This is my first attempt at a fanfic, please be gentle. That said, I have a LOT of headcanons surrounding dear Azula. Maybe I'll put some of the others into words as well.
I'm calling this fic complete for now. It's not, really, but I don't want to call it incomplete only to not ever update. If I wind up writing more, I'll update it. If not…well, it can stand on its own.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Azula walked through the corridors of the Royal Palace noting, yet again, the changes her brother had brought to the Fire Nation when he became Firelord. What had once been barren, scorched earth now held lush gardens and ponds with turtleduck families. The Palace was nowhere near as imposing as it had been when they were growing up, and she wasn't yet sure how she felt about the changes.
It had been six years now since the Avatar and her brother had ended the Hundred Year War, but Azula had only been back in the Fire Nation for the last few months. Her dear brother, thinking it'd be good for her, had sent her out into the world to travel. Of course, he forgot that his sister had either conquered, destroyed, or terrorized large swaths of the Earth Kingdom during the last year of the War, and so had many enemies.
She closed her eyes and sighed as she came across yet another turtleduck pond.
"You should have seen the place right after the battle," came a feminine voice to her right, "half of Caldera City was on fire because of the Agni Kai."
Azula turned to see a dark-skinned woman with bright blue eyes and long, chocolate colored hair wearing the clothes of the Water Tribe. And as there was only one Water Tribe woman she could remember her brother associating with, then this would have to be Katara—the Waterbending peasant that had defeated her at the end of the War.
Golden eyes narrowed at the woman who dared approach her, but Azula otherwise refused to respond.
"I see you remember me," Katara said with a tight smile as she glanced at the pond in front of them, "though I'm not sure that's a good thing…" she trailed off with a shrug before turning her gaze back to Azula, taking in the woman's proud stance and impeccable appearance.
Azula made no move to respond.
"I…heard you were back in the Palace," Katara began as she fidgeted under Azula's intense stare, "and…I just wanted to come see you, to apologize."
A raised brow was the only response Azula gave the Waterbender.
Katara sighed. "I, I know it couldn't have been easy, during the Agni Kai, first having Zuko get the upper-hand, then having to fight me—your natural opposite. And…and I know I played dirty, trapping you in ice and chaining you to the grate like that. So…I'm sorry."
Azula remained silent for a moment, turning back to the pond and watching the turtleducks swim around without a care in the world.
"You used a sound strategy," she eventually responded, "you were fighting a powerful opponent made more powerful by the effects of Sozin's Comet. You used your abilities and the area around you to your advantage; you saw an opportunity, so you took it."
Azula turned to face the Water Tribe woman, cutting her off. "I was losing my mind, Katara. Everything I'd ever worked for had just been thrown in my face. My friends had betrayed me, and my father had publicly humiliated me by refusing to let me come with him to conquer the Earth Kingdom. He essentially told me that I wasn't good enough to stand beside him in his moment of glory, and everyone around us heard it."
"I was slipping," Azula continued, unfazed by Katara's slack-jawed expression, "and rest assured, had I been right of mind, neither you nor little Zuzu would have survived that battle." With that, the former Princess of the Fire Nation turned on her heel and strode back inside.
Katara stood off to the side as she watched the Palace staff—or those that were Firebenders anyway—practice their art, led by Firelord Zuko himself. They had gathered on the plaza just before dawn; meditating as the sun peaked above the horizon line, and gradually working through their kata as it rose higher in the sky. A small group of children skirted the edges of the group, giggling and trying to imitate some of the more difficult moves.
A shadow of movement across the plaza caught her attention, and a closer look revealed the newly-reinstated Princess Azula standing off to the side, arms crossed as she watched the group.
The Waterbender began to work her way around the plaza towards the Princess as the group finished their exercises and dispersed, being greeted—and slowed down—by many of the staff on her way. By the time she arrived to where she'd seen Azula, the woman was gone.
It had been a few months since her last interaction with the Princess, and she still wasn't entirely sure it had happened. The Azula she remembered had been quick of wit and downright vicious to those she perceived to be below herself. And the Azula of the war would have never admitted to have been slipping. The change intrigued her.
A flash of blue down a corridor to her left caught her eye, and following it revealed none other than the Princess. Flames the color of cut tourmaline leapt from her hands and feet as she worked her way through her own kata, seemingly never touching the ground.
The former Princess may have matured into a beautiful woman over the last six years, but she was undoubtedly still a force to be reckoned with.
"Are you going to stand there and stare, or do you actually have something to say?" Azula's sharp voice cut through Katara's thoughts as the woman wrapped up her morning practice.
"Why weren't you out there with the others?" Katara inquired, ignoring the jibe completely.
"Zuzu doesn't want me scaring the children away," she responded, rolling her eyes briefly before focusing them on Katara. "And what are you doing here? I don't recall Zuzu mentioning a visit from the Avatar." She smirked. "Boyfriend troubles?"
Katara winced, turning and walking over to a fountain at the end of the smaller courtyard. She extended her right hand and bent a stream of water towards her, watching as it hovered and circled in the air at her will. To her surprise, Azula stayed, watching her.
"So I'm right, then." Azula stated bluntly as she took a step towards the Waterbender.
Katara bent the water back into the fountain, letting her hand hover in the air for a brief moment before wrapping her arms around herself.
"He swore up and down after the war that I was the one for him." The Waterbender replied, not taking her eyes off the fountain. "But I've seen the way he looks at some of the Air Acolytes. He hasn't looked that way at me in…too long."
Azula frowned, walking up to the fountain and sitting on the edge.
"We keep fighting," she continued, lost in her thoughts, "disagreeing over every little thing. Stupid things, big things…just everything. I can't have a conversation with him anymore without it devolving into an argument."
"So dump him," Azula shrugged, "you're the daughter of the Chief of the Southern Water Tribe and a Waterbending prodigy."
Katara sat down next to Azula with a sigh. "I did. I left him a letter and took the first ship to the Fire Nation."
"Why here?" Azula inquired with a hint of curiosity. "Why not the Southern Water Tribe? It's your home, you have family there. Or even the Northern Tribe; from what I hear you know the Chief there as well."
Katara nodded. "I know, but that's where he'd look first, if he looks at all. And…" she hesitated, glancing at the Princess briefly, "you're here. He's still…uneasy about you having your bending. You nearly killed him during the War, and he hasn't forgotten that."
"People change." Azula responded quietly.
"They do," Katara agreed, "but he's refusing to believe that you can, that you have. He…he fought long and hard with Zuko over giving you your title back. He thought that you would try to overthrow Zuko as soon as you had your claim to royalty again."
"I had wondered why that took so long." The Princess replied simply.
"That's why." Katara responded, drawing lazy patterns above the water of the fountain with her left hand, watching as her bending changed the currents.
They sat in surprisingly companionable silence for a few moments before Azula abruptly stood.
"Well, if you're going to be staying in Caldera City, you should stay in my villa." She said succinctly. "If the Avatar is going to be such a baby about a little bit of lightning, then I doubt he'll come knocking on my door."
Katara blinked up at the Princess, eyes wide in surprise.
"Oh don't look so surprised, Katara." Azula said, expression slowly morphing into a smirk. "What better way to prove that I'm fit to rejoin society than by hosting the very woman who took me down at the end of the War."
"And you're not going to just kill me in my sleep?" Katara inquired, lips quirking up into a grin.
"Don't be silly," Azula scoffed, "that would be entirely too dirty and underhanded for a woman of my station." She paused for a moment, lifting her right hand and bending lightning around it. "I'd terrorize a servant into doing it for me."
Katara laughed at that, doubling over and nearly falling into the fountain.
"Well?" Azula inquired, offering her hand to the incapacitated Waterbender. "Are you coming?"
Katara beamed up at the Princess, laughter still dancing in her eyes as she took the proffered hand.
"It'd be my honor."