Flames of Regicide
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar
Mai credited herself on being very aware of a situation. When Azula had indirectly told her to call off the trade for her baby brother, she did it because she and Azula both knew: Her brother was right there and alive and there were only three kids in their way. Only the Avatar's group could have gotten out of that situation alive against Azula, Ty Lee, and herself.
When the Earth King and the Avatar's friends broke out and showed up in the throne room of Ba Sing Se, she was very aware that there was no way to stop them, so she gave up. Azula hadn't cared; the Earth King was just the cherry on top of the walled city.
The only time she was unsure about a situation was with Zuko. He was hard to get a read on sometimes. She supposed that was one reason she liked him. He didn't hide everything like Azula, but it was such a whirlwind when he let it out that it was hard to pin down anything besides the obvious fact that he was angry.
So, seeing as she had returned to the capital much, much sooner than anyone else was allowed to-perks of relations with royalty- she was very aware that something was very wrong when she saw Azula exiting her home. "Mai?" she addressed, momentarily but barely surprised. "Well this is fortuitous," Azula stated with a hum as she bridged the gap between them with quick, calm strides.
"What's going on? Did-" Mai asked, stopping as Azula walked by her without pausing.
"Not here, follow me!" Azula hissed just as she passed her.
Mai took the hint, a thousand problems running through her head that would prompt a personal visit from Azula. Was her family attacked in New Ozai? If they were, they wouldn't have word of it yet; same of anything else away from the Fire Nation homelands. Had the invasion been worse than anticipated? Not here, of course, but there was always the possibility of invasions elsewhere happening as well. But that wouldn't require Azula to come find her specifically…which left just one possibility.
What had Zuko done this time?
"I was almost disappointed, Mai. I thought you would have been waiting just outside the city, heading back the instant the bombings stopped," Azula stated, her face a perfect mask of her usual witty self.
"I took a nap," Mai answered halfheartedly, noticing all the little twitches about Azula's arms and back, the way her pacing was controlled to be as fast as could be without appearing obvious. "Where's Zuko?"
"His room. He was, shall we say, desperate for your company," Azula answered with a tone that implied the many, many impure things she was positive the couple did in their free time.
"And you're playing fetch for him?" Mai asked with a small smirk of amusement. "What did he have to do to earn that favor?"
Azula smiled disarmingly as they entered the palace- and pulled the girl closer as they walked. It would almost look like some lovers' stroll or two friends discreetely gossiping if someone saw them. Fortunately, the palace still seemed empty…which would make it the perfect time and place for Azula to hide a body, knowing all the hidden rooms and halls.
To Mai's credit, she didn't show fear. She just glanced at the princess, confused as she studied Azula's eyes. She knew that look, that look where Azula was scheming like mad. Yet she kept an almost painfully tight grip on Mai's arm, making her stay close. She hadn't give the princess or anyone in the Fire Nation cause to think her a traitor, so what was-
Azula tensed as Mai stopped in shock before continuing along with her. "Put the blade back, this isn't a purge," Azula whispered in quick assurance, noting Mai's narrowed eyes.
"Right, because you get notice of those," Mai retorted dryly. "Is Zuko alive?"
"Yes," Azula answered instantly. "Mai, we're friends. I get it, I'm ruthless, and so you jumped to a very logical conclusion. I'm just asking you to trust me when I say I'm not going to hurt you."
Mai studied her for a moment and furrowed her brow, but slowly put the concealed knife back in the hidden holster. "Then why this intimate little walk?" she asked carefully,
"Besides potential hidden watchers? We need all the help we can get, but Zuko might actually try to kill me in my sleep if I forced you into this debacle. And you're my friend. So I mean this sincerely: If you don't want to get involved in this mess, this is your only chance."
"Azula, I went into Ba Sing Se for you," Mai reminded with a small glare. "Why do you think that I would sit back for anything when Zuko and you both need me?"
"Oh, I didn't think you would. I'm just hoping you can expedite the process of getting Zuko to accept your continued help," Azula answered with a smirk. Mai snorted, but Azula took Mai's own smirk as an affirmative.
"Do you think we're being watched?" Mai questioned after a long moment of silence.
"No, but we cannot draw attention or appear alarmed just yet. And as quiet as we can be, the more of us running, the more easy we'll be to notice if someone is around," Azula instructed warningly.
"Azula, there are only five things I can imagine that would cause you to act like this in the capital, let alone the palace," Mai stated with a frown. "And it's starting to worry me."
"Good," Azula said as she released her grip on Mai, the knife-specialist relaxing somewhat.
It realistically wasn't long before they made it to Zuko's room, but it felt like hours. Entering the room, Azula's eyes flashed in surprise and irritation as she saw the room empty and Zuko was nowhere to be seen.
Pun not intended, but she could feel Mai's pointed stare at the back of her head. "Azula, where is Zuko?" Mai asked, her voice sharper then her blades.
Azula calmly turned-and blinked. But not at Mai, above her. "Zuzu, what in Agni's name are you doing?" she asked in bewilderment, causing Mai to look upward. Just in time to see Zuko leap down from his perch above the door and land beside her.
"Well, I wasn't exactly sure my next visitor would be friendly," Zuko answered, Mai looking him up and down as the scarred young man glared at Azula. "You're dragging Mai into this?"
"I can drag myself just fine, Zuko," Mai retorted sternly, making sure the door was closed. "Now what exactly is "this" that you're both on edge about?"
Zuko gaped before turning to Azula again. "She doesn't-"
"Zuko killed our father," Azula answered bluntly, pausing as Mai flinched back in shock and disbelief "There, now she knows," Azula said to Zuko with a shrug.
Zuko grimaced as Mai looked to him with an even paler complexion. "You...he's really..." Mai stammered, her controlled mask completely broken.
"I had to, Mai," Zuko said with exhausted finality. "I had to."
Mai's paleness did not lessen, but her shock mostly faded as she reasserted control over herself. "I believe you, Zuko," Mai stated, turning to give Azula a hard stare. "Is this the part where you get me to convince him to let you be Firelord?"
"Actually, I would very much appreciate you convincing him I don't want the throne at all so we can get this story straight," Azula mused as she began to pace around the room at a leisurely pace. "Because that body will be found in less than half an hour. We're lucky it's taken this long."
"You don't want-" Mai started with a furrow brow. "Why?"
"Do I really need to explain this again?" Azula asked with an eye roll.
"I can accept the IDEA that you don't care about the throne, I have a hard time swallowing you consenting to playing second fiddle to Zuko," Mai retorted with suspicion. "Are you setting him up?"
"No, Agni Dammit!" Azula hissed, glaring up at the ceiling. "Look, it's not like I want to do this for nothing. I do have some terms. Should I air them out first? Would that make this more believable?" she offered in thinly controlled frustration.
Mai and Zuko shared a look before answering in sync. "Yes."
Azula let out a long, suffering sigh. "Very well, first off? No marrying me off without my permission. I can bite my tongue and stomach a marriage if you can convince me it's for the best of the Fire Nation and the best way to accomplish that."
Zuko scowled, about to say something, but Mai put a hand on his shoulder. "Go on," she prompted to Azula. She knew what Zuko was about to say: he'd never stoop to marrying his little sister off to a loveless marriage as a petty revenge. Mai knew that, but if Azula was going to trade for something Zuko would give freely, Mai was not about to stop her.
"When thing settle down in a decade or so, I want to get my own territory. We can bargain where another time, but I get to name it after myself! You can rename Ba Sing Se after yourself, Zuzu," Azula demanded before looking whimsical. "I don't know if I want a statue of myself yet, but I can take care of that on my own when I become governor of my own lands."
"You want to leave the Fire Nation? Er, the homelands I mean?" Zuko asked in surprise, furrowing his brow.
"Zuko, think about it. Mai's not wrong; I'm not got to be happy being your direct subordinate forever. Luckily, with the Earth Kingdom defeated, there is more than enough room for both of us to rule, especially since rulership of territories abroad will have to largely autonomous; loyal, of course, but an empire this vast can't be micromanaged by one person," Azula pointed out coolly.
"That's...reasonable," Zuko agreed, albeit with some wariness still. "What else?"
"I want Ty Lee," Azula said bluntly.
"I'm sure you do," Mai stated flatly.
"I think that's a subject to bring to her?" Zuko pointed out.
"I'll take that as a yes," Azula decided with an eye roll. "And seeing as I'm technically the Crown Princess once you become Firelord, until you two have your own bundle of joy, I would appreciate retaining most of my privileges and such. Especially since I'm essentially your royal vizier as well," she pointed out.
Zuko was about to say something but reconsidered it and nodded. "My only condition is that I have final say on punishments. I'd rather not be one of those Firelords that feels the need to start their reign with a purge," Zuko said with a very pointed stare.
"I understand, I understand. Limit the bloodbath, I can manage that," Azula assured with a smile.
Zuko and Mai didn't look convinced.
"Also, you'll be happy to know that no one is spying on us through the walls," Azula said as she stood in front of them with a smirk.
Zuko raised an eyebrow. "That's why you were circling the room?" he realized curiously.
"Of course. Can't hurt to be too careful," Azula stated simply. "Now, are we all on the same page? All hail his Zuzuness, Firelord Dumdum, and all that?" Azula asked teasingly.
"You know you can't call him that, right?" Mai asked, trying not to smile as Zuko's good eyebrow twitched.
"Not in public," Azula conceded without care. "Now, Brother here confronted our dear Father during the eclipse to get answers about the plans for the Comet. Or rather, why the current plans were a near genocide of the Earth Kingdom," Azula stated.
Mai blinked, glancing to her boyfriend. "Is she making that up?" she asked, Zuko shaking his head solemnly to her shock. "Agni..."
"Finding that our father could not be turned from this madness, Zuko instead slew our father right after the eclipse, after the Firelord engaged the fight. Zuko managed to survive and win with a surprising yet honorable move. In a shock, you made it up here. Mai, you found him here in his grief- and don't lie, Zuzu, you have been grieving. Now comes the tricky part."
"Why aren't you included in this story yet?" Zuko asked suspiciously.
"Because I am about to go back down to the bunker. Either I'll find the body for the "first" time or I'll be intercepted by someone else with news. I will come here with guards to make sure you are safe, Zuko. And when I deliver the dreadful news, well-" Azula stated, seeing their suspicious looks. "Look, if I'm seen as in on this from the beginning, it looks like a united and preplanned coup; which would be good if it had been one. Some proper weeding and rearranging of officials could have been done-well, not by now unless we had taken over Ba Sing Se a month or two earlier. But since we didn't, I can't be seen as instantly a part of this. If I am, then you lose the advantage of traitors trying to via for my favor, hoping I'll turn against you for the throne," she explained, marching up to Zuko and poking him in the chest. "You can either declare you killed him, or just claim the throne and announce that later. Because keeping a grip on that throne will be exponentially harder if you don't have some appealing point to rally behind. And right now, we have either avenging our assassinated Dad or you striking down our increasingly insane father for the good of the world. I can make both work, Zuko. I will do everything I can to help you as Firelord, but it won't mean anything if you distrust everything I say. You trusted me to keep my word after Ba Sing Se, and I think I deserve that one more time," Azula stated, stepping around them. She didn't paused until she reached the door, glancing back at her friend. " Mai, I'll leave the rest to you. Oh, and Iroh escaped, but Zuko had nothing to do with that."
"Wait, what?" Mai asked, looking to Zuko in confusion as the door shut again.
Zuko sighed heavily. "I have no idea, Uncle apparently broke out while everyone was distracted," he answered, silence reigning as they both stood there. "Mai-"
She slapped him. He appreciated that it was on the scarless side, but it still stung. "You idiot," Mai whispered.
"I am getting that a lot today," Zuko murmured, wondering if Ty Lee would slap him too at this rate.
"You had to risk everything, right after you got back, after everything was...right again. And you risked all of that-"
"He was going to destroy everything, Mai!" Zuko defended fiercely. "I couldn't...I couldn't just sit back and do nothing. And no one else would do anything or even say anything. They just applauded him, Mai!"
Mai glared at him, eyes shimmering. "He could have killed you. Don't lie, he almost did, didn't he?" she demanded. Zuko didn't even try to deny it, nodding solemnly. "Do you know what I'd do if you died, Zuko? How many times I heard about where your ship was docked and debated just running off with you, seeing the world and leaving everything behind? I know it must have been hell for you to be forced on that quest, but-"
He silenced her with a kiss.
She gripped his arms, tempted to push him away, but ultimately melted into the kiss as passion and love broke through all other emotions built up inside her. A single tear trailed down from the corner of her eyes. It was Zuko, ultimately, who pulled back to stare desperately into her eyes. "Mai, you being here is the only reason I even remotely considered not taking this path. I knew I would probably hurt you today, one way or another, and I hated it. For three years on that boat, I thought you would have hated what I had become. "I" had hated what my father made me think I was: a useless, weak, pathetic excuse of a prince. I thought if you ever saw me again, you'd be so ashamed that you ever felt anything for me."
Mai stared in disbelief. "Azula's right. You are a DumDum," she said softly, smiling slightly. No more tears fell, even if they might want to. "Zuko, for months, I thought the happiest day of my life before we got back was Azula coming to get me at New Ozai. I was finally free to get away from the boring, controlled life I had to go through every day; I was reunited with old friends, and...I knew that you might be somewhere along that road Azula put us on. Then we find you in Ba Sing Se and Azula tells me you're coming home, redeemed."
"I bet meeting the new me was a bit of a letdown?" Zuko joked apologetically.
"Actually, it was...nice, in a way. The boy I knew had grown up some. It was like meeting you all over again," Mai answered with a blush. "Bit awkward at the time."
"That's kind of the definition of my social life," Zuko admitted in amusement. "I'm sorry."
Mai took a deep breath. "Don't be. If you had told me what your father had planned, I would have expected it," she said fondly.
"Really? Why?" Zuko asked in confusion.
"Because you're still the same person that stood up and said it was wrong to sacrifice a division of fresh new recruits on a whim," Mai answered knowingly. "And no matter what Firelord Ozai might have told you, Zuko, that's not a bad thing."
Zuko smiled in thanks before frowning in concern. "Do you think we can trust Azula on this?"
"Zuko," Mai paused to gather herself. "Your sister can be a lot of things sometimes, good and bad. But unless she truly lost her mind, I don't think she's emotionally capable of killing you. As for being Firelord, I'm...not sure. But if she was lying, I don't think she would have brought me here."
"Unless she's trying to frame us both as part of some coup," Zuko countered grimly.
"Zuko, I know Azula lies," Mai stated firmly. "And if you don't want to trust her, I'll follow your lead. But you have to make up your mind now."
"I had a plan to get out of here if I needed to," Zuko admitted before shaking his head. "It won't work now, too much has calmed down now."
"For what it's worth, I've never seen Azula that outright frustrated before when she lies and doesn't think anyone believes her," Mai offered, scowling. "Not to mention, if she is lying, she's usually better at it than this. She knew we wouldn't believe she didn't want the throne without a good explanation."
Zuko took a deep breath. He hated this, hated never knowing if his sister was trying to help him or viciously back stab him. It was easy for her to twist and claim that she had no plans to kill him or that she tried to let him subtly escape. But it was Azula; she could make any lie believable…like he had killed the Avatar instead of her. Or that father wanted him home.
But the one time she didn't lie, when she could have so easily, was at Ba Sing Se. She handed him the end of his banishment…his ticket home. And until she doubted the Avatar's death, there were no strings attached it seemed. She just let him waltz back into his old life and tried to help in her own Azula-like way. The fact that what he always wanted, finally coming home, turned out to be a more bitter reward was not on Azula. It didn't change the fact that the one time she helped him, it was more help than anyone save Uncle had ever given him.
He had never thanked her; because he was always waiting for the other shoe to drop with her. And half the time when they were young, she was waiting for something like a "thank you" to twist the knife a bit more when it did.
Even if she was telling the truth...how hard would it be for her to wrestle the throne from him one day? How easy would it be to turn him into her puppet?
But then he flashed back to that moment where Azula knelt next to him in the bunker, waiting patiently for him to trust her enough to help him. Knowing there was no way to stop her if she did anything: Kill him, cripple him, imprison him or frame him. He could have, at most, hurt her a bit in that moment.
The first thing she did was ask him why. Then she came down and called him Firelord Zuzu, and lugged his body back up to the palace. Why go through all of this instead of just exposing him there when he could barely move? Why risk implicating herself if anyone saw her helping him in such a state?
"...Act surprised, when the time comes," Zuko finally decided, his face set in determination.
Mai nodded slowly. "Zuko? Do you..." she trailed off, shaking her head. "Forget it, this isn't the time."
Zuko scowled, but didn't pry further as they sat there and waited. "Never thought it'd even be like this," Zuko stated tiredly as he sat on the bed. "You?"
"I imagined a few things like this," she admitted offhandedly, but didn't deign to elaborate as she sat next to him. "Ty Lee's going to be crying."
Zuko looked uncomfortable. "I...don't do well with hugs."
Mai very slowly, but purposefully put an arm around his shoulder as she leaned into him.
"Except yours," he amended tenderly, enjoying the closeness.
Mai enjoyed her victory before frowning, Zuko tensing as they heard metal feet rushing through the halls nearby. Without saying a word, Mai stood and placed herself in front of Zuko. "Zuko, I can't help you if you don't say anything," she feigned concern with a raised voice as the feet grew quiet for an instant, making it look as though she were talking to Zuko in concern-
Right on que, the door flung up, a grim faced Azula marching in with royal guards flanking her with more in the hall. "Good, Zuko, you're here- Mai? What are you-?" Azula stopped, shaking her head in a convincing show that she didn't know that they would both be here. "Never mind. Zuko, there's been a situation. Father's been assassinated."
"Firelord Ozai?" Mai asked, feigning just enough shock to go with her confusion. "The Eclipse?"
"No, it appears to have been a Firebender," Azula answered grimly. "I don't know who, but we've already begun se-"
Zuko kept his face set in stone, watching with fascination as his sister actively played up the look of dawning realization and dread.
"Zuko, why is your sword drawn?" she asked cautiously.
Some of the guards seemed to suspect it as well, obviously tensing in their armor. "I know who killed Father," Zuko stated coldly as he slowly stood, Mai watching him in honest concern. He was not in the best shape, but the world was not done with him just yet.
"You do?" One of the more oblivious guards spoke up to Azula's inner annoyance. "Tell us, Prince Zuko! We need to find them before-"
"I killed him."
The room went deathly silent and Zuko could almost pretend that step back Azula took was genuine. Maybe she was just reliving that moment when she first found the body.
"You?" Azula said with an empty voice that, in the right moment, could be taken for shock.
"But-how could?" Mai stuttered. Zuko was almost sure she was truly confused on just how he pulled this off.
Still holding his sword, Zuko took a deep breath as he summoned flames and spread them along the sharpened edge of the blade. "I killed Firelord Ozai."
The declaration was made, the die was cast. Now all he could do was see how Azula really would play her cards.
He studied her as her expression worked coolly, all the guards looking to her reaction, as if debating what they should do now.
He was very sure she held an extra second or two longer, if only to make him worry, before she finally made her move. One even he didn't expect.
Slowly, gracefully, she fell to one knee.
Everyone knew Azula's reflexes, her agility and her nature. None of them, not even the guards truly believed she was actually doing this at first. That this wasn't a surprise attack in the making.
It would take a step further for any to be sure that this wasn't a play.
"All Hail Firelord Zuko," Azula declared solemnly, keeping her face lowered.
She didn't look up when she saw Mai kneel down. No, she waited until she heard the guards starting to kneel as well. Only then did she glance up subtly and smirk at her brother.
Zuko made an effort not to react. Azula might just be trying to help him, she really might. But she was never going to stop enjoying messing with him like this, that much was obvious.
But once he looked past her, at the kneeling guards, it finally hit him:
He was becoming Firelord.
Azula looked very pleased when the flames on Zuko's sword flared in triumph.
It truly was amazing what could be accomplished when brother and sister worked together.
She wanted to say he was pushing it, but she could not find a logical alternative to moving this along. With that, she rose, looking him in the eye. "I am at your service, Brother."
End of Chapter
And here we go, the third chapter. Really fun to write. Pre-Breakdown Azula is a joy to write, and Zuko and Mai are very cute together. Still, yes, Azula is plotting about five steps ahead in three different directions each, while Mai and Zuko are rightfully warry. Though, Mai does give her some benefit, saying that she doesn't believe that Azula would be able to kill Zuko on an emotional level- and pre-breakdown, I'm going to say that's true for canon. And Azula soothes there concerns by making some reasonable demands and valid points.
So, yes, the cat is out of the bag now, and Zuko is going to be Firelord. Now they just need to get Ty Lee in on this and Team Regicide will be complete!
Sorry if this feels like its dragging a bit, but improntu takeovers are a messy business. Azula needs months minimum to make it even remotely smooth, so this is essentially clearing a trainwreck. XP But things should speed up a bit in ...two or three chapters? When Azula gets the Firelord Zuzu Train going properly.
As always, consider tipping to my pat-reon or gofundme.
go fund me . com (slash) f (slash) akumakami64
p a treon . com (slash) akumakami64