Summary: "Please, Zuko, let me hurt you." So he lets her, one last time. Zuko/Azula SIBLING RELATIONSHIP
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar
A/N: Hm. Wrote this because I really wanted to get into depth with Zuko and Azula's twisted brother/sister relationship. It is NOT incest at all, so please don't take it that way. But because it focuses a lot on their feelings, certain details are purposely left to be blurred, and have you fill them in with your imagination. Feel free to come up with how Zuko got caught and whatever he did to be imprisoned. (We all know he's going to turn over—at least, I'm sure of it) Also, this was written a little bit before the episode where Iroh tells him he's related to Roku, and its implied the Iroh somehow escaped or something (again, up to your imagination)—so naturally he does not know that Zuko has done…whatever it is he's done.
With that spoken, sorry for my rambling, and please enjoy the story:
When she first went to visit him, there had been a lot of screaming, of course—this much she expected.
The wounds on his body were still fresh, oozing and dripping and swelling with horrible profusion, running down his bare back like hot, crimson snakes; it was this red that stood out so vividly against the dimness of a Traitor's Sanctum.
His hair was mangled and cut at odd lengths, with jagged ends that hung lank in his eyes, which were strained and tormented. His skin was, if possible, paler than ever before—seemingly shining in the condensed darkness, mingled with the ugly sheen of blood. He was clad only in those scuffed pants, with shackles on his wrists, on his ankles: they clanked with each small movement he made, like the drear ringing of a death-bell, singing softly of his upcoming tragedy.
She always thought he looked best tortured, and she told him so that day, while he yanked against the rusted chains and raged at her. She had stood behind the bars, calm and composed, smiling always as his voice tore in his throat; he said things to her.
He told her she was a wretched thing, that she was full of darkness. He told her she possessed no heart, but a cracked stone that sat heavy against her lungs. She may be perfect, she may be Daddy's favorite—but she was evil, oh she was evil…
And it was true, naturally, though she never nodded or agreed. A slight quirk of her cherry lips and she knew she had won the duel; he collapsed at the sight of it, tumbling in a mass of bloody limbs and anguished cries.
Then he told her others things. In a mangled, desperate voice, he would whisper that he once loved her—that he still loved her—that she was his little sister, and he was her big brother, and that he wanted to protect her, as other brothers did. He was the doll she stuck needles into, but he still loved her; he forgave her. He didn't trust her, but she was his sister, and he—and he—
She observed this all, coolly and unemotionally. Her face was set in a panoply of hard beauty, like a terrible goddess of unsurpassed glory. This was her Zuko; her doll; her plaything.
She liked to break her toys.
She turned from him in a swift, cunning gait, cocking her head only once to reply.
"Oh, and brother--I love you, too."
The knife beneath the words flew sharply, precisely, as it always did: it met its target with a powerful, solid thump, and she almost felt her brother subside into his fit of hysteria, his storm of pain and anger and sadness.
It was fun to watch him break.
On the second day, things were different.
He was huddled in darkest corner of the chamber, shivering through clenched teeth and staring blankly at the wall.
When she approached him, he said nothing.
Again, she raised her voice in a her high, haughty cadence, hoping to spur him from this stupor into the fiery vigor that normally animated his loath; but his disposition remained blank despite her jeering, to an almost eerie degree. He merely sat with his fingers curled at his sides, the rust-red furrows on his back drying to half-knitted abrasions; he could have been a marble statue, chipped and stained.
She always hated it when he ignored her. As a child, she had a tendency to lash out if he remained taciturn for too long: she would screech and kick and claw at him until, at the very least, he released from his throat a throttled cry; then she would laugh, viciously, and feel satisfied.
So with this silence she was not at all pleased.
She called upon a guard with certain acridity, ordering him to bring her the keys. At first the man hesitated, spoke of something called 'reason'—("He is a criminal, after all, Princess.")—which was a blunder; she depicted the horrors that came with defying her, so that he paled, fumbled, and handed her the clacking ringlet of keys.
With a jerk and a creak, the bars swung open, though the figure within did not stir. She found this strange; her Zuko would cling to every precious scrap of chance that hovered before him, no matter how foolish. He never gave in. If there was even a glimmer of escape, he would snatch at it, even though he would most likely fail.
(He always failed; her precious toy.)
But now only this listless shell, indifferent to the doors that had just flown open to his freedom.
Slowly, she walked to him. Carefully, she chose her words.
"Uncle doesn't know what you did here—he still thinks you betrayed him. So when you die, he'll still think you're a traitor, and while the flames are engulfing you he'll be scorning your existence."
She pursed her lips, eyes drawn to slits.
"He doesn't love you. He never did."
Quiet, damned and cursing.
"Mai doesn't love you either. She's so ashamed."
He was the statue, broken and lifeless as he gazed at the wall.
"But nobody's more ashamed than Dad. You're a disgrace to him, not worth keeping."
Only then, the slightest, merest whisper—
She didn't shake, never; but at the steady, dull note of his voice she started, and moved to touch his scratched shoulder.
Not out of love—no, never—but to grip it hard and sink her nails into him, forcing the dregs of life to swill from within him and surface. This dead, empty shell was not the toy for her to break. Whatever this was, it was already broken—and you could not shatter something if it already lay in shards at your feet.
He remained limp to her hand, the skin cold beneath her fingers. He never tried to throw her off.
She turned him around, and met with the eyes of the one who had spent an eternity in this cell, whether it was years, days, minutes, seconds. The hair hung before them, but they cut clear in the shadows; she saw only them.
She was composed as she left, controlled and without a word. She closed the gate and returned the keys. There was no expression in her voice or animation to her features.
In the Traitor's Sanctum, there was a ghost.
His name was Zuko.
But he was not her brother.
There was a mirror in the Traitor's Sanctum. Only one, hanging against the grime-coated walls like a sheet of pure, immaculate ice; it drank in the darkness of the environment, swallowed the shadowy reflection of the prisoner. Its purpose was only to torment: the betrayer had no company but his own image, which grew loathsome and hateful as the hours dragged by, as the person lost himself to the ravaged form he saw, to the one who had put him in this position—himself.
Always, the prisoner was bound up in chains, the links falling too short for him to reach the silver surface.
On the third day, she found the mirror in red-tinted shards, and him lying amidst them, bleeding smiles on his palms. He breathed slowly, vacantly, with eyes that still held the haunted ghosts of yesterday. On the fragmented remains of the mirror—the pieces that still dangled from the dirty wall—was painted a single character:
She leaned in close, and listened to the words he breathed with each intake of air.
"Azula always lies—Azula always lies—Azula always lies—"
All at once, an insane happiness intoxicated her, pulling ruby lips upward in a frantic, scrabbling grin; but at the same time, there was a cold, rattling disappointment within her.
For, if he knew that she lied, there would be no way for him to believe her.
The fourth day.
He was crying for mother, for uncle, for father, for her.
She left him abandoned.
The fifth day was the last day, and it was filled with an unsurpassed heaviness.
She found him more lucid than expected, with his sore back pushed up against the wall's dirty stones, glaring ahead at the broken teeth of the mirror. She had taken the keys from the guard once more, and entered the Traitor's Sanctum. It was the last day, after all. Why shouldn't she?
eyes were glassy, but they were not dead; she saw not life but
within them—something insubstantial and wraith-like as it fluttered
through them, but there nonetheless; not breath, but the ghost of it.
Or perhaps memories.
He was remembering.
She was remembering, too.
She was unsure why she woke this morning with that hollow pit in her chest, or why there was a sense of detached bitterness in the air, on her tongue. She had dressed in her traditional wear, with her hair swept up and polished armor gleaming bloody-red in the shadows.
And she hoped, as the sun raised its baleful, heavy eye over the horizon, that a ray would be thrown off her suit and flash across his eyes, rendering him blind; she hoped the sun would make tears well in his eyes like dirty, precious pearls, make him feel an inexplicable pain in his irises.
She had dreams for today, visions that tasted of sugar-crystals and bitter ash.
The last face he saw would be hers.
But when she found him there, unshivering, with a tilt to his head and shaggy, tangled bangs falling adrift, all she could imagine was a puppet with broken strings. Her heart remained a dead thing in her chest, but it felt constrained, like hands crushing over its rocky surface. There were stones weighing in her lungs, so that she could barely breathe; her lips were cold and her hands were still.
She moved quietly into his chamber, deft, a shadow. Why did he merely sit there, a limp bundle of skeleton limbs? Why did he hold himself so perfectly, no tears sliding from eyes haunted with the residue of shame? He was so white now, with the flame-scar standing stark and wild against the flimsy stretch of skin; his mouth was nothing, when once it twisted with such feeling, and his hands were lifeless, uncurled fingers too slender as they lay in his lap. What had happened to her toy? He was chipped, lost, and decaying: they would sweep away his shattered pieces today, and she would play with him no more.
She liked to break her toys. On her ninth birthday, her long-lost mother had gifted her with a pretty little doll, its carved face like a cherub. Its tiny red lips pursed together like a cherry, its cheeks rounded and smooth, its eyes thrown-open windows filled with amber light. Then the curls of raven hair, the locks so luscious they simply must have been snipped from a real girl's mane. The neat velvet dress made of rich, richest wine-colors, the white ribbon about her waste.
She remembered how the flame spurted from her fingertip, how she slowly applied it to the glossy tresses, how the hungry red monster (called fire) ate away at it until all the shine was gone, the strands stiff and foul-smelling. She remembered the dress shrinking and withering, the fine velvet collapsing into dry ashes; now ugly and crinkled, a burnt black. Then the melting of its face, like crying without tears; the features mixed and streaming—all so tormented, so that when she threw the carnage to the ground, and the damaged remnants of its glass eyes shattered completely, she could laugh and view the murder.
But now her favorite toy was broken, and she wasn't laughing. This one, her Zuko, had always been durable—cracked and worn and weathered and bruised, but never so broken that she could not break him again. He never gave up, never wore completely away. Evidence of her fun littered his body in red scars, bleeding wounds, but he always sprung up from the pain and let her push him down once more. He was her best toy, the most precious thing to shatter. Without him, there was nothing for her to crush, and she needed to inflict harm on him, to see him scream, writhe, and cry—for her, for her.
"Big brother?" she said it in a breath. He did not answer her, only pondered the jagged shards of the mirror.
"You die today," her voice cut raggedly.
Again, there was no response. She thought again of the lifeless puppet, its strings severed.
"You die today for betraying us: the Fire Nation, your home. The place that threw you out—the place that you spent three years trying to return to. So what do you do when it finally lets you return? You go against it and have it destroy you. Befitting, isn't it? I don't think anything could be more perfect. What do you think, Zuko? Zuko?"
His eyes did not shift. He was completely broken, so utterly that she could not affect him any longer. Like the doll, she could only stare at the result of her violence; the empty bit left from her murder.
"I won, Zuko. I won."
Suddenly she screamed, in a high-pitched, bloodcurdling voice. She didn't know what made it loose from her throat, but it sounded wretched and aggrieved, like a dying thing in her throat. She did not think it could come from her.
There was a creature within her—perhaps a wounded dragon—and it writhed, howled, and twisted; it had gotten everything it ever wanted, was both clever and wise, and in its triumph it felt wasted. Now its dreams came to it on a burnished platter, and it realized it did not want what it thought it wanted: when it hungered for death, it really only wanted blood.
Somehow, she won, but at the same time, she might not have at all…
"What do you think your doing, you pathetic little prince? Do you think you're somehow winning—that somehow you've gotten the best of me? Well, I've won! I've won, I've won! You're going to die, and it'll be painful, and you'll HATE yourself—HATE yourself like you've always done, because you're a FAILURE and NO ONE cares about you—NO ONE at all!
So what are you doing? Where is all your groveling, your tears and your anger: everything that makes you my brother? Where has he gone? Why have you killed my big brother? I don't think you're him—I don't think you're him at all! My Zuko was a fun thing to break, and you're just a dull, empty shell. I hate you—I HATE YOU—I…"
She stopped a moment, if only for a second, to regain her breathing. Something was alive within her. It was screaming. She looked at him, but he was dead, and whatever was inside her pitched over to a level of desperation that unbecoming. She could not hear herself at all: everything that fled from her lips was raw and uncultured, rather than the refined, carefully constructed words she sang into people's ears. This was unlike that. This was real.
He winced, only slightly.
"Stop," a whispery comment. "Too loud."
She screamed again, if only so his eardrums would bleed. His thin hands fluttered to the ears lost behind ragged amounts of black hair. She crashed to her knees loudly and began to attack him, to beat, and claw, and hit at his face and arms. She wanted to reopen the half-knitted wounds he endured, to stir the spell of life in those eyes and then steal it away. She felt savage at that moment, all cool demeanor lost. If only he would come alive again, if only he would cry….
She halted for a moment, did not realize how small and frightened she seemed.
"Please, Zuko, let me hurt you." Her face was inches from his.
(So he lets her, one last time.)
He appeared dead, but then something wet seemed to glaze his eyes, though it never fell, and was perhaps an illusion. He tugged ever-slightly away from her—pretended to resist so she could pretend he was fighting, so that she could pretend to win and hurt him once more. Did this because he was her big brother, and she his little sister, and it was the way of things.
Her eyes were still. "I was always so certain about you, big brother. You were insecure and weak, always starving for father's love, which he would never give you. You would always fall into my every trap, be mine to manipulate. But now you do this—you defy me, defy father, and defy your own Nation. It is almost as if the person who I thought you were wasn't you at all. Almost as if….you lied to me."
There is something in his eyes, though life, or death, she couldn't tell. Perhaps it was something in between, dancing in light and shadow; unfolding memories.
A quiet hiss, he responded.
"Like I've never done that before."
His wrist, which she had been clenching, was dropped, and she rushed to leave his chambers.
Sunrise came. He was dragged out amidst the birth of a new sun, to die in its early rays. It was the way of the Fire Nations and traitors. She stood in the crowd alongside Ty Lee, who was sniffling into the black cuffs of a dress that did not suit her; she was like a child crying over a dead pet, watching it die with dripping eyes. Mai was not there at all, simply choosing not to come. There was a hollow space where she should have stood.
Zuko did not seem frightened as the soldiers pulled him through the jeering mobs, to the wooden post where everything would end. He did not cry as the chains were wrapped around him, locking him to a wanton fate. He was not looking at anyone. His eyes were to the sky, fascinated in the frail ribbons of blue, and gold, and violent that issued from the horizon.
"The colors of Heaven," she thought she heard him mumble. "Mother is there."
And then the flame was applied to the oiled bunches of wood set at his feet, and his own element took to destroying him. It was all very slow, very surreal. Like a nightmare-dream. She thought she might wake up from it and smile, or perhaps her eyes would flutter open and she could forget entirely the sight of fire climbing up his legs, venturing to kiss his face.
Once Ty Lee sought for her hand, and when she batted it away, the girl fled, sobbing as her brown braid streamed out behind her
A strange hollowness seemed to exist inside of her, barren and cold, like an empty room that is locked up after a loved one dies. She thought it might be tinged with hysteria.
If Zuko was screaming, she could not hear it.
"I hope you're happy," she whispered viciously, bitterly.
And cried as the flames went over his head.
A/N: You know, I really adore Zuko, so I don't know why I always write such depressing fics about him. sniffles and cuddles with Zuko plushie Please forgive me, Zuko! Anyway, sorry for the slight undertone of anti-Maiko-ness. For all those who support it, I give a sincere congratulation on it being canon—but I personally am not very pleased with the pairing, so my fics won't ever endorse it. In the end, however, I care much more about Zuko himself than who he's paired with, and if he's happy I'll be happy too…even if I don't like Mai. lol.
Anyway, please review! I would really appreciate it; and as always, thanks for reading.