Author's Note: Hi wonderful readers! In this chapter I mention a very dangerous flower which I call the Autumn Lady. This flower is real but goes my the name Autumn Crocu, it's beautiful but deadly, much like a certain someone we all love. I also have quite a few people to thank for helping me through my writers block, helping me progress this story and for spending crazy amounts of time discussing ATLA: sablefalls, eagle eyes98, and darth renascentia. I also owe a super special thanks to PrinceZero. He is my loudest and biggest supporter since the very beginning. He puts up with my late night messages, my fangirl excitement and reps the Azulaang ship hard.
Chapter 11 – Omashu
Omashu was like no other city Azula had ever seen. Tall and foreboding gates protected the outside but the inside was welcoming and full of life. The guards that normally raised and lowered the gates waved them in.
Azula didn't miss the looks the guards shot her, Zuko and Mai. The Avatar didn't experience the same nuisance; everyone was all smiles and friendly waves for the mighty Avatar. Aang didn't seem to notice as he basked in the attention.
"The last time we were here, I was too bored to notice the intricate mail system." Mai said dryly as a mail cart whizzed by her.
"I can't wait to ride the carts again, it's so much fun. They sure did clean up the place since last time I was here." Aang swiveled his head trying to take in everything at once. It was good to see all the metal gone from the buildings.
Azula smirked, "The last time you were here you were trying to fight me."
Aang smiled slyly thinking of how far his relationship with the princess had progressed, "Those were fun times."
Zuko snorted. Before he could comment on his friend's sense of fun a palace guard bowed before them.
"Greetings, my name is Jian. It is an honor Avatar Aang, Fire Lord Zuko, Princess Azula and Lady Mai. If you will follow me, King Bumi is awaiting your arrival."
They were led through underground tunnels only an earth bender could navigate. Aang was excited to see his old friend and was bombarding the guard with questions.
"How is Bumi doing?"
"Very well Avatar Aang. You will…"
"What about Flopsie?"
"Yes, Flopsie is doing just fi…"
"And what about…"
"You'll see soon enough Aang." Zuko said exasperated. The guard gave Zuko a look of thanks. "Jian, has King Kuei arrived?"
Jian shook his head, "He should be here by tomorrow Fire Lord Zuko. Ah, we have arrived." Jian bended a wall down and ushered them into a large parlor room.
"Bumi!" Aang ran to hug his old friend.
"Hello Aang." Bumi hugged him back. He turned to look at Azula and Mai. "Ladies, it's been a while. I trust you two are doing alright."
The women looked at each other wondering if the old king had forgotten about their last "visit". He didn't sound insincere or appear senile.
"Thank you King Bumi. I hope we find you in good health." Azula never forgot her princess lessons.
"Enough with the formalities, I'm sure you're all tired. Jian will show you to your rooms. And don't look so impatient Zuko, King Kuei will be here soon enough." Bumi shooed them away and Jian took them to the guest wing of the palace.
When Zuko and Mai had disappeared into their bedroom, Aang pulled Azula behind a pillar. "I want to see you tonight."
Azula smirked, "You'll see me at dinner."
"You know what I mean." Aang whispered into her ear as his hand made small circles on her back.
"My room is in front of Zuko's." Azula pointed out.
"Azula?" Mai called out.
The Princess quickly pecked Aang on the lips before walking away. Aang sighed and decided to go see what Bumi was up to.
Azula and Mai found themselves in the highest balcony of the palace. It over looked the city and was a perfect spot for Azula to sketch.
"I'm bored." Mai threw a stiletto up into the air and caught it.
"It's time you developed a new mantra." Azula's hand moved rapidly capturing even the smallest details.
Mai sighed, "Zuko isn't looking forward to meeting King Kuei."
Azula kept to her drawing, "He doesn't have to look forward to it; he just has to do it." Azula looked up noticing a flash of worry crossing Mai's face. "I'll talk to him, besides the Avatar will be there."
Mai relaxed, "You're right."
"Of course I am."
"Did someone call for me?" Aang walked to the balcony followed by Bumi. Both were eating rock candy.
"You're ego is getting to you Avatar." Azula closed her sketchbook.
Aang smiled affectionately, "What can I say Princess? I am pretty popular."
Mai snorted, "I'm going to get ready for dinner."
"I'll join you." Azula tossed Aang a mischievous look before following Mai into the palace.
Bumi happily munched on his candy as he watched his old friend swoon after the Fire Nation Princess. "Done yet Aang?"
"This time of year, deep in the Kolau Mountains, there's a beautiful flower called the Autumn Lady." Bumi explained.
Aang looked at Bumi curiously. "It sounds pretty."
"It's the most beautiful flower you'll ever see. It looks delicate but it's the most dangerous flower known to man."
Now Aang was really lost. "I guess I won't go looking for it."
Bumi chuckled, "You might have already found it."
Aang blushed understanding what Bumi was alluding to. "She's not as dangerous as everyone thinks. There's good in her."
"You love her." It wasn't a question.
Aang nodded, "I'm not sure how she feels though."
"The Autumn Lady grows from the ground up. Sometimes you can see it start to bloom slowly but you must be patient for it to completely come up from the ground. If you yank on it to speed up the process, the venom in the flower strikes hard and fast."
Aang nodded, pretending to understand. He wondered if part of being old was speaking in riddles. First Iroh said something about love being something people do not find when he broke up with Katara and now Bumi was talking about poisonous flowers.
"Dinner will be served soon." Bumi led his friend back into the palace.
"Good, I'm starving."
"Aang, one more thing. The walls aren't as thick as they seem. A little earth bending goes a long way."
Aang laughed. The devilish gleam in Bumi's eyes made this riddle perfectly clear.
"I really appreciate your hospitality Bumi. Dinner looks delicious." Zuko complimented as the servants brought out a variety of dishes.
Bumi waved Zuko's compliment off. "Personally I don't see the point in all these meetings but Kuei was very insistent. I guess as long as he is getting out of his palace then its progress."
Azula was amused by Bumi's bluntness. It was a sign of a true monarch, unafraid of court ministers or politicians using his words against him. She admired that kind of power.
"It's important Zuko and Kuei keep the lines of communication open about the Fire Colonies." Aang was ever the diplomat.
"I'm sure King Bumi does not want to be bored by talks of politics tonight. We will have plenty of that when King Kuei arrives." Azula remarked.
Bumi snickered, "Princess Azula is right, enough with the politics. Zuko how is your Uncle Iroh?"
"He's doing fine. He took some time off from his tea shop in Ba Sing Se while I search for our mother."
Aang didn't miss the dark look that crossed Azula's face at the mention of her mother. Azula never spoke of her parents. He could understand the silence about Ozai but not Ursa. Zuko always described her as a kind and loving woman. He had asked Zuko about Azula's reluctance to bring up Ursa but all the Fire Lord said was that it was complicated.
Aang squeezed Azula's thigh under the table. Her face softened a bit. She gave him a small smile before biting her into her mushroom tofu dish.
Azula sat in front of the jade-rimmed vanity mirror brushing her raven tresses with the gold comb Aang had given her as a gift. Lost in her task, she was startled when one of the bedroom walls began to rumble as it slid into the earth.
She jumped up with sapphire flame daggers in each hand anticipating an attack.
"Whoa, it's just me Azula." Aang put his hands up.
Azula huffed, "You startled me. I thought I was under attack."
"Sorry, but I couldn't walk through your front door." Unspoken frustration hung in the air but she ignored it. Instead Azula went back to combing her hair.
Aang walked behind her and took the comb from her hand, "I'll do it for you." He could smell the citrusy satsuma on her skin, her favorite scent.
Azula closed her eyes as he gently worked the comb through her hair. "I'm impressed."
He grinned as he put the comb down and turned her around. His arms laced around her waist. Her robe was thin and he could feel she was wearing nothing underneath. She buried her head into his neck, inhaling his masculine musk. She sighed as the familiar feeling of safety and relief flooded her whenever she was in his arms.
He scooped her in his arms and carried her to the bed, "I think I can help with that." He untied her robe and threw the silk onto the floor.
Azula arched her eyebrow skeptically.
"Trust me." Aang laid her flat on her stomach. His hands touched her back as he began to massage her. She let out a small gasp; his hands were hot but a comfortable hot. The massage was relaxing. "See I told you I could help."
Azula's eyes were closed, "Hmm…"
Aang enjoyed the massage as much as she did. He would never get tired of her hourglass figure or the way her soft skin felt in his hands. His darker side enjoyed having the princess at his mercy. However, more than anything he treasured the moments in which she placed her complete trust in him.
Once he got to her feet, Azula was sound asleep. He gently placed her under the silk covers, draping his arm over her waist. As he held her, he thought of how far away she seemed at times. She could be passive and indifferent, sharing very little. There were other times, such as this one, where she was purely human, unafraid to display her vulnerability, if only to him. Aang was starting to understand what Bumi meant about allowing the poisonous flower to blossom on its own.
His daughter had been kind enough to gift him with a calendar. It wasn't something the Fire Lord had permitted, but it wasn't something he had banned either. That's how Ozai knew Azula had not paid a visit in almost two months. His brother, unfortunately, had decided to check on him from time to time.
It was unnatural for a fire bender to become a creature of darkness. Ozai would have strong words for Azula when she returned. His loyal daughter would see to it that he be made more comfortable. Already his meals had improved and he was given a bigger variety of books to read.
Loud footsteps interrupted his thoughts. Ozai was very annoyed. He knew it was past midnight; usually the guards were quieter. The footsteps were approaching his cell; now that was interesting.
The former Fire Lord sat up straighter as a hooded figure stood inches from his cell. "Fire Lord Ozai."
Ozai smiled cruelly, "What a peculiar sense of humor." Clearly the man was mocking him.
The man bowed, his hood still covering his face. "I mean no disrespect, my lord."
Ozai nodded, waiting for the man to state his purpose.
"I am an ally, your majesty. There are people who want the true Agni incarnate back on the throne."
"Why should I listen to treason against the Fire Lord? Your words are punishable by death."
The man's voice was steady, "Let us prove ourselves worth, your majesty." The man slid an envelope through the cell.
Ozai lit his candle, another present from his favorite. He laughed when he read what was written. It seemed he wouldn't have to live in the dark for long.
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