Shame on me, starting another fic when I definitely have three other ones that I haven't finished yet! This idea just struck me today though, and I couldn't let it get away from me. Sorry if this first chapter is a little boring -- it serves mostly as background info. Starting with the second chapter I'll include more dialogue and storyline.
Summary: Others would praise me, adore me; realize that I was to be something great when I grew older. And yet in the one place for which I looked approval, there was none. There's more to this princess than precision and deadliness: the story of Azula -- undiscovered hopes, molded personalities, and ultimate destruction.
I'm not sure when I realized I was headed down a fast path to degradation and destruction, but once it hit me, I knew there was no way back. The turns I had taken, the decisions I had made, all of them focused on one main goal in my life; a goal that had long since evaded me. Perhaps these decisions, originally made based on the desired accomplishment of my ambition, became so accustomed to my character that, even after realizing the achievement of my goal was impossible, I continued to make choices based on this former hope. I had formed a habit, a habit of destruction that would inevitably lead to the end. An ending that could not be happy.
I was born a prodigy. My father adored me, my people respected, if not feared me. I even had the spectator's reactions memorized, they occurred so often: after showing a demonstration of my abilities, the on-lookers eyes would first grow wide, their eyebrows raise a considerable amount, then their mouths would slowly drop open. They would blink a few times, as if to make sure they weren't dreaming, and then their mouths would erupt into a smile and words of praise would flow forth from their mouths. In my early years this had all flattered me, and I would smile politely and thank them. But as time passed, I grew accustomed to lavish praises and applause, so much so that it eventually became bothersome to have to listen to my admirers drone on and on. I merely shrugged it all off with a wave of my hand and a roll of my eyes, for their esteem meant nothing, just like the excitement of birthdays wear off as one grows older and older.
Even in my younger days, however, when the praise at first meant something to me, there was one soul who looked on my abilities not with wonder and awe, but with spite and contempt. And in my youth, I could not understand why this person hated me so for simply being naturally gifted. Others would praise me, adore me; realize that I was to be something great when I grew older. And yet in the one place for which I looked approval, there was none.
Zuko. My older brother. As I grew older I would come to understand that his contempt of me and my abilities lay in jealousy, but as a young girl I could not comprehend why he hated me so. How many times could I count when I had run up to him in childish excitement and demonstrated for him a new technique I had developed, only to have him look on me with scorn?
"Zuzu!" I would yell in my baby voice, as that was the pet name I had thought of for him. "Zuzu, look what I can do!" He would then turn and look on, arms folded across his chest and eyes full of fire, already thinking of something horrible to say to me once I was done. But I was not one to give up so easily. I already earned the praise of everyone else in my life, and I would earn his, if it was the last thing I did.
After performing my technique, often impressive for one so young, I would look on him with hopeful eyes, clinging to that last vestige of aspiration, thinking that maybe this time would be different, maybe this time his frown would break into a smile and he would pat me on the back and congratulate me on a job well done. Maybe this time the one who I looked up to would acknowledge my presence and abilities.
But it was not so. He would wait impatiently until I was done, and then scoff, saying, "Azula, don't be such a show-off. Just because you can do something and Father adores you for it, it doesn't make you special or anything." He would then proceed to leave the room, and I was left about to burst into tears.
But tears were for those who were weak, my father had said, and I would choke them back with all my might. In order to dismiss these feelings of sadness, I would replace them with rage and hatred. Zuzu despised me. My own brother hated me. The words echoed in my mind, filling the emotional void with my own despise for him and eventually the rest of the world.
At the time I was deaf to the jealousy in his words, only capable of hearing the poison. I thought his negative response to my abilities was that way because he truly hated me and wanted nothing to do with me; rather it was because of his own insecurities and emotional problems. But as a child this scarred me, and made me what I am today.
I can only remember a few tender moments in my past between me and my older brother, whom I idolized. One time was when I was fairly young, probably three or four, it was the eve of my brother's birthday, and a terrible storm loomed outside. Though I was excited for the next day, as I had received help from my Uncle Iroh in making a pretty card for Zuko, I could not fall asleep. The claps of lightning and thunder outside my bedroom window frightened me, though I was scared to go into my mother and father's room for comfort because if there was one thing my father hated, it was weakness. And at an early age I had learned what emotions I could display to my father; fear was not one of them.
Determined to be strong on my own, I stayed in my bed curled up under the covers; even though they made me hot and uncomfortable, I felt they protected me and dared not emerge from beneath them. Eventually my physical and emotional discomfort won over, and a particularly loud clap of thunder urged me out of my bed. I scampered down the hall to my brother's room, desperate to jump into his bed before the next streak of lightning should strike.
"Azula?" My brother said in loud surprise when I hurriedly climbed into his bed beside him. He had been sleeping and I woke him up; at first I thought he would get mad at me. But instead he said groggily, "What are you doing in here?"
I didn't need to answer, for at that very second, some lightning flashed and some thunder clapped, and I stifled a gasp as I involuntarily clutched his arm. Sensing my fear, Zuko pulled the covers up to our chins in order to help me feel protected, and in a very uncharacteristic fashion snuggled close to me and whispered, "Did you know that Uncle Iroh can make lightning?"
My eyes widened with surprise and a few seconds later, I whispered, "He can?"
Zuko nodded exaggeratingly, as if he himself didn't quite believe it. "It's like firebending, except with lightning. He can shoot it out of his fingertips and zap something so fast that you're not sure if you really saw it or not."
My curiosity piqued, all my fears were forgotten as the storm continued to brew outside without my knowledge. I tried to imagine my uncle in a firebending pose shooting lightning out of his fingers, except it was hard for me to envision since I had never seen anyone do it before.
"One day I'm going to make lightning," Zuko said determinedly. And I, in an effort to be like him, nodded my head and said, "Me too," even though I myself wasn't sure at the time if I really wanted to or not.
Zuko lay down on his pillow and placed his hands beneath his head in a relaxed position; I did the same. He stared at the ceiling with such a calm look on his face, that I spent a few minutes studying the ceiling as well, trying to find what it was that intrigued him so. When I failed at my task, I came to the conclusion that it must be something he was thinking that made him like that, and not something he was seeing, so I curled up on my side and fell fast asleep.
What seemed like an instant later, Zuko was gently shaking my shoulder in an attempt to wake me up. The storm outside had stopped, and as I would soon come to realize, it wasn't an instant later, but a couple hours later.
"Azula, it's almost time to get up. If Father finds you in my room he might get mad. Go back to your own room."
Still being half-asleep, I didn't respond but instead rolled over on my other side in an attempt to ignore him and go back to sleep. He shook me even more and said, "Just stand up. I'll walk you back to your room."
His offer persuaded me, and with my eyes still half-closed, I rolled out of his bed and allowed him to take my arm and lead me back to my own bedroom. Our bare feet gently padded against the cold floors, and his hold on my arm felt gentle but strong as he hoisted me up into my bed. As he turned to silently take his leave back to his own room, I stopped him short by saying, "Happy Birthday, Zuzu."
"I'm six now." he responded with a slight smile. "You need to call me Zuko." With that he turned around and exited my room, though before he was all the way out of the door, I called after him, "You're my favorite brother, Zuzu…" I don't think he heard me though, as he did not respond; of course since I was half-asleep maybe in reality I did not speak those words aloud, but only said them in my mind.
Though that is not the only fond memory I have of my brother, the others stand out less in my mind that this one does, as it seems to have branded me in a way the others did not. All other vibrant memories include myself showing off for Zuko in an attempt to win his praise, only to be viciously beaten down with his words, resulting in my disappointment. From the sadness that sprung, I remembered my father's words: "Tears are for the weak, Azula. Be strong." And, being the people pleaser that I started out as, I would immediately shrug off those feelings that should have been natural to me and replaced them with a deep feeling of anger or bitterness. Eventually I no longer had to will away these "weak" feelings -- such as pain, sadness, or fear -- and I knew only hatred.
From the start my father was intent on molding my personality into that of an ideal ruler, so perhaps from the start he also intended to proclaim me as his heir, rather than Zuko, who by birthright should have claimed the position. But I was undeniably better at firebending than my brother, and my father wished to make me perfect in every other way. It angered him when I showed weak emotions, such as grief, pain, fear, or laziness. And yet he did not tolerate happiness very well either, saying that a good Fire Lord or Lady kept their emotions in check, and did not allow sentiment to get the better of them. However, rage was acceptable to him, saying that it was this emotion that made me so powerful; for, from rage came fire. And the hotter my rage burned, the hotter my fire burned.
I remember when my Uncle Iroh left to siege the great Earth Kingdom city of Ba Sing Se. I also remember when he sent me and my brother two gifts as souvenirs. My brother received a dagger. I was given a doll. I remember holding the doll in my hands, staring at its adorable face and soft features. I remember the rage my father had told me about taking control of my mind. The doll represented feminine fragility, childish ignorance, even. These were not the qualities a Fire Lady possessed. I watched with psychotic delight as the doll burned in my hands from the flames I brought forth. I also remember seeing the expression on my brother's face out of the corner of my eye. He was horrified.
Later that night, as I lay in my bed, I remembered the expression on Zuko's face and wondered what he now thought about me. Ever since I was little, all I wanted was for him to accept me as a firebending prodigy, to praise me as a friend, but most of all, to love me as a sister. He never knew how much I truly did idolize him. The reason I looked up to him so was in fact a little unclear to even me. He had mastered the technique of combining firebending with dual swords, but that meant little to me, since I was far ahead of him in firebending itself. Though he was smart, I was equally intelligent, and though he had my mother's love, I had my father's undying support. Finally one day I concluded that the reason I admired him so was simply because he was my brother, and we shared an unspoken bond simply by being the one another's sole sibling.
My real story starts when I was ten and Zuko was twelve. Zuko had wanted so badly to watch the generals and other important military men discuss battle strategies in my father's war room, though Uncle Iroh advised against it. As much as Zuko respected our uncle, his desire to take part in such a momentous occasion won out in the end, and he was accepted into the war room.
When I heard that Zuko was going to be allowed to go into a war room with all those important men, I became jealous, because I wanted to do everything he did and more. Not to say that the opportunity he was given was something I had specifically been looking forward to all my life, rather, my new goal in life had switched from earning his praise to surpassing him. I had concluded that if I couldn't win his admiration, maybe he would now respect me as someone greater than himself. I speak from experience when I say that younger siblings truly do look up to their older siblings, and if the love is not returned it can be heart wrenching.
The events between the time Zuko went into the war room and the Agni Kai are all a blur to me; everything happened so fast, and everyone was so anxious and upset that my memory starts to fail me at this point. One thing that stands out very vividly in my memory, though, is seeing my brother for the first time after the duel with my father. His face … the wound he received -- it scared me so much. His skin, soft and pink surrounding his eye; his ear, shriveled and damaged by the fire; and his eyebrow, completely gone from his face -- all of this, done to the brother whom I admired so much. As much as I had been hating him recently, for, my hatred had begun to take place of all my feelings of admiration, I could not help but weep that night as I lay in my bed. The tears rolled down my face, and I shook violently in an attempt not to make any noise as I cried, for I still believed that tears were weakness.
Weakness … just like every other emotion. Every other emotion except rage.