Azula misses her cue.
Also, while Father and the guards have been forcibly reminded that Zuzu is a much more talented swordsman than a firebender (and boy was that fun to watch), they seem to be forgetting where his other well of talent lies.
This is going to get very interesting, very quickly.
“Where did I go wrong with that one?” Father asks, looking down his nose at Zuko. Zuko is holding himself very still. Father looks to the guard pressing the blade against his throat. “Kill the boy. Guards, take down the peasants. The Avatar is mine.”
Azula’s eyes snap to her brother as soon as Father says kill the boy , because while there are no cues anymore, there is no more obvious time for Zuzu to remind them all of his other talent.
Zuko twists, grips, and tosses the guard over his shoulder. The guard slams to the floor, blade falling to clatter on the stone.
Azula smirks. There’s a reason that she never allows Zuko to be in reach when they spar.
She blasts fire in her brother’s direction, leading him steadily from the group of guards who are closing in on the water peasants. The waterbender is surprisingly talented for such a young and ill-educated girl, and the sword peasant isn’t completely hopeless, either.
The Avatar faces off with Father. Azula would quite like to watch and wait for an opening, but she’s busy dodging surprisingly golden flames. They’re brighter now. How sweet.
“How could you?” Zuko shouts, his voice hoarse and loud over the clashes of swords and fighting.
Azula ducks and rolls, pulling them to a better area of the room. They have a better view from here.
They fight, hard and fast, blue and gold. Duck, block, shoot, turn, jump--
At one point, the Avatar shouts in pain, and Zuko looks over at the wrong moment.
Azula’s fire slices by his arm, partially blocked but not enough. Zuko flinches and almost loses his balance.
Azula frowns and throws fire toward the waterbender, just to give herself something to do while Zuko regains his balance. She raises her right eyebrow, are you okay, and Zuko blinks once in response.
The Water Tribe peasants take down the remainder of the guards. Azula won’t give them too much credit; Zuko had taken down the majority of them upon entering the room, quick and precise with his swords in a way that he isn’t (yet) in his firebending. He’s softened the ground for them.
(If she were inclined to be impressed, Azula might admit that two children versus a half dozen trained palace guards is significant, especially since they’re working very hard to incapacitate and strike down without killing anyone.)
“Is your fire sparkling?” Azula asks eventually, incredulous, when the breath has been knocked from her chest by a particularly powerful blast.
Zuko hesitates, either because he hasn’t yet noticed that his fire in still in the process of changing colour and it is very funny, or because he’s giving Azula a moment to catch her breath.
“No!” Zuko insists, and then pushes golden fire in her direction, which definitely has a sparkling undertone. “Shut up,” he adds.
Azula laughs, and then does her best to turn it into a cruel sound, because they are not out of the woods anytime soon.
Father throws the Avatar across the room. The Avatar lands with a pained noise and then pushes himself up, airbending out of Father’s stream of fire. The Avatar rains rock down on Father, and Azula sees her opening.
Father isn’t letting anyone behind him, because he is too intelligent to do that.
Azula steps in and blasts at the waterbender, knocking her back from aiding the Avatar. She stands by her Father’s side, issuing him a layer of protection as the other children attempt to help.
The Avatar keeps getting up again. Azula isn’t sure if this is physical strength or purely hubris.
Azula blocks attacks from the Water Tribe siblings, which gives her brother room to enter the fight, shooting fire at their Father. Father knocks him back like the petulant child he is, and then turns back to the Avatar.
Azula focuses on the Water Tribe siblings. The waterbender looks completely furious, which is all kinds of wonderful.
Zuko gets up and keeps going. Like the Avatar, it might be more about hubris than strength.
His blast at Father is stronger this time, and Father has to turn his focus to his son, blocking the golden flames and shooting back.
The Avatar knocks water in Father’s direction and freezes it around his feet. Father melts the ice easily, but it’s another opening for Zuko, who takes it without question.
Golden lightning crackles around Zuko, starting at his hands and then extending to his whole body, and he shifts his stance for an attack.
Father moves into a defensive posture.
Zuko twists his ankle as he prepares to throw the lightning.
Beside Father, just slightly behind him, Azula pushes the Water Tribe siblings down for long enough to ready herself.
Lightning is flung. Father defends against it, but the lightning doesn’t come to him.
It comes to Azula.
Azula catches it and swiftly redirects.
Blue lightning hits Ozai in the back, and he falls.
The Avatar follows with his own attack, and Father isn’t getting up anytime soon. Cuffs of rock encase his wrists, forcing his palms against one another. He tries to fling fire with his feet, only to find them encased, too.
Father looks up at Azula, eyes bright with pure fury.
“You,” he snarls, lightning still zapping through his body, causing him to twitch.
“Me,” Azula agrees. She looks down her nose at their Father. “If you’re wondering where you went wrong with this one,” she says, “it was around about the time that you burnt my brother.”
The previous Fire Lord glowers at her. “I would have made you Fire Lord,” he growls. “You didn’t need to usurp me for the crown.”
“I won’t be Fire Lord, Father,” Azula informs him. She glances over at her brother, who is looking a little worse for wear, but very much alive. “Zuko will.”
Father practically screams at that, which is delightful.
“Over my dead body,” he snaps, and Azula is about to say well yes, that’s the plan before Ozai turns to his son and blasts fire from his mouth.
Father stops moving. The lightning continues to crackle over his body, but it’s nothing but a body anymore.
Azula hesitates, and then looks to Zuko, who is still in a blocking position.
Father is dead.
“Oops,” Azula says, and then looks to the Avatar. “I really did intend to leave him alive for you.”
The Avatar looks spooked. The Water Tribe siblings join them around the body.
“You were defending Zuko,” the Avatar says eventually. “I understand.”
You don’t have to make me sound like such a sap, Azula almost says, but then her eyes catch on her brother. He raises his right eyebrow, and she blinks.
“Are you all right?” Azula asks out loud, because she sees no reason for this to be hidden anymore.
Zuko almost smiles. “In one piece,” he replies. “We need to stop the fighting out there. They’ll listen to you.”
Azula nods and goes to leave the room, only to be all but tackled by the Avatar. She stands with both hands up as he hugs her around the waist.
“Zuzu,” Azula bites out, “please get your pet Avatar off of me.”
The Avatar laughs and lets her go. “I knew you were on our side,” he insists. “I mean, it looked a bit… questionable for a moment there, but I knew you loved Zuko too much to let anything happen to him!”
Azula glares. The Avatar moves onto hugging Zuko, as if exchanging embraces is normal post-battle etiquette.
The waterbender approaches. “I’m going to hug you now,” she informs Azula, who assumes a battle posture.
“Touch me and lose a hand,” she snaps, and the waterbender stops. She shrugs, and then dips into the most sloppy bow that Azula has ever seen. Azula rolls her eyes, and then bows back at what might be a slightly deeper angle than is technically appropriate for royalty to show a peasant.
Since she’s here now, Azula also bows to the waterbender’s brother. “That wasn’t the worst swordfighting I’ve ever seen,” she allows.
The sword peasant laughs and bows back. It’s even worse than his sister’s attempt. “That wasn’t the worst bait-and-switch I’ve ever seen,” he replies. “But next time, maybe don’t give us all a heart attack?”
Zuko finally extracts himself from the Avatar’s hold, and is almost knocked over by the Water Tribe siblings. He looks a little dazed.
“Let’s stop the war,” Azula suggests.
Much later, the children insist on building a campfire. They’re inside, and there’s an actual fireplace in the room, but they stack wood onto the stone floor and all but demand that Zuko share his flame.
They’re all tired and filthy. The waterbender - Katara - is determined to heal everyone’s wounds with her waterbending powers. At first, Azula refuses, but it eventually seems like her resistance is inevitably futile.
Azula and Zuko keep turning to talk about politics (take advice from the White Lotus, but remember that they’re not in charge of the Fire Nation; the guards will need to be replaced, but we need to do this with good will; let the peasants into the grounds for the coronation). The rest of the group apparently don’t like this, and the dirt child has resorted to throwing pebbles at them whenever they start.
It’s strange, seeing Zuko with friends. In their childhood, Azula had been the one with friends, and though Ty Lee and Mai are dedicated to Zuko, he’s never been fully comfortable around them. It’s different with this group. He lets them make fun of him, and assumes the best of it; he laughs more openly; he allows them to touch him, even if he can’t quite relax into it.
Azula decides that they can stay.
The coronation is the next day.
Azula has barely slept, and neither have the rest of the children who won the war. The dirt child, Toph, looks dead on her feet, but Avatar Aang is bouncing with energy, airbending gifting him with bounding steps as they wait for Zuko to reappear. Mai and Ty Lee join them, and Ty Lee expertly draws Aang’s nervous energy into teaching him to walk on his hands.
When Zuko enters, he’s dressed in the clothing of a Fire Lord, his topknot bare as he waits to be crowned.
“So, are you ready to become the Fire Lord?” Ty Lee asks, cheerful.
Zuko lets out a shaking breath. “Does it make a difference?”
Azula asks are you okay and receives a yes, then a no, and then another yes.
“What’s going on with your face?” Sokka asks.
Zuko shakes his head. “A lot has changed this year,” he says, his voice wondering as he looks around at the group.
“A year ago, I was still in the ice,” Aang points out.
“We had never left the South Pole,” Katara says.
Azula thinks this game is ridiculous, but she still adds: “I hadn’t seen you since you were banished.”
“And now we’re all together,” Zuko finishes, and he looks something approaching happy as he glances around at their friends.
Mai sighs. “Are we really going to have a sappy friendship moment instead of getting this all over with?”
“Yeah, sappy friendship moment,” Sokka agrees, and then throws himself into a hug with Zuko. Azula glares, because she remembers how the Water Tribe siblings were when Zuko was shirtless, but it doesn’t last long...
Because the rest of the group seem to decide that this is an appropriate time for some kind of ridiculous hugging pile.
“Ugh, get off of me,” Azula insists. “You’re going to mess up my robes. You’re going to mess up the Fire Lord’s robes!”
“Come on, Azula, live a little!” Ty Lee insists, and Azula rolls her eyes but, just for a moment, relents.
(They have to fix Zuko’s hair before the coronation.)
When they’re outside, looking out to the sea of people, Zuko looks tall and regal and put together. (Azula knows how nervous he is, but everyone else is too far away to notice his hands trembling.)
Zuko gives a speech about restoring honour, age of peace and love, blah blah blah. Azula barely pays attention, because she’s too busy watching him and the crowd. Azula is usually correct, so it’s hardly a surprise that they seem to eat up this whole narrative. The people aren’t just going to adore Fire Lord Zuko; they do already.
When Zuko kneels to receive his crown, Azula steps forward. It isn’t exactly traditional, but this is the part she’s been waiting for.
Azula calls out: “All hail Fire Lord Zuko of the Golden Flames!”
The Fire Lord stands, and the crowd bursts into cheers.
Azula looks to her brother, and smiles, and doesn’t look away.