his lips. Azula liked that smile; no one but her ever saw it, like the smile she had only for him. They were kindred souls.
He wrapped his arms around her waist as she wrapped hers around his neck. "I suppose then that I'll have to find new clothes; my old ones hardly fit anymore, and I can't accompany you dressed as a peasant and a pauper to boot."
She offered him a smile and he ate it from her lips. Together they turned back to analyze the pile of furs lying on her bed. Finally they found a warrior's armor which fit him, and he smiled. "But you know," he added, "if we're going to do this, we should do it right. Have you any jewelry?"
Clapping now, she nodded excitedly and went and got it. Sokka analyzed each piece very carefully, until he finally found one. "From what I can tell, this is a hairpiece. I'm not sure if yours is long enough, but the moon is one of the Water Tribes' patron spirits, and it would be in absolutely the worst taste for you to wear it tonight."
She merely growled in turn, and he set to arranging her hair in a way he had once seen his mother arrange Katara's. When he was done, he stood aside to admire his handiwork and Azula approached her mirror. "It's so fantastically crass!" She exclaimed happily.
"Yes, if I didn't know better myself, I'd think you were of the Water Tribes."
"How about you?" she asked. "Obviously you don't need anything to pass for a Water Tribesman, but, well, you know."
He nodded, in thought. "Do you have any face paint?"
"Men in the Water Tribes wear face paint?" she asked, marveled. "How barbaric. Why haven't you ever mentioned that before?"
He simply shrugged as he began to look through her collection of confiscated items. "You always seemed much more interested by the tales about the penguins and the whales and the seals." Finally he found what he was looking for, and presented a small container to the princess. Opening it, she found what appeared to be white and blue cream. Curious, she stuck her finger in it, and found it to have a most distasteful texture. As she shivered, Sokka took it back from her and more forcefully dipped his fingers into the concoction, slathering it on his face. Within a few minutes he had finished and he turned to face Azula. She was delighted at the transformation.
"You know, Sokka, I do think I like this aspect of you. It lets me see you for the monster you really are."
In return he only smiled and nodded. "Alas my princess, you have no need of makeup for me to see you for the monster you really are."
They really were kindred spirits. It was a pity he had been born in the Water Tribes, or else, he might not have outlived his usefulness in the long run.
"Too true. But anyway, you'll be the star of the ball; Father won't even cast a second glance towards Zuzu once we come in. You know there's talk that Father's planning to entrust the final Siege of the North to him."
"That incompetent fool?"
"That's what I thought. Well he was going to send Admiral Jeong-Jeong to head the naval attack."
"A much worthier choice."
"Indeed, given his work in the South. Unfortunately, as I'm sure you're quite aware, Jeong-Jeong met with a most unfortunate end recently."
"Yes there is that."
"And father had been considering giving a promotion to Captian Zhao. He was originally going to make him a commander, but with Jeong-Jeong out of the picture, there was a vacancy in the Admiralship."
"A vacancy Zhao would have filled most admirably."
Azula rolled her eyes at the pun. She knew Sokka didn't derive any inherent pleasure from making them, because he didn't derive any inherent pleasure in anything, well, except those things, and wondered if his sense of humor might have been a vestige of his former self. One day she would have to track his runt of a sister down and ask her.
"Except of course for the fact that he met the same fate as the late Admiral just a few days ago."
"Quite a pity indeed. The ink had barely finished drying on his promotion when they found his carcass. It was long dry by the time they were able to actually identify him; he really was in quite an awful state."
"I imagine. But I see where this is going. With Jeong-Jeong and Zhao gone, there's no one left to take control of your father's navy in the siege, and his Majesty has little choice but to send the incompetent prince. Well, chin up my dear, with any luck he won't survive the battle."
"That's a possibility. More likely however, he manages to screw up so royally that he completely wrecks the mission and it turns out to be the greatest military loss in the Fire Nation's history since Uncle Iroh's miserable failure at Ba Sing Se."
Sokka smiled. "Well, it could be worse. He might actually return victorious, and then where would you be?"
Azula shook her head and let out an exasperated sigh. "Either way, it's a lose-lose situation—either I inherit a weakened Fire Nation in a time of turmoil, or Zuko inherits the Fire Nation at its strongest."
"But, of course, you have a solution."
And this time it was Azula's turn to smile. "Of course I do. Tonight we will convince Father that you should lead the attack."
"I'm flattered. But what's in it for me?"
"Darling, I've never known you to need an incentive to play traitor."
"Not enough this time dearie."
"You get to kill, mangle and maim as many people as you want, and they'll call you a hero for it."
He shook his head. "I can kill, mangle and maim right here in the Fire Nation; you know that perfectly well; after all, you were the one who showed me the best spots for a quick fix. And as to being called a hero, that's something that tickles your brother's fancy, not mine. If I wanted to be a hero I would have run up against your brother when he first landed in the South Pole and fought him, even if the odds were a thousand to one as they were. And if I survived that first encounter, I would have cast my lot with the Avatar. Not you."
"Fine," she finally conceded. "You'll be made regent of the Water Tribes."
"A convenient way to get me away from the Fire Nation."
"Don't be silly Sokka. I like you here, and if I ever felt the need to remove you from the Fire Nation, I assure you the solution would be far more permanent than to send you off to rule the ends of the Earth."
And so finally, after some consideration, Sokka agreed. "Why not?" he asked simply, as he and Azula readied themselves to down to the Fire Lord's ballroom, where the whole of the Fire Nation's elite was already celebrating the capture of a band of Northern rebels and their plans for a full-scale invasion of the Northern Water Tribe, last bastion of the Water Civilization.
Author's Note: This story was brewing in my mind even as I was posting Bloodline, Blood-craft and Bloodlust on Challenges, but it really took the encouragement of Justicar347. After he took the time to write me a nice long PM with everything he'd like to see, how could I refuse?
As always, your reviewsare very much appreciated. This story won't be very long, and in the next chapter you'll be likely to see Sokka interact with Zuko, Ozai, and, if you're lucky, Bato, of the Water Tribe. We'll get glimpses of his past and his future.
So, what are you waiting for?