Previously: When Zuko came to visit the sick Azula, he noticed she had not only physically, but also mentally recovered. The princess was pardoned for her crimes and decided she wanted to stay with her mother. The Fire Lord accepted her decision and invited his family for a banquet he would organize a month later.
Initially meant as an epilogue this chapter has become quite an extensive piece of writing in itself. I hope I'm giving a good image of redeemed Azula, because that's what I tried to do. Recently edited for spelling errors.
Chapter 11 The Final Showdown
"The Avatar and his friends, your uncle Iroh, Jin, Pao, Chief Oyaji and a couple of Kyoshi warriors, including Ty Lee, Song and her family, Lee and his family, your mother … and her family", Mai read out the banquet's guest list in her usual bored tone.
"I'm not too sure I like the sound of that last part", Zuko remarked. To the untrained ear Mai's voice was always the same, except if she really got agitated, which rarely ever happened. The Fire Lord however had learnt to interpret to most subtle changes in his girlfriend voice and her mentioning of his mother's family clearly held an edge of discontent.
"Well I'm not too sure I like the sound of this guest list", Mai riposted, "How could you pardon her, Zuko?" She accepted Zuko cared for his sister, but this had been one step too far in her opinion. Azula had done some terrible things in the last five years of her life, even to her so-called friends and to her own brother, more than most people have done in their entire lifetime. She couldn't just forget about that and knowing she'd have to dine with her at the same table didn't make her feel comfortable at all.
"She earned it, Mai", Zuko replied, "She's not the tool our father moulded her into anymore, she changed. If you had come with me, you would have seen it."
"You seem to forget something", Mai protested, "She's always been a master of manipulation. She could very well have been playing you."
"No, she couldn't." Zuko's voice was stern and confident. While he was the one who usually had to go to the wall in an argument with Mai, he wasn't willing to lose this one. "Her pride would never let her act like that. She genuinely changed. Why is that so hard to believe?"
"I wonder", Mai sarcastically whispered, "I can live with the fact that a lot of the people you invited are good-looking girls of your age, but if Azula is coming, I won't attend. I'll just have to trust you to behave yourself."
"You will attend, Mai", Zuko angrily replied, "Even if it means that I'll have to drag you in and chain you to your chair. You need this as much as she does." Mai was surprised. The Fire Lord had never refused her anything. She easily won every argument they got into. Why not this one? Was he really that fixated on making her see Azula? The knife-thrower murmured some curses in defeat. If he really wanted her to see Azula, she would, but it wouldn't be willingly. Zuko sighed in relief. That part was over, now he had to figure out a way to get Mai and Azula to talk to each other. He knew he couldn't force his girlfriend to talk. He couldn't even force her to look at his sister. He already considered it quite an achievement that he actually managed to persuade Mai to attend the banquet, but getting them to talk was several levels of difficulty beyond that. How would he realize that? Three knocks on the door interrupted his thoughts. "Yes?", he responded.
The door slowly opened and Lin's face showed up. "Pardon me, your lordship", the servant girl said, "But your mother, sister and their family have arrived."
"What? Already?", Zuko's eyes were wide open in shock, "But the banquet only starts in a couple of hours." The Fire Lord panicked. What did he have to do now? He still had to find a way to get Mai to reconcile with Azula. His family coming early was … exactly what he needed. He pulled himself together. This was a blessing. How did they know they were needed? "Bring them in, Lin", the Fire Lord said firmly, "I'd like them to meet Mai." The knife-thrower gave Zuko an angry glare, but he ignored it. She had no choice on this matter.
"Yes sir", Lin replied as she left the room to fetch the guests. Silence filled the next couple of minutes in the Fire Lord's private quarters. Mai didn't feel like saying anything anymore, now that she knew Azula had arrived and Zuko knew his girlfriend well enough not to bother her unnecessarily on a moment like this.
Once the door opened, adrenaline pumped through the excited Fire Lord's veins. He smiled as he would finally see his family again. That month had been way too long, and way too busy. "You don't mind we're early, do you honey?", Ursa asked as she stood in the door opening, "Azula managed to persuade the engineers to use firebending to give the airship extra propulsion. She even helped them. It gained us quite some time." Mai looked up. Did Azula actually help someone? It couldn't be. Ursa had to be mistaking or, if she wasn't, Azula had to have some ulterior motive. But what could it possibly be? What else could she gain apart from time.
"Of course I don't mind", Zuko replied while hugging his mother, "I missed you, mom."
"I missed you too, honey", Ursa said returning the hug. Leo and Azula, carrying Tara, entered the room. Mai couldn't believe her eyes. Was that Azula carrying a child? It couldn't be hers of course, the little girl was too old, however they sure seemed to enjoy each other. And was Azula actually smiling? Not that Mai had never seen Azula smile, she just had never seen her smile like that. Her smile had always been a sign of cunningness or malice, but now it seemed to suggest happiness, even sweetness. Could she truly have changed or had her acting improved even more. "Quite an interesting way of travelling, by airship", Ursa continued, "A lot faster than by boat."
Zuko nodded. "At first they were used for warfare", he said, "But now that the war is over, we found a new use for them. It's a very efficient way of travelling. Quite cheap. A good thing too, since the war hasn't done our economy much good. … Anyway, maybe I should introduce you first. I'm sure you recognize Mai, mom."
"Hi Mai", Ursa greeted her son's girlfriend and hugged her.
"Lady Ursa", Mai replied while returning the hug.
"Oh come on", Ursa said, "No need for the formalities. Ursa will do. You look great." Mai smiled. For as long as she could remember Ursa had always been the kind of person to make someone feel at ease. She was a very nice person and a caring parent. Mai never really understood how she ended up with someone like Ozai, but then again arranged marriages were more than usual in noble circles.
"Mai", Zuko tried to get his girlfriend's attention, "I'd like to introduce my stepfather Leo to you." Both Mai and Leo bowed politely. "The little girl is my half-sister Tara, and you already know Azula."
Azula handed her little sister over to her mother and headed towards her former friend. Mai stopped her and gave her an icy glare. "Mai, I …", Azula started timidly, "I'm sorry."
"I'm not", Mai replied, "I'm not sorry for any of the things I did, back at the Boiling Rock. You would have let them kill your own brother. How could you? … I'm not sorry for helping him escape and I wouldn't think twice to do it again, no matter what the consequences were."
"Good", Azula replied, "You shouldn't." Once again, the Fire Nation princess had managed to surprise her former friend. Mai had never expected this reply. "You made sure I didn't make one of the biggest and most irreversible mistakes of my life", Azula continued, "I didn't realize it at the time, but you did me a favour with your betrayal. I should have thanked you, but instead I threw you in prison, I would even have executed you if it wasn't for Ty Lee. I know now that I was the one who betrayed you, not the other way around. I was a awful friend and person, and I'm really sorry for it. I wish I could somehow make it up to you." Tears rolled over the girl's cheeks.
Mai was confused. She had never seen Azula act like this. Maybe Zuko was right, maybe she truly had changed, but that didn't change what she had done. She swallowed. "You might have changed", the Fire Lord's girlfriend started, "You might be sorry for what you did, but it's not that simple. I can't forgive you, not yet. I'll accept you as a guest, as the Fire Lord's sister and if you truly have changed, time might heal the old wounds some day, but I can't say when."
"Thanks", Azula replied, "That means a lot to me." Mai looked at her confused. Who was this Azula look-alike? She didn't get what she want and yet she was grateful. Her thoughts were interrupted as, apparently, Azula wrapped her arms around her. A part of Mai wanted to protest, but the confusion was too much for her. She just stood there, immobile, not returning the hug, but not fighting it either, until the reinstated princess let her go a couple of seconds later.
"Right", Zuko said noticing Mai and Azula had finished talking, "Take a seat. I'll call for some tea and for the time being we could catch up with each other."
"No wait Zuko", Azula interrupted, "I need to ask you a favour … in private."
"Err sure", the Fire Lord replied confused, "The rest of you, take a seat, tea will be served in a moment." The two siblings left the room and headed for the Fire Lord's study. Before entering the room, the scarred young man asked a servant that happened to cross their path to bring Mai and the guests some tea. The man nodded and bowed before his boss. "So … what do you need to ask me, Azula?", Zuko asked as they entered the study.
"I want to face dad", his sister replied.
The Fire Lord looked doubtful. "Are you sure?", he asked.
"I need to do this, Zuko", Azula answered self-assured.
"I understand, Azula", Zuko sighed, "It's just that … The fact is … I've been sick too, you know, same disease you had but less long. When I woke up I had changed, I didn't care for father's approval anymore. I was happy to live a peasant's life with uncle Iroh in Ba Sing Se. Nevertheless, you managed to persuade me to join you. You managed to reverse the transformation I underwent, and I'm afraid our father might have the same effect on you."
"He's in jail, Dumdum", Azula replied slightly annoyed, "What could he possibly bribe me with? He doesn't have anything I want. I just need to face him."
Zuko took a deep breath. "Fine then", he said slightly against his will, "I'll get Toph. I hope she's still training in the courtyard."
"Why do we need her?", Azula asked slightly indignant.
"It's just a safety measure", Zuko said as he left the study, "She's the only one who can see through walls and can immobilize you, in case you decide to do something you would later regret." Realizing that it wouldn't do her any harm, Azula assented to the blind earthbender's presence. Luckily Toph was indeed training at the courtyard, as the Fire Lord had hoped. Even though her fieldtrip with Zuko had ended, the blind bandit never left the palace. She seemed to like her life there, and it couldn't be denied that the girl really made things lively at the otherwise rather dull court. On top of that she and Zuko had really created a strong, almost brotherly, bond. Hence the Fire Lord had decided to offer the young earthbender a permanent position as his bodyguard, which she eagerly accepted. It wasn't hard for the royal siblings to persuade the blind bandit to join them on their little trip to prison. She didn't have anything better to do anyway.
The depressing atmosphere was the first thing the threesome, even Toph, noticed as they entered the world's most loathed hotel. The prison tower was cold and dark. Moaning and yelling from both prisoners and guards could be heard in the distance. Everything about this dreadful place was pretty much the way Azula remembered it. "It's become quite a deal more quiet, since I let you out", Zuko told her.
Azula looked at her brother in disbelief. The building was still quite uproarious. Was she really that bad? "How did your friends react on my release?", she asked, "Surely they weren't OK with it."
"Not really", the Fire Lord replied, "I didn't tell them until some time after I sent you away. I met Aang and Katara in Ba Sing Se, I suppose they told the others. Neither of them felt much for the idea, obviously, calling it a ridiculous risk, but at least Aang said he trusted my judgment once I had explained my plan. Nevertheless he would keep a close eye on Bandao, even after I pardoned you."
Azula nodded. "I did see his bison fly over quite a few times", she said.
"Katara was a different story, though", Zuko continued, "She kept repeating that sending you to mom was not what she had meant, when she told me that you needed to see her to get better. I knew it wasn't what she had meant when I met up with her, but it was the only possible way to actually help you. It took me a while to persuade her, but eventually she said that if I got a 749th chance, I don't remember the exact number, then it would only be fair to give you a second chance."
Azula snorted. "I think the actual number was higher", Toph interrupted. Both girls laughed.
"Shut up, you two!", the annoyed Fire Lord ordered, "We've arrived at my father's cell." The laughter immediately stopped. Zuko turned towards his sister. "He's all yours now", he said, "Don't let him get into your head."
The girl nodded. She looked into the cell through the hatch. The Phoenix King was sitting, or rather laying, or maybe something in between, on the floor, with his back against the hind wall. His greasy hair was a total mess. It looked like a sparrowkeet's nest and hung partly in front of his face. It didn't hide his newly gained facial hair though. A moustache and beard had been given free play as if Ozai was some kind of castaway. The goatee could still easily be discerned, even though it was anything but well-kept. He looked pathetic, no where near the great man he once thought he was. Azula took a deep breath and entered the room. She was ready to face him. The princess didn't bother to close the hatch as she closed the door behind her, she didn't mind if Zuko and Toph heard what she said. The former Fire Lord looked up as he noticed someone enter the room. Much to his surprise it wasn't a guard. What he saw, was a girl in Earth Kingdom clothes. "Great", Ozai muttered, "A vindictive war victim. How did you get in here?"
"Hello father", Azula greeted the prisoner. Her voice was cold, as was the look on her face. She didn't want to show him any emotion at all. She wanted to know how he would react. What would he say? How would he say it? Would he try anything?
Ozai slightly pushed himself up against the wall and removed the hair hanging in front of his eyes. He watched the girl carefully and clearly recognized his daughter's face. He didn't know what to feel. The girl had failed him in so many ways. She couldn't manage the loss of her so-called friends. She failed to protect the homeland from her treacherous brother. Nevertheless she could be of good use. She obviously managed to escape and now she could help him get out of this place. She could get him back on his throne. He just had to play it right. "Azula", he greeted her back, "It's good to see you."
"Is it?", Azula replied, "I seem to remember you couldn't get rid of me fast enough on the day of the comet, the day of our greatest conquest. You used the façade of crowning me Fire Lord to get me out of your way. I can't believe I fell for it. Why would the homeland be so important if we would have the whole world?"
Ozai swallowed. Azula was thinking perfectly clear. He had to be cautious. "I made a mistake, I realize that now", he said, "and it cost us everything. But none of that matters now, my precious." Azula flinched at the sound of her old pet name. "You're here now, free", He continued, "Together we can take back what they took from us. We can rebuild it."
Azula smirked. Even in prison he was still trying to use her for his own gain. "What makes you think I even want to be involved with useless lowlife such as yourself", Azula riposted, "You ruined my life!"
Ozai stood up in rage. "You ungrateful minx", he yelled at her, "You'd be nothing if it wasn't for me. I taught you everything you know. I made you who you are now."
Azula's face contracted in an expression filled with hatred. He didn't make her, he destroyed her. "You gave me the worst possible life", she shouted back, "You hurt and abused me when you felt like it. You forced me to feel no emotions at all, using the false excuse that it would make me strong. You didn't do anything for me, you used me as a tool for your own personal gain, and all it did was turn me into an incarcerated, broken wreck. That is what you made. The girl you see in front of you, is my brother's and mother's work."
Ozai gritted his teeth, realizing his last chance of ever being free again, just faded away. She couldn't have completely changed however. There had to be a part of the old Azula somewhere in her mind. There still was one favour he could get her to do. He knew his daughter. He could easily trigger her mind into it. "I should have known you would turn out to be a failure from the moment you were born", he murmured, "I should have known all of your mother's descendants would be. It has always been a lineage of traitors." Azula immediately widened her stance. She moved her right hand up pointing her middle and index finger at her forehead. The Phoenix King knew very well what it meant. His plan had succeeded. His days in jail were over and with his final act he would get his revenge on all the people who betrayed him. The sweet taste already filled his mouth. Come on, Azula, he thought, Show me you're capable of at least doing one thing right.
Azula smirked. "I'm going to enjoy this", she said menacingly.
Zuko panicked when he heard Azula's words. She wasn't going to kill him, was she? "Toph, what's happening in there?", he asked clearly concerned.
"Well", she answered, "Azula's been standing like this for the last few seconds." She imitated the lightning initiation form as well as she could.
It did not put the Fire Lord at ease. His sister was going to finish their father off. Zuko didn't know what to do. Yes, the man was a monster and death was probably what he deserved, but if Azula went through with this, it would ruin everything she had worked for. He would have no choice but to arrest her. It would break his mother's heart, as well as his own. "Toph", the shaking Fire Lord said, "I want you to immobilize her arms from the moment she starts moving them laterally." The earthbender nodded in compliance.
Silence had filled the cell for the last few seconds. Azula had remained immobile. Ozai had a hard time not to smile. He knew he should be looking scared, but the thoughts he imagined going through his daughter's head were music to his ears, and he couldn't thank the girl enough for prolonging his moment of glory. Finally Azula moved. While keeping her malicious smile, she relaxed her arm. "Death is too good for you", she said while turning her back on him.
The Phoenix King couldn't believe his own eyes. Had he just failed in manipulating Azula? Had she just managed to play him? "You are a worthless waste of space", Ozai yelled at her, "Even disgrace would be too good of a denomination for you."
Azula turned around again. "Is that a fact?", she said calmly, "The way I see it, you are the one who'll spend the rest of his miserable life in this prison cell, probably on his own. You are the one who lost his firebending. While I'm free, I still have my firebending, I've got a family who loves me and I'm happy. … And you're calling me a disgrace. You're pathetic." The princess turned around again and headed for the exit. "Goodbye", she said as she opened the door, "… Ozai."
Ozai was outraged. "Get back here!", he yelled, "I'm not finished with you." But it was no use. Azula had closed the door behind her, never to return. She was finished with him.
"I don't think I've ever heard him this mad", Zuko said as his sister left the room, "Nevertheless, you almost killed him. What were you thinking? It could have ruined everything for you." He didn't want to raise his voice at his sister, but he felt like he had to. He was concerned. He cared for her. He didn't want to see her throw away her life.
"Oh please, Zuko", Azula protested as they headed for the exit, "I never planned on actually generating lightning, I don't even know if I can do it again. Besides, even if I did, the metal cage would have absorbed the bolts. I just wanted to play him, like he played me all these years. I wanted to let him feel what he did to me."
The Fire Lord calmed down. "I see you haven't unlearned your old tricks", he said, "… and there's still a slight bit of sadism lurking in your mind, as well."
"Well, I'm sorry I'm not as humourless as you are", Azula jokingly apologized.
"Hahahaha", Toph laughed, "You know, Zuko, I'm really starting to like your sister."
Zuko wasn't humoured at all. "Well then", he replied in annoyance, "Why don't you become her bodyguard instead?"
"Oh come on, Zuzu", Azula tried to cheer him up, putting her hand on his shoulder, "Don't be a sore loser. We were only teasing you." The Fire Lord took a deep breath and managed to produce a faint smile. It was this kind of moment that proved him that he had done the right thing, sending Azula to their mother. It was that journey that had given him back his sister. Ridiculous risk or not, he knew it was the only way.
By the time the threesome had arrived back at the palace, the time for the banquet had come. A servant informed the entering Fire Lord that all the guests had arrived and were waiting at the dining room. Zuko thanked the man and sent Toph to the room. He still had some things to arrange with Azula. The princess herself was quite confused with this statement. Hadn't everything about her freedom been worked out in the previous month. Slightly curious, she followed her brother to his study, where he seemed to look for something in his desk. After a few moment he took something wrapped up in a dark red cloth out of the drawer. "I guess this is as good a moment as any", he started and handed the mysterious item over to his sister, "I want you to have this, Azula."
The princess started unwrapping the gift. Her eyes were wide open in amazement as she saw the artefact it contained. "This has been lost for over a hundred years", Azula stated in awe, "Where did you find it?"
"Uncle Iroh gave it to me", Zuko answered, "And no, I don't know how he got hold of it. He said it symbolized me. The headpiece of the crown prince, worn by both crown prince Sozin and Avatar Roku, both of which were my great-grandfathers. It symbolizes you just as much though, you descended from the same lineage as I did."
"So that's what father meant with 'a lineage of traitors'", Azula realized, "I'm honoured, of course, but … shouldn't the crown prince wear this?"
"It hasn't been worn by the crown prince for some generations now", the Fire Lord replied, "Like I said: it's yours. You can do with it whatever you want. … Besides, as long as I don't have an heir of decent age, you're still next in line for the throne, even th…" Azula's hug immediately stopped Zuko. That particular crown was indeed a perfect symbol for the recent changes in her life and she was extremely thankful that Zuko offered it to her. When she finally let go of her brother, he had already forgotten what he was saying. "I'm glad you like it", he said, "Now, let's not keep the guests waiting any longer." Azula smilingly nodded.
The Fire Nation princess looked around, as she and her brother entered the dining room. There were about twenty people sitting at the table, but she had never seen most of them. One thing was for sure though: they weren't noblemen. While this would have annoyed her gravely a year ago, she considered it a relief this time. Her new family could hardly be called noble, and she knew how intolerant the so-called upper class could act towards peasants. In fact her recent life among commoners had left her with a bit of a grudge towards higher circles. She noticed a free seat in between her little sister and her uncle and assumed it was hers, considering it was the only one available except for the one at the top of the table, which was obviously Zuko's. She sat down and took a look to see if she recognized anybody. The Fire Lord did indeed move towards the head of the table. On the opposite side sat the Avatar. Mai sat on Zuko's right side and Ursa on his left side. On the Avatar's right side sat the Water Tribe girl who had defeated her on the day of the comet. Opposite to Azula sat Ty Lee. "May I have everyone's attention, please", the Fire Lord raised his voice. Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and looked at the young man. "Thank you", he timidly continued, "I'm not really good at this, but here it goes." Zuko's voice shook with uncertainty. There were a lot of things he wanted to say, and yet he didn't want to say anything at all. He never had been the person to give a speech like this and his words came out awkward to say the least. "… As you all know I invited you because you are all amazing people, who have attained great achievements and played an important role in my life, and for that you earn my eternal respect and gratitude. … I know I have done some bad things in the past, and I know it would be foolish to assume I can repay you with a simple dinner, but I hope you will accept this banquet as a token of my appreciation and I am overjoyed to see you have all accepted the invitation. If it wasn't for all of you, I would never have achieved what I achieved today, and I can't even dream of realizing what some of you have realized." The Fire Lord exchanged a look with his sister. Azula just looked away shyly. Surely he didn't mean her with his final remark, did he? A hand on her left shoulder started her as she sank away in thoughts. It was her uncle. He didn't say anything. He just smiled and nodded, as if to say he were proud of her too. Azula smiled and blushed. Soon it turned into a chuckle though, as Iroh's stomach started grumbling. She had to admit that her brother's speech was indeed getting a bit too long for comfort, though Zuko's increasing struggle with words did make up for it. "I'll dike to … err I'd like to dec… err dedicate this meal to all of you, and as I've noticed that some stomachs are getting impatient." The entire table laughed softly. "I suggest we start eating." As the Fire Lord sat down a sigh of relief escaped his lungs. He was glad it was over. He lifted his glass, and, apart from Tara, the entire table followed his example. "Ganbei", he said. The others repeated it in chorus, the banquet could finally take off.
You read it right: It's over. The Azulyssey has come to an end and I hope you all enjoyed it. I know some of you did, and I know I did. I'd like to thank all my reviewers, all the people who added the story, or even me, to their favourites or alert list, and all the other readers. I really do think this is one of the best things I have ever written (better than my batman fic).
Anyway, I'm not sure if people are interested in this kind of information, but here are some of my sources of inspiration, when it came to naming people or places, etc.
Lin and Tara were just names that seemed fitting to me.
Lanzhao (one of the White lotus members): I'm not sure, but I think the Chinese place name Lanchou might have been an inspiration
Leo: The name of one of the captains in house of flying daggers. I thought it fitted as Leo and Ursa both seem to refer to an animal
Dai Fu (the doctor Ursa hired): chinese for doctor
Bandao: Chinese for peninsula
Jin Xing (the planet Azula refers to in her flashback): Chinese for Venus.
Blister Lake: a literal translation of Blaarmeersen, a recreation park (with a lake) in the city of Ghent (Belgium)
My zodiac is based on regular chinese zodiac: if Azula was born in a Dragon year, Zuko had to be born in a Tiger year. I just changed Tiger to Polar Leopard to avatarize it.
The cameo in chapter six, which was so subtle that no one found it, was the Joker.
That's it, I think. Nope, no romance, no ships, there's enough of those stories as it is already. I hope I didn't leave any loose ends and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. Feel free to leave a review about the chapter or about the whole story. Oh and if you happen to be from viacom or one of the creators of avatar and want to make a film out of this story (which I highly doubt, but you never know), I'd like to be credited as "Thomas de Wilde" (as that's my name). Time for me to take a well-earnt break from writing. See you all later.