Dreams of Fire

Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or any of the characters there within, they are property of Mike and Bryan.

Arcs of crackling and snapping light made the hair on the nape of the princess' neck stand on end. The bright, white streaks of magnificent, unfathomable energy flashed and reflected brightly in her eyes, making the golden irises flash an effervescent blue-white and back again. The power was gathering in her joints, pooling in her fingers and toes before charging with sizzling heat through her entire being. It was building. Her breath was coming in short, sharp gasps for her unbelievable triumph—she was going to be on par with her father—and she was only nine years old! She would be just like the great masters, able to produce lightning.

Still the rippling sensation of heat built, rising within to nearly drown her like a dam loosing a flood of untapped potential. The great smile she wore was purely genuine.

Just as she felt the power begin to peak, she suddenly realized she could contain it no longer, and she began to panic. How did one go about unleashing lightning? An image of her father flashed briefly through her mind and she copied the stance she saw, dual fingers on two outreaching arms, pointing in either direction, aiming one arm down the hall and the other the opposite. She might not have known it, but her stance was flawless, only she had forgotten to perform one critical action, a motion she could not have learned because she had no teacher present, she was attempting the ability on her own.

She had not swept the power away from her heart.

The fallacy was fatal.

Lightning exploded from her fingertips with pain hot on its heels. Azula felt as though she were being stabbed by hundreds of white-hot knives all over her body and she screamed; a deafening sound that echoed all through the palace. A tortured cry of pure, bitter agony. She felt the innumerable Jules of energy rip directly through her ribs, her lungs, her heart, shocking it into remaining perfectly still. A sword had been plunged through her skull, cutting it into two even halves, and her thundering head was suddenly impossible to hold up.

The edges of her vision flashed black, receded, then returned with force as she fell backward.

The last thing she had seen was the crackling light snapping and popping as it twisted high above her, laughing with glee down at her and her failure.

She had failed.

Azula fainted.

Zuko grumbled as he walked down the hallway that adjoined his chambers to his sisters; he was missing his knife. He had searched everywhere for it, through his drawers, under the bed, all across the floor, but it was nowhere to be found. Immediately his thoughts turned with blame to his sister, who had stolen things from him before, gleeful to have made him so upset. The entire affair had become a game to her: Hide Zuko's prized possession, laugh when he accusingly went after her, and then give him roundabout answers to his demands of "Where is it, Azula?" Of course, she always played innocent until Zuko refused to play the game and she grew bored. She would reveal the location of the latest of his missing possessions in detail and leave him to find it. Even then she sometimes lied to punish him for not entertaining her. Zuko ground his teeth and grumbled a little more loudly as he pushed open the door to her room.

"Azula, where's my—" but he stopped short when he saw his sister lying unmoving on the ground. "Azula?" he spoke with a light tremor in his voice, was this some new trick? When she didn't respond, Zuko came forward until he stood beside her, more terrified for her quiet than he ever had been for her cruel smile and taunting words. He nudged her with his toe and flinched back. "Azula?" he repeated, and then asked outright. "Is this some kind of game?" Still his sister did not move. He knelt down beside her, smelling something faintly burned, tasting a singed bitterness on his tongue, and shook her shoulder. "Hey, this isn't funny. What's wrong?"


He shook her a little harder and his eyes shot open when a bead of blood slipped from the corner of her lips. Zuko jumped and staggered back as a matching tear of blood trickled down her face to stain the tile.

The prince cried out in abject terror and ran from the room, screaming for servants, soldiers, anyone who could tell him what had happened to his sister.

All came to his call, including doctors, nurses, and handmaidens. The single, perhaps most important personage that did not attend the princess was their mother. Princess Ursa had long since disappeared in the uproar that surrounded their grandfather's death. Zuko worried all the more for his sister, who knew better to heal, to kiss wounds and caress bruises away than a mother? He sorely missed her all the more now from the beaten state of his sister. Would the doctors know what to do? His father?

Soldiers lifted the slumping princess and gently set her in her bed, doctors clustered around her to read her life signs, a runner was sent to inform the Firelord at once, while Zuko hovered in unadulterated horror for his sisters' fate behind the tall backs of adults. The adults were speaking all at once—what had happened? Who had done this? Talk of attempted assassination flitted from mouth to mouth across the room and soldiers were ordered to search the premises. What had the prince been doing? How had he found out? But the true horror in his eyes stopped these accusations in their formulation. After all, he was still a child. The chaos continued as soldiers were commanded to search this wing and that tower, doctors rattled off numbers and demanded medicines, nurses fluttered about with hot, wet towels and fresh clothes. The cacophony of movement and noise grated on Zuko's senses as he was shoved further and further from his sister's bedside, pushed this way and that between towering bodies, when suddenly everything ceased. Zuko looked between a soldier and nurse that stood closest to him to peer through the doorway.

Firelord Ozai had arrived.

The tension was palpable as all in the room bowed respectfully and the Firelord swept among them, the crowd parting easily to let him pass. Had the heat in the open chamber doubled two-fold with his entrance? Zuko swallowed as he watched his father stride to Azula's bedside. The doctors informed him in hushed tones of what they suspected had happened. The prince strained his ears to hear them.

"Firelord, we believe the princess was attempting to bend…lightning—without supervision or a suitable teacher—it was a fatal misuse of technique." The doctor said the last of his sentence in a rush, fearing to invoke the wrath of the Firelord. "We've resuscitated her, but she has fallen to a high fever. We're not certain how severe the aftereffects have damaged her heart or her brain." Their ruler leveled a hard, cold gaze at the doctor that made the latter man swallow, before his eyes settled on his daughter. There was no sound in the room but the princess' labored breathing. He was silent so long that Zuko had grown terribly uncomfortable; how much trouble would Azula be in for trying something so dangerous it threatened her very life? Firelord Ozai seemed to consider his daughter for an eternity, but when he spoke his voice was surprisingly soft.

"See that she receives all the medical attention she requires. Make her as comfortable as possible, monitor her progress and report back to me every morning and night until her recovery. If my daughter dies," the Firelord turned to address everyone present, "so do all of you."

He strode purposefully from the room without a second glance back at the ailing princess and all watched him in a chilled stupor. A death sentence had just been issued on them all, hovering thick and choking in the muggy air. Their lives now depended on their princess'.

The chaos ensued once again as the tension increased double fold for the new motive to be productive in their efforts.

Unlike his father, Zuko stayed with his sister even when the traffic in the chamber thinned and most of the doctors and nurses left to rest for the night. There was not much else they could do that would aid their princess; Azula would have to heal herself while the rest rode out the fever. Many of the doctors waited just beyond the doors to collaborate amongst themselves and a few of the nurses were diligent in keeping the princess comfortable with freshly fluffed pillows and clean blankets, but all the rest retired. The silence in the wake of the horrid noise of the noon hours was deafening, but Zuko did not complain. He had finally been granted the chance to look upon his sister and see her health.

Many times he had wished illness on his sister for tormenting him so, but now that his wish had been fulfilled and his sister lay so still and prone on her bed, he regretted ever thinking such grim retribution.

One doctor remained, and when the prince looked up at him with quietly pleading eyes, the older man motioned that it was all right for him to approach the princess. Zuko clutched at the silken bed sheets when he saw her face, Azula was a sickly pale color, nearly as white as a sheet. In the course of the afternoon, her hair had been taken down and her clothing changed for sleeping robes, and though her forehead had been wiped clear of sweat, a fresh break clearly beaded her crown. He could see her trembling faintly beneath the layers of crimson satin blankets.

"Will she be all right?" Zuko asked, fearful to break the silence lest it shattered his sister for how fragile she had become, but more concerned to know her health than remain silent himself.

"Perhaps. In a few days time. We suspect she will have made some measure of recovery by then, but for now, she needs her rest and peace and quiet." The doctor said, scratching something or other on a mahogany tablet. "I would have a word with my colleagues on her condition, if it pleases your highness."

Zuko nodded, distracted as the doctor stood from his bow and made to leave.

"Wait," the prince called out. "May I have a towel before you go?"

The doctor retrieved a soft cloth from a hovering nurse at the doorway for the prince and exited the room. Zuko folded the cloth neatly and reached over to carefully dab at his sister's forehead. It was very hot, even through the towel. Azula's eyebrows scrunched together and a small whimper of pain escaped her lips, she clutched at her sheets with clawed hands; her body shook violently for an instant, hopeless beneath the sheets, before she fell still and deathly silent once again. Zuko's heart was racing; he had half a mind to call the doctor back to the chamber, but he did not dare leave his sister's side. Uncertain and frightened, Zuko reached out to touch her hand, to hold some part of her for reassurance, but he drew back sharply with a cry. Her hand had scalded him.

Zuko ran from the room a second time that day to call upon the doctors and report this new development. His sister was in dire trouble.

By the time the prince had led the flock of doctors down the hall and crowded around Azula's bed, the burning sensation that Zuko had felt from his sister had all but vanished; in its stead was an icy chill. Several of the practitioners had cast the prince a furtively absurd glance. Still, it was better to be reported than missed.

"But she was real hot, I swear!" Zuko argued to little avail.

"We are all tired from the day, Prince Zuko, perhaps you should retire for the evening?"

But Zuko would not be so easily swayed, he demanded to stay, but he was tenderly ejected by a group of nurses who casually pushed him out the door and down the hall with taming words of reassurance. Zuko relented to this treatment and walked the rest of the way himself, waving the nurses away impatiently. How would he ever sleep knowing how ill his sister was?

A/N: Is Zuko not the sweetest brother there is? And how crazy is Azula for attempting to bend lightning? She's only nine! Sure, I did my share of stunts on the uneven bars at that age, but Azula is trying to break some record with THAT stunt. My friends were all getting sick and the idea just popped in my head. I played around with it for awhile and this is what became of it. I figure Azula is a total over-achiever and it lands her in a spot of trouble. Just a snippet of the story really, it will probably end up being three chapters of about this length each. I just hope I hooked a few readers to join my fanciful story to its end.

A small hint for the next chapter: Zuko had the choice between the red and blue dragon, and he chose red--to aid the Avatar. He went through a horrible internal struggle to discover his goal. And now here, so does his sister.

It's going to be a fun story!

Please leave a review to tell me what you think!

Blackfire 18