She was good at many things, and eavesdropping happened to be one of them; Princess Azula didn't think that hiding around the palace and eavesdropping on people would be overly productive- but one thing was for certain, she happened to be very good at it. She knew she was agile, lithe and capable of getting into small places that no one else would dare try- then again she was only nine years old; people didn't think much of nine year olds- most would just run around in the mud and go crying to their mothers- but not Azula- no, her mother was probably dead, and there was no abundance of mud in the Fire Nation Royal Palace. Instead she had nobles, generals and other dignitaries to play around with- and playing for her wasn't a mutual endeavour; they were her Pai Sho pieces, and the politics of her nation just happened to be her playing board. The conversation she was currently snooping on was rather interesting, it was between a man called Zhao and another whose name she did not know.
"Commander- it's a little stuffy here in the palace, don't you think?" Zhao asked the man beside him, who rolled his eyes at his subordinate officer.
"Zhao- it's the halls of power- one day you might find your self honoured to be on the war-council, then you might think differently." he told him, who chuckled at his argument.
"That is true- urgh- by the time I'm Admiral maybe that little rat will be Fire Lord- he will be a pain to deal with." he considered, Azula knowing very specifically that Zhao was deriding her very own brother, something that humoured her greatly- she found solace in knowing it wasn't just her father and her herself who thought her brother to be an annoyance.
"Don't let anyone hear you speak of the Crown Prince like that- you could get in deep shit." he chided the Captain, who scoffed.
"What- is the little bastard going to challenge me to an Agni Kai? He's only eleven, and more than that, he lacks a spine." he scoffed, Azula smirking at the thought of it; she knew her brother was a weakling, her mother tainting his inner strength- she thought of the humour of her brother trying to fight the far older man, and even humoured in consideration that he could win it.
She considered that information enough to mock her brother with, the best kind of information she could gain from her frequent eavesdropping sessions- his down attitude after their mother had disappeared only made the information ever so sweeter in her eyes- she could chip away at his confidence, and he wouldn't even blame her- it was Zhao, the side-burn touting officer who arrogantly claimed he was a 'spineless bastard' behind his back. Stepping away from the discussion, she danced through the shadows, hiding herself from sight- no guards or servants caught an eye of her as she returned to their bedrooms, which her now in the main palace, much to her enjoyment- her expansive new bedroom and more servants only furthered her intent that the luxuries of power were far too enticing to ignore- although she wasn't Crown Princess- yet. She pranced through the halls without a worry, knowing she was far too agile for the guards to catch onto her- once she reached the end of palace that contained her and Zuko's personal bedrooms, she slowed to walking pace, her posture rising to stand tall, as any Princess should; in her own domain, she was no longer out of place, and took graceful steps toward her brothers bedroom- she knew he was still sulking about their mothers disappearance, which made her uninvited entrance into his room all the much sweeter. He sat meditating by the window of his bedroom, glancing her way with a face of contempt- Azula only came to see him for one thing- and that was to mock him; he was not quick to forget how she had claimed their father was going to kill him, only for their mother to disappear that night, and their grandfather to pass on- they both understood it was no coincidence.
"What is it, Azula?" he grit his teeth, turning back to sit in his meditation form and close his eyes, probably hoping that she would just go away.
"I heard that Captain Zhao thinks you're a spineless bastard." she smugly told him, the Crown Prince's face turning to a scowl as he looked at her.
"He what?" his tone sounding his disbelief- she chuckled at the thought that she thought she was lying.
"It's the truth- he called you 'a little rat', 'a little bastard' and 'lacking a spine'" she more accurately paraphrased the Captain's words; looking as his face grew red with anger, any attempt of remaining in his meditative state broken, the young Prince glared at her with utter contempt.
"Shut up Azula- what's a bastard anyway?" he asked her, his eleven-year-old vocabulary lacking knowledge of such a term.
"A bastard is a child born out of wedlock." she told him, the Prince raising to his feet and pulling his hands above his head, throwing fists of fire onto the ground, setting his carpet alight.
"How dare he dishonour her name!" he screamed in anger, "Dishonour our father's name!" he shouted even louder, Azula stepping closer with a smirk between her cheeks; she knew more than anything he loved their mother, and he tried to love their father just the same- for a man to disgrace their honour by calling him such a name, she knew that even her eleven year old brother would not take it silently.
"And what are you going to do about it, Zuzu?" she asked her brother, whose eyes turned back to her.
"I want to make him understand- make him feel what his words mean." his eyes filled with a fiery rage that even intimidated the confident Princess herself.
"Haha- the dragon awakens." she jested to him, the Prince's determined stance ignoring her mockery.
"When do you train today?" he asked her, the Princess raising an eyebrow in confusion- why would her brother care when she trained?
"Lo and Li will be instructing me after lunch." she reiterated her daily plan, to which her brother's eyes glinted, making her feel somewhat confused, "Why do you care?"
"I will watch you." he admitted to her, the Princess scoffing.
"Ah- you will admire my sets? I'm learning a new one today." she boasted, the Prince shaking his head as he approached her.
"I will learn." he told Azula, whose eyes narrowed at him.
"You are still on the basic sets- how could you even try to learn them?" she asked Zuko, who raised his hand to create small flames that danced around his fingers; as the orange flames lit up both their faces, he made eye-contact with sister, his stare so determined that she thought he was trying to bend with his eyes.
"Because I must- Zhao will learn what a 'spineless bastard' can do."
5 years later...
It was a common threat that the Kyoshi Warriors made toward outsiders that trespassed on their island- that if they didn't give them reason, they would throw them to the Unagi; Suki knew the beast to be deadly and dangerous, and all people on the island knew to stay well away from sea outside of large boats- one might find themselves consumed by the massive sea-snake, yet before her scouting party lay an unconscious body- someone had washed ashore, miraculously avoiding death by the feared monster of Kyoshi Island. She and her unit looked at the unconscious teenage boy, whose appearance seemed to be most unusual- he had shaved head except for a long ponytail at the top of his head, and a large scar covering his left eye.
One of her warriors, Nakata, knelt over to scan the boys clothing, noting that he wore dark gray and red robes that barely covered his body, and were mostly ripped to shreds, "What happened to this guy?"
"Maybe we should wake him up and find out ourselves." another warrior, Amari, piped up, Suki raising her hand to tell her girls to quiet themselves.
"We should take him back to the village- he looks hurt and we can't just leave him here." she explained, before eyeing her girls with slight suspicion, "And if need be, yes- we can interrogate him."
Amari's face turned to a smirk and she nodded in approval, Suki indicating to pick up the unconscious boy and take him away from the shoreline; two of her girls, Sawa and Esumi, grabbed his legs, while she herself and Nakata grabbed the boy's arms.
Glancing over to Amari, she indicated up over the hillside, "Go to the village and tell them to get ready- I'm sure this guy will need some medical attention." she told her, glancing back to look at the state of the unconscious boy- other than the most obvious injury that he bore, a scar covering his entire left eye, he was covered in bruises and small cuts, making her consider that he might have been in a fight or something of the sorts before he washed ashore.
The four Kyoshi warriors trudged up the hillside, meandering around trees and rocks to reach the top of the slope, finding themselves with a good view into the valley below, where they village sat perched, it's distinctive monument to Avatar Kyoshi sticking out to indicate them of its close proximity; keeping pace, she could see the strain in her girls eyes- not only were they wearing full armour, but they were carrying another person between them.
"Come on girls- it's not that far." she assured them, continuing to snake down the path toward their village- soon enough Amari returned into view with a number of villagers looking on in shock; stepping forward, she waved a hand at her fellow warrior "Do you have the medicinal herbs?" Suki asked her, the girl nodding, pulling out a bag that she had retrieved from various households in the village; each family would store up medicinal herbs, and from time to time they would be needed for the village's use.
Suki and her warriors carried the unconscious boy over into the closest building they could fine, a small house on the edge of the village; as they lay the boy on the floor of the house, they noted he was shivering slightly from the cold- the bodies natural reaction to such adverse changes in temperature- her island was not the warmest place in the Earth Kingdom, that was for sure.
She indicated over to blanket, Nakata quickly grabbing it and covering his body with it to keep him warm; she glanced back out to the villagers, "We're sorry to use your medicines on a stranger- but we couldn't just leave him on that beach." she apologised, knowing that their medicinal herbs were in low supply and any use was a threat to any villagers that got injured or sick in the future.
Oyaji, the village leader, approached them with interest, "What's happened? A boy washed up on the shore Amari said." he told them with a tone of disbelief- just like her, he knew it was a miracle the boy hadn't been eaten or worse by the Unagi.
"He was just there on the beach- he's injured, that's why we asked for the medicine." she explained to him, the older man nodding in understanding.
"Do we know anything about him?" he asked her with a fearful tone- their island was neutral in the Hundred Year War, and at that point, the Fire Nation hadn't tried to attack their island- isolation, poverty and a lack of many earthbenders helped, but their complete inaction in the war itself was an important reason the Fire Nation had done little but trade a bit at their ports.
"Dark hair, light skin- the looks of someone form the Fire Nation." she admitted- there was probably people from the Earth Kingdom with the same look, but she couldn't be certain.
Amari raised a brow at them conversation, "His robes looked Fire Nation- maybe this guy is a soldier."
"Do soldiers wear this?" she asked her with a tone of disbelief, indicating to the tattered robes that more resembled the robes of a peasant than what they knew a Fire Nation soldier to look like.
"Probably not- but it's the right colours, you see." she pushed on with her argument, Esumi glancing at her with slight frustration.
"Could you just shut up Amari? We get it- he might be Fire Nation- let's leave the interrogation to when he's actually, you know, awake." she chided her fellow warrior, who glared back, Suki standing up between them.
"Stop it both of you- we will handle all these issues when this guy wakes up- understood?" she ordered both of them, who nodded in concession, Amari walking away while Esumi returned to tend to the unconscious boys injuries.
Leaning over to look over him, she scanned his figure once more- unsure what she ought to do; Suki knew she wasn't overly skilled at tending to battlefield injuries, let alone whatever happened to the boy before her. She grabbed the crushed herbal mixture that Esumi was using to tend to his bruises and cuts, and begun to apply it to the swollen areas; going along his frame she eventually reached his neck and face, where his good eye was blackened from a bruise and his nose and lips cut up- as she applied the paste, she felt his body tremble, and a few moments later his eyes opened. Glancing into his eyes, she immediately knew as she saw the bright gold, that Amari was probably right- this boy was most certainly Fire Nation, and the cringing he made with his face as he realised the situation he was in only furthered her confirmation.
"Wh-where am I? Who a-are you?" he asked the warriors, his eyes scanning them with confusion.
"Better question- who are you?" Suki simply asked him, the boy raising his head with a worried look.
"Uncle- where's Uncle." he muttered to himself, trying to get up, only for the warriors to hold him down.
"You're far to injured to move- what about an 'uncle'?" she asked him, the boy glaring at her.
"The ship was sunk." he rubbed his face with one of his hands, cringing at the touch of the herbal paste, "What even is that?" he asked in confusion as he looked at the greenish paste in his fingers.
"Herbal medicine, to help with the bruises and cuts; you didn't answer my question." she reiterated, the boy glancing at both her and Esumi with a worry.
"Uh- I was shipwrecked- I think there was an explosion- I fell overboard." he explained, Nakata chuckling in hearing his story.
"The Unagi has truly blessed this one, hasn't it?" he jested, Sawa and Esumi both chuckling along to her joke.
"The Unagi?" he asked with even more confusion.
"A giant sea serpent that eats anything in it's waters- perhaps not Fire Nation boys like you." Suki acknowledged, the boys eyes opening wide, "So- are you Fire Nation?" she asked him, the boys eyebrows furrowing.
"What is it you?" he questioned with a tone of heavy suspicion, to which Esumi and Sawa turned to her with faces of suspicion toward him.
"Amari was right?" Sawa mumbled, Suki turning to glare at him.
"Yes or no." she grit her teeth, the boy inching back fearfully, before nodding.
"Do you have a name, ash-maker?" she asked him, whose face contorted to one of offense- he clearly didn't like the common insult, but he went along and told them anyway.
"Zuko- my name is Zuko."
"Zuko, I know you're probably hurting from whatever happened to you, but I'm afraid to say you're going to have to give us some good reasons to not throw you to the serpent that didn't eat you." she told him with blunt honesty, his good eye opening wide.
"Wh-what?" he stammered, "You're going to feed me to a giant sea serpent?"
"Not me- it's up to Oyaji to decide." she admitted, indicating to the village leader who stood outside the tent with the other villagers.
"Do I have to stand trial when I can't stand?" he asked her, the usually serious warrior chuckling at his joke.
"No- you don't need to be able to walk to defend yourself, do you?" she asked him, who looked to the other warriors with fear.
"P-please- I'm not here to fight you- or conquer you- this is just a big mistake." he pleaded to them, making them all chuckle.
"Well Mr. Zuko, you best think of what you're going to say to Oyaji, because we're not giving you anymore paste while there's a chance we're throwing you to the Unagi." Esumi admitted, making him gulp in fear, his hand crossing the bruises over his torso.
"Um- so is this Oyaji guy nice?" he asked, probably hoping for the best; Suki cringed and looked at him with a pained face.
"Not really." she admitted, "We'll give you a few minutes to figure yourself out before he comes and questions you, got it?" she asked him, the injured boy nodding.
"Y-yes- thank you." he told her, looking at all of Kyoshi Warriors present, "You all saved me- I thought I had woken up in the spirit world or something like that."
She and the warriors nodded at his respect before they left the tent, the other girls walking back to their dojo while she approached Oyaji, who looked to her with suspicious eyes.
"Suki- so, who is this boy?" he asked her, who glanced back at the house momentarily before looking back at the village leader- as much as she respected his word, she knew that Zuko had probably not done anything wrong, and he seemed like the thankful and caring type, not the burn everything until everyone's dead type.
"His name is Zuko- his gold eyes and attire make him out to be Fire Nation, and he admitted he was Fire Nation with little prodding- this boy has nothing to hide, although he didn't explain why or how he became shipwrecked on our island- you can ask him about that, but just a forewarning, he seem did pretty shaken by it all." she explained what she had gathered about the boy who had miraculously survived a shipwrecking on Kyoshi Island of all places.
"Hmm- and what of his character?" he asked Suki, whose brows rose in interest.
"I don't really know sir- he seems nice enough- but nice doesn't stop the Fire Nation coming to burn down our village." she admitted, knowing all to well if they were to slip up somehow and inadvertently find themselves at the receiving end of a Fire Nation attack.
"I concur with your sentiment, Suki." he assured her, before placing a hand on her shoulder-plate, "Thank you for telling me what you know- I know I can trust in you to get things done."
She bowed slightly to him with a smile, "Yes sir." before she turned to walk over to the dojo to clean up slightly- she knew that if the boy was to be thrown to the Unagi, she ought to look half-decent for the affair.
Suki never liked the Fire Nation, what they had cost the world with their useless war had given her that sentiment, but she already understood well enough that ones character shouldn't be judged for where they come from- for her to dismiss Zuko's innocence would be all the same as a male warrior treating her and her comrades by their presuppositions about women, and not as warriors. A part of her however wanted him to be found innocent despite being Fire Nation- he didn't seem like a bad person, and it would be a shame for the world to lose another good soul to the Unagi of all things.
Prince Zuko was having nothing short of a panic attack over his current situation: to wake up, be interrogated and then told if he couldn't argue for his case, that he was to be thrown to the resident sea-monster for it's lunch was all too much. The last thing he remembered was going out onto the deck to catch a breath- his uncle had forced him to join in on the crew's music night, much to his chagrin and he needed to get out; he remembered explosions and fire, being thrown through the air, screaming and shouting and then nothing. He deduced he was thrown overboard, and then washed ashore on this unusual island that had the specific legal punishment of throwing wrongdoers to a sea-monster, something which he would have found as an amusing triviality usually, but seeing that he was the one who might get eaten by said sea-monster he was not finding it funny in the slightest. The village leader, Oyaji, entered the house, looking at his sorry state- he felt somewhat uncomfortable by his near naked form, with only his lower body covered by a blanket.
"Zuko, is it?" he questioned, the Prince nodding, knowing that he would have to give a really well tuned excuse to get out of this situation.
"Yes- that's my name." he confirmed, glancing up the older man, whose long beard and friendly face seemed contrary to the authority that he imposed upon him.
"The Kyoshi Warriors saved you, they should have you greatest thanks- you were passed out on the beach, they said." he explained, his brows furrowed at his figure, "But I am more curious as to what happened to you, Zuko- where are you from?" he asked the Prince, who coughed and cleared his throat.
"The Fire Nation." he told him, unsure if it was wrong to tell him that- he couldn't lie about it anyway, his eyes gave it away.
"And how did someone from the Fire Nation end up on a beach on this island?" he asked him, the Prince's eyes turning to one of worry.
"I was shipwrecked- I don't know what happened to my people- my Uncle- am I the only one here?" he asked him, whose eyes grew solemn at understanding what he was telling him.
"I'm sorry to tell you this, but your people might have all died in the shipwreck; these are not the most forgiving seas to find oneself lost in." he told the Prince, the fear in his gut not subsiding, but growing in intensity.
"I- I can't- Uncle- he can't be gone." he begun to mutter in fear, covering his face with his hands.
"I hope that you aren't the only survivor- that would be a terrible burden to carry." Oyaji admitted, before his tone grew more cold, "But that does not change who you are- what were you doing? You are Fire Nation after all." he asked- the Prince's face growing angry with frustration- his quest was the consequence of the greatest dishonour a man could suffer, and with his ship gone, how could he complete it.
"I was exiled- years ago- my people don't want me as much as you do." he told him, the honest pain in his voice making even the rather suspicious man before him nod in concession, "The only way I could redeem myself, it's dead with that ship- I don't have anything now." he told him with frustration, touching his scar with a feeling of hatred, toward not the man who had given it to him, but the world.
"If that's the case, I don't think you'll pose any issue to our island." Oyaji admitted, giving him a warm smile in understanding the better fate he could offer, "But if you are exiled as you say, perhaps you might be inclined to stay here on our island for some time- you can repay the villagers whose medicine was used to help you." he explained, the Prince nodding as his anger faded, knowing the debt he owed them.
"No I understand- thank you, truly, I owe you my life as it is." he told the old man, who raised his hands to dismiss his rather bold claim.
"I did not save you- the ones you should be thanking are the Kyoshi Warriors." he admitted with a chuckle, indicating out the room, before Zuko tried to move himself up, only to grunt in pain, "I wouldn't try and get up for a while- I'll be sure to get someone to feed you later." he assured the Prince, who fell back onto his back and nodded.
"Thank you, Oyaji." he addressed him, whose eyes looked to him with sympathy.
"I hope we made a good choice in helping you, Fire Nation." he told him with a sense of doubt in his voice, Zuko grumbling in pain before waving him off.
"As soon as I can actually walk, I'll get right to it." he assured him, the village leader chuckling before he left the house.
He rolled onto his side and tried to get comfortable, knowing his injuries weren't going to heal at a moments notice; he was in a slight daze by the time he heard footsteps approached the house, and Zuko raised his head, to see one of the Kyoshi Warriors standing before him- this one wasn't in the house before tending to his injuries; she looked him down with an intense glare, to which his eyes widened- the girl before him did not trust him, or like him in any sense of the word.
"So- you're not Unagi lunch, are you?" the girl questioned him, the Prince shaking his head.
"I'm not- sorry, I don't think we've been introduced- I'm Zuko." he told her with a low-effort wave, raising his hand a few inches above the ground before dropping it again.
"You're an ash-maker- why did Oyaji do something as stupid as to let you off? Your people aren't trustworthy." she grit her teeth, the girl stepping closer and leaning over him.
"I'm an exile- I'm not leading an army onto your island, am I?" he questioned her, the girl rolling her eyes at him.
"Shut up- if you try anything- and I mean anything, I'll be sure to get my katana through your gut." she warned him, before a voice called out from behind her.
"Amari!" the voice addressed the girl- Zuko recognised the voice as Suki's, one of the girls that had been helping him.
"What?" she questioned, the other Kyoshi warriors voice growing closer.
"Stop harassing him- he's not going to hurt anybody, even if he's an ash-maker." she demanded of the girl, to which Zuko assumed made Suki her commander.
"I- come on Suki! This guy has crazy firebender written all over him!" she told the other warrior, making Zuko chuckle out loud; her eyes turned to the Prince with suspicion.
"What's so funny?" she asked him suspiciously, to which he pulled as smug a face as a half-conscious and injured person could.
"You've got the wrong person- my sister's the crazy firebender." he jested to her, the girls face turning to scowl.
"See- you're related to a firebender! You must be one of those idiots who thinks the Fire Lord is the greatest person to walk the earth." she accused him, who was taken aback by her comments- Fire Lord Ozai was his father, but he had no assumptions that he was the greatest person in the world, although it was a general belief that to be Fire Lord, you had to be pretty great- it was a sensible thing to say.
"Stop it now- if you don't I'll put you on armour cleaning duty for the next week!" she declared, the girl finally turning away from Zuko and pacing out of the house in a fit of frustration.
As Amari left the house, Suki entered in return, glancing at him with a reserved glare, "So Zuko, congratulations on not being Unagi lunch." she applauded him with a rather dry tone.
He cleared his throat and nodded, "Uh- thanks- did you want the Unagi to eat me too?" he asked, the Kyoshi Warrior rolling her eyes.
"Amari's smart, but she makes a lot of assumptions." she admitted with a tone of distaste, obviously taking no pleasure in reprimanding her subordinate, "I'm here to handle your transportation." she admitted to him.
"Wh-what?" he asked in confusion.
Suki clarified, "I mean to say, you're not sleeping in this house- somebody lives here- you're just lucky no one's sleeping in our dojo, at least not on purpose." she explained to him, who good eye narrowed in interest.
"A dojo huh- where your warriors train?" he asked with curosity, the girl looking at him with disbelief.
"Uh yes- a dojo is where people train." she told him with a tone that indicated she thought he was sounding pretty stupid.
"Oh sorry- no it's just we don't call them that in the Fire Nation- different words for the same thing." he tried to explain away his rather idiotic sounding question.
"Yes- I'm sure once you're out of your current state you might find some use in the dojo." she admitted, the Prince's brow furrowing.
"To train?" he asked her, the girl looking at him with a tone of humour.
"No- I was more thinking to clean- it's not everyday that you find some extra hands to tend to stuff." she told him in a dead serious tone- he realised Oyaji wasn't joking around when he told him he would be repaying his debt to the village.
"But could I train- I'm- uh- good with swords." he told her, the warriors face turning suspicious.
"And here I was thinking you weren't a threat- perhaps Oyaji should reconsider..." she told him, Zuko realising after a few moments that she was making a joke.
"Very funny." he sarcastically told her with a roll of his eyes, making her chuckle at him.
"We'll see if you're good enough to be trained by the legendary Kyoshi Warriors." she boasted herself, before turning around, "The stretcher will be around in a bit- see you later, ash-maker." she addressed him, the Prince scowling at her insult.
"Could you people stop calling me that?!" he asked her with a near-shout, making her scoff as she continued walking away.
"Sorry didn't hear that." she lied as she left him be in the house, the Prince turning to roll back onto his back- the pain had eased somewhat since he woke up, but he doubted he would be able to walk even by the end of the day.
His mind turned to the worries that had been plaguing him ever since he awoke- his ship was gone, and maybe his Uncle and the crew as well- he was stuck on an island with a debt to a bunch of strangers who probably expected him to serve them; on top of that the people of Kyoshi Island didn't know he was a Prince, and he wanted it to stay that way- if they found him out, perhaps more people would agree with Amari than less. He sighed as he knew he was to be relegated to a practical servant for the meantime- he smiled at though that at the very least he wouldn't be thrown to the sea-serpent instead. Prince Zuko just might have died in a shipwreck, but Not-A-Prince Zuko could probably still irk out his existence on a backwash island for long enough to find out if his Uncle and crew hadn't found themselves at the bottom of the sea, or worse, in the gut of that damned sea-serpent.
Hey this is a new fic that I'm writing, a slight deviation from my other writing (Into The Fire), and it's not going to be as wordcount heavy. I'm trying to write a new AU idea where I can get both the cute Zuki ship but also other spicy plot elements which I won't reveal at this very moment.