Welcome, dearest victim! You are about to be exposed to the madness, the insanity that is known as Sokkla. I should hope you enjoy it.


100. DEATH

Azula's time among the living was drawing to a close. She had been sentenced to death, execution by hanging. She chose to die by hanging, of course. Even in death she wanted to be above everyone else.

As much as everyone loathed the princess, Aang still didn't want to see her die. His argument was that Zuko had been their enemy but was now a close friend. They had given him another chance, why not award Azula the same honor? The Fire Lord insisted upon her death, though, claiming that Azula would never change.

In a last ditch effort to save the Princess from execution, Sokka reluctantly took on the challenge of proving that there was something that resembled a beating human heart in her chest. He really didn't want to think of Azula as anything more than his enemy, the horrible monster who had hurt Suki so much...But that insatiable need for a challenge, a puzzle to put together was unfortunately winning him over, as much as he didn't want to admit it.

The first few days he spoke to her, for the most part, she only answered his questions with questions of her own. Although it seemed he wasn't getting anywhere with her like this, but he could see something in her eyes. Something that wasn't completely murderous. Sokka didn't want to fool himself, but by the forth day he had visited her cell, he could have sworn she looked...almost happy to have contact with someone other than the guard who brought her meals. As he was leaving that day, she stopped him.

"Wait," She demanded, "How are...Mai and Ty Lee doing...?"

"Do I look like I'd know that?" Sokka asked her back, a little smirk on his lips. Azula's eyes lost any form of emotion aside from bitterness as they narrowed and shot daggers at the Water Tribe boy, "Both are fine," Sokka answered her truthfully," Mai is with Zuko and Ty Lee ran off to join the circus again."

"How did they avoid this?" She questioned, both her hands curled around the prison bars.

"Fire Lord Zuko and his counsel decided that they wouldn't be much of a threat...They only did what they did because of you."

Azula fell silent after that, allowing him to leave at last.

The next day, day five, they didn't talk much...but the way she was sitting before she realized that he was standing there was enough. She sat on her cot, leaning against the wall, holding her legs to her chest. Her eyes were full of emptiness, blank and a little red.

"Good afternoon, Princess. here's your lunch," Sokka greeted her, setting her tray filled with food on the floor and sliding it under the bars. When she finally realized he was there, she rubbed her eyes a little before sliding off her cot, staring at him with typical deadly intent.

"Why do you insist on feeding me? You're too good to be soliciting with a pathetic prisoner such as myself," She spat, sitting down on the floor behind her tray. She grabbed her stale piece of bread and started nibbling on it. Sokka had to think for a moment, because he knew she was right. He was too good to be doing this, and by all means he shouldn't have been doing this, it was only his need for a challenge that kept him coming back each day, but he wasn't about to tell her that.

"Death by starvation isn't pretty, and I thought you wanted to be hanged?"

"Does it really matter anymore? An ugly death for an ugly person is fitting, is it not?"

A week had finally passed. It didn't seem nearly that long to Sokka, though. Time was slipping by too quickly and he still hadn't been able to convince anyone, including himself, that Azula didn't deserve to die. Okay, so maybe he was starting to believe it a little, that there really was more to the princess than she ever let on.

From what he gathered so far, she was, in fact, partly human. She had emotions, just like everyone else, she was just very good at hiding them, lying to cover things up. She cared about her friends, she cared about Zuko, and it seemed like she was honestly growing afraid that her death was near.

Sokka was trying a different approach that night. He had seen plenty a Fire Nation soldier get out of jail by pleading insanity. If there was proof of some one's insanity, they could not be incarcerated. Sokka hoped that maybe he could find something that could prove Azula was insane, aside from word of mouth.

That's why Katara found him he was surrounded in scrolls dealing with mental diseases, scrolls documenting her family's strange history and plenty of others too. He sat with his head on the desk, his candle nearly extinguished. He was snoring up a storm.

Katara sighed, placing a hand on his shoulder, shaking him.

"It's late, you should go to bed," She told him, he only mumbled and swatted at her hand, insisting he was only closing his eyes for a few minutes.

"Sokka, I know you better than that, you're not just resting your eyes and if you don't get up now, you'll be here all night and then you'll be complaining about how you hurt all over because you didn't get a good night's sleep," she explained, shaking him again. While that was truth, she was growing rather concerned about him. It troubled her how hard he was working at this, he was fighting to save the life of someone he hated. It troubled her how he could set aside his prejudice just for a challenge. It was like a game to him, she knew it.

"But I think I'm onto something..." Sokka mumbled, picking his tired head up off the desk.

"Just go to bed, Sokka, you'll be doing all of us a favor..."

Once the waterbender had left, Sokka did drag himself off to bed. Katara was right, she always was, he just wasn't going to let her know she had won that one.

Sokka was pretty sure he could prove her insanity after spending the night in the palace library, but he wanted a back up plan to...And he just didn't buy the insanity thing either. There had to be something besides that. Insanity was just one piece of the puzzle. He had to step it up, though, only one week before he would be forced to make his proposal to save her.

Azula was well aware that this was her last week to live, and it seemed to be hitting her hard. She was much more conversational the ninth day, more than she had ever been. Sokka had never expected to carry on such an intelligent conversation with an enemy before. He actually found what she had to say quite interesting. He learned a great deal about her that day, the fact she loved to study science, but hated the mathematics that went along with it. She was named after her grandfather (And it meant demon, how fitting.) Both she and Zuko were mildly allergic to pomegranates and they quite often used to eat them just for the purpose of getting sick so they wouldn't have to attend school that day.

All of those little details would have been nothing but trivial nonsense coming from anyone else, but from Azula...it just meant something more. Sokka found that he couldn't think of her the same way anymore, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't see her as a ruthless demon hellbent on destruction. She was human. She had flaws. He just couldn't hate her.

When there were only four days left till her execution, their conversations weren't just about trivial things anymore. These conversations were really starting to mean something. She was bringing down whatever walls she held around herself and she was letting him take a look inside.

"My mother died in a raid when I was a kid," Sokka answered her, they leaned back to back against the prison bars.

"At least you had her for part of your life...My mother hated me...She thought I was a monster...She was right...But...I always wondered what I'd be like if she had...loved me like she...loved Zuko..." Azula replied sadly. If she had been any other girl, and if metal bars didn't separate them, he would have wrapped his arms around her, trying to comfort her, trying to make things seem alright. Instead, he tilted his head towards her a little bit with a sigh.

"If it makes any difference...I don't think you're a monster."

Azula snorted, trying to hold back a laugh.

"You're lying."

"You may find the need to lie, but I don't, not about something like that, at least. You may be my enemy, but you're no monster. That's what I thought of you two weeks ago, but not now," Sokka explained himself.

"What changed your mind...?"

"The fact that you can't possibly be a monster if you're human."

"What could possibly make me human?"

"You have a heart buried somewhere in there."

"So what if I do?"

"I'll keep your secret, promise," He told her with a smirk. She turned to look at him, she was taken aback by his statement. There was something akin to gratitude present in her golden eyes. She quickly grabbed a hold of herself though, turning away from him again, crossing her arms against her chest.

"You don't have to promise me anything, peasant," Azula grumbled in an attempt to lock herself up again. Angry insults were just her defense mechanism, but inside, she was honestly starting to wonder...if it had been a different time, a different place, if she hadn't been tied to her duties as a princess, if he was tied to his as a warrior...could there have ever been anything between them, anything other than misplaced aggression and hate?

No. That was absurd. It didn't matter anyway. She was going to die in three days anyway and there was nothing anyone could do to stop that.

The really pathetic thing was, though, Sokka was starting to have similar thoughts.

"I'll promise you whatever the hell I want to," He insisted before he heard his name being called, echoing through the dank dungeons. He stood to leave, brushing off what dust and dirt he could.

"...Will you be back...?" Azula asked him, trying to hide the fact that she'd miss his company.

"Do you want me to come back?" Sokka looked down at her, staring into her eyes. She didn't respond, but she didn't need to. The look in her eyes was more than enough, "I'll come back, I promise."

It was Aang who had been calling him so urgently. He wanted to know if Sokka had anything else that could help their cause of saving Azula's life since they had last spoken about it.

"I think I do," Sokka replied, "She sorta asked me if I'd come back later tonight."

"That's something, why do you think she'd ask that of you?"

"She knows she's going to die in a few days. I think she's...afraid."

Katara laughed as she walked past the boys who sat in the gardens near the turtleduck pond.

"Azula? Afraid of anything? That's pretty funny, Sokka," Katara commented, leaning up against a tree.

"I'm not joking, Katara. You're not the one who has been spending time each day with her, talking with her," Sokka snapped, his voice oddly dark and serious for his normally sarcastic personality.

"I just don't see the point...Even if you save her from being executed, she's going to spend the rest of her life in prison," Katara defended herself.

"Some life is better than no life, "The avatar explained, "Would you want to die just because of the way you were raised?"

"Like Zuko said, she's not going to change," Katara growled.

"Zuko changed," Sokka and Aang chorused.

Katara walked off then, a little miffed. She expected Aang to be so forgiving of Azula, but she didn't expect it from Sokka, especially after that stunt she had pulled on the day of black sun.

With the sun setting behind him, Sokka walked up the hill to the prison. He wasn't going to go back on his promise to the princess, after all.

"I can't believe you actually came back," Azula chided as she paced back and forth in her cell, hearing his footsteps echo through the hall.

"Why wouldn't I? I promised you, didn't I?" Sokka said once he was in front of her cell. She stopped her pacing, grabbing hold of the metal bars. Silence fell between them as they simply stared at each other for a moment until Azula spoke.

"Why have you been coming here? You don't have a reason to be..."

"Tell me, Azula," He whispered, stepping closer to her and gazing deep into her eyes. He placed his hands over hers. A look of confusion fell over her as her eyes fell to their hands. She felt his hands, but she didn't believe they were there, "If you had your freedom, what would you do with it..?"

"Why the hell would you ask me something like that?" Azula barked, pulling her hands away from him. In her anger, her frustration, fire erupted from her fists, lighting up the dungeon. Sokka stepped back towards the stone wall, reminded of how dangerous she had the potential to be.

"You're not the person they think you are, I know-" Azula cut him off, a look in her eyes that Sokka just wasn't used to seeing anymore.

"Of course I am, I'm the perfect war machine, I'm the terrible demon they all fear and more!" the princess snarled, letting blue flames appear in her fists again.

"Wow, Zuko was right, you do always lie. Not only to others, though. You lie to yourself too."

"What?"

"Oh, so its alright for you to dig down deep into someone and thrash around, but no one can do the same to you?" Sokka smirked, he knew he was gaining the upper hand with her, "Now that's just not fair!" Ah sarcasm.

"Life isn't fair, dumbass, you should know that by now..." She mumbled, crossing her arms and looking down at the floor. She couldn't let him see her face right now, he'd see weakness.

"Of course I know that, I'm not as dense as you think I am," Sokka shot back at her.

"I never said I thought you were dense!"

"But you were thinking it!"

"Just shut up, before I melt your face off."

Sokka sighed, wanting to keep his face in tact, "Fine...Just know that I want an answer to my question tomorrow morning."

"...What question?"

"What would you do with your life if you weren't here," Sokka stated for her one last time before leaving her for the night. He had some things he had to write down, he had some more puzzle pieces to fit in.

The next morning, Sokka brought Aang and Toph along with him to see Azula. They would stay far enough away that Azula wouldn't know they were there, but they could still hear what she was saying. Sokka neglected to even inform Katara of what they were doing for he knew she would insist on coming along, but she'd end up losing her temper, alerting Azula to their secret presence. That would defeat the purpose. Toph and Aang were here to be witnesses, to hear for themselves what Azula had to say.

"Not a peep out of either of you, if Azula knows I'm not the only one down here, she won't be truthful," Sokka explained before they entered.

"Like she'd be truthful anyway...?" Toph asked, both boys turned on her, glaring. She couldn't see the gesture, but she sure as hell could feel it.

Once he had put them in their places, Sokka calmly walked down the hall to Azula's cell. She was sitting on the ground, still eating her crude breakfast.

"Here, have an apple," she said, throwing the red fruit up and through the bars with expert accuracy. Sokka caught it, looking down at her with an eyebrow raised.

"Don't you want it?" He asked her, tossing it from hand to hand.

"No, I hate apples," Azula explained, swallowing a piece of bread. Sokka looked over the fruit a bit, rubbing it on his tunic. It didn't look rotten or anything. He took a bite out of it, chewed and swallowed.

"Its a pretty good apple, you're missing out," Sokka told her, taking another bite of it.

"They make me gag and I'd rather not take the chance of having to sit in my own vomit for the next two days."

"Understandable. Do you have an answer?" Sokka asked, heading right to the reason he was here so early this morning.

"Well, what do you want me to tell you?" She asked, pushing her tray off to the side.

"The truth," He replied.

"Fine, if I had my freedom, I'd put an organization together that's devoted to world peace!" Azula exclaimed sarcastically. Sokka sighed. Maybe he had been rubbing off on her more than he had thought.

"I highly doubt that's what you really want, Princess."

"If I had my freedom...I'd move as far away from people as I possibly could, some uncharted island perhaps...Just as long as I could be alone," She explained truthfully.

"Why do you hate people so much? You're a princess, you should love people."

"Since when am I a normal princess?"

"Good point-"

"But if you must know, its because if I'm away from people, I won't have to deal with people. People are cruel and selfish, they take everything for granted. They're all too blind to see all of the good things they have in their lives and only see the bad. If I don't see it, then I won't be tempted to..." She figured he could fill in the blank. He was smart enough.

Of all the things she had told him over the past two weeks, this was the most shocking. In just those few words, he learned more about her than he figured anyone else knew. That said so much about her life, it nearly completed the puzzle. Now he could see what fueled her, what drove her to do what she did, for the most part, anyway. Of course there were still pieces missing, but there was enough there that now Sokka could see the big picture, not just little snippets here and there. He didn't quite know what to say to her.

"Azula, I," He started, but never finished.

"It would be...much appreciated...if you left me alone...now..." Azula said, her voice soft, scarcely above a whisper. She went and sat down on her cot, making sure her hair fell in her face so he couldn't see her eyes.

Sokka placed a hand on the prison bars, as if touching them would bring her closer to him. He couldn't really tell, but it seemed as if she were hiding something, something she was ashamed of.

"She must be crying..." Sokka thought to himself

"Do you regret it?" He asked her, knowing she'd know what 'it' referred to. She didn't move when she spoke, and she didn't give him an yes or no answer. Sokka didn't really expect her to though. Like always, she answered with another question.

"How many little girls do you know want to grow up to be sociopaths...?"

Seeing she wished for privacy, Sokka left her, going to retrieve Aang and Toph. Both looked a little shocked. When the trio was outside, Aang finally spoke up.

"I know you said that she wasn't...who we thought she was...but I wasn't expecting all of that out of her," Aang said, his voice broken up a little.

"Hmph," Sokka snorted, "Neither was I," He said quietly. Toph, for once, was unable to think of anything to add.

Sokka barely slept that night. It was the night before her supposed execution, the night before he'd have to plead to save her life. All of his notes, all of this theories were sitting in his bag at the foot of his bed. Although the puzzle was incomplete, Sokka hoped he could plausibly fabricate any holes in his plan.

In an act that was most out of character for him, Sokka got out of bed shortly before sunrise. He was giving up on sleep. He quickly dressed himself and grabbed his sword. He wouldn't need it where he was going, but he still felt more comfortable with it on his person.

Before he made his proposal to the Fire Lord, Sokka wanted to see Azula, no, he needed to see her. This would be his last chance to get any remaining bits out of her, his last chance to see her if he didn't succeed in saving her. He ran the whole way there, not willing to waste a second, for whatever reason his mind was feeding him at the moment.

He came to a sudden stop when he reached her cell. He breathed heavily as he stared down at her. She stared back up at him, her eyes a bright red. She wiped them, making sure she was standing up as tall, as straight as she possibly could.

"What are you doing here?" She asked bitterly.

"I had to see you," He couldn't lie to her, not now. She didn't question him on that matter further, she didn't want to know why he needed to see her, lest it sway her decision that her death was really best for the world.

"I'm going to die today," She stated simply, tearing her eyes from his. When she said that, realization hit Sokka like an avalanche. She really was going to die today if he couldn't make a valid argument. This girl, who was the same age as Katara, was going to be put to death if he didn't save her.

Now wasn't the time to be pessimistic. Right now, he had to pull a page out of Katara's book and show nothing but optimism, even if it was fake.

"Do you want to die?" He whispered, curious to what she'd respond to that.

"It's what's best for the world, is it not?" Azula replied, still refusing to look up at him.

"Your death is what the world wants, not what you want. What do you want, Azula?" He rephrased his question a bit.

"I'm fourteen years old, what the hell do you think I want?"

"You don't want to die, do you?"

"I do, but I don't. Either way, I'm going to be alone, so why does it matter?"

"I thought you liked being alone?"

"Azula always lies, Azula always lies."

"Come here," Sokka beckoned for her, sticking one hand through the bars and reaching for her.

"I don't have to listen to a stupid peasant like you."

"Dammit Azula, just come here," Sokka growled. She obliged. He slipped his other hand through the bars and let both his hands gently hold her face, forcing her to look up at him, "I promise you, you won't die today...You're going to die a little old lady and you'll never be alone again. Is that understood?"

"I'm going to die today and that's that," Azula said sternly, "There's nothing you or anyone can do to stop that. What purpose is there in letting me live? The monster never has a happy ending in fairy tales. " Sokka's hands slid off her cheeks, falling back down to his sides.

"This isn't a fairy tale."

"I'm still going to die."

She was right. She was still going to die.

All of those days conversing, all of those nights researching. All of it was completely in vain. Sokka had made such a valiant effort too. Everything he had said had been strategically planned, every single last word. But it wasn't enough, even with Aang and Toph backing him up.

He had failed.

Now as sunset came, the city gathered in the center to witness the event. Children were laughing, playing, singing. All the people were grinning from ear to ear, except Sokka.

There were to be three executions, an Admiral, a General and Azula. As the Admiral was ushered up on the platform, Sokka could only stare up at the man, his eyes devoid of anything. Sokka didn't care about this man, this nameless man had lived his life. He was middle aged and battle scarred.

Sokka wondered what more he could have done. If there was anything more he could have done.

With a pull of the lever, the Admiral was sent down, the sound of his cracking neck masked by the cheering of the crowd. When it died down, the general was marched up, rope forced around his neck, then tightened.

Sokka hadn't wanted to take this upon himself. He had only done so for Aang...right? Then what kept him going back to her? If he truly didn't care about her at all, why had he been so passionate about solving her? Why was it affecting him so much now that she was going to be gone forever in just a matter of minutes? He couldn't possibly...could he? No, that was absurd. Completely asinine.

She was just a challenge, a stupid challenge he had failed to meet.

As the general fell, the crowd's cheering picked up again, even louder than after the admiral's death.

So this was it. This would be the last time he'd ever see her. Sokka felt a pain in his chest and a knot in his throat. This pain, it was so similar to that of when he had learned of Suki's whereabouts, but when Azula came into view, it strengthened.

Although she was torn, tattered and all tied up, looking far beyond her fourteen years, she had never looked more beautiful. With her hair blowing against the blood red sun, her head still held up high, she just seemed to glow. She could accept her fate...while Sokka could not. As the rope was slipped around her neck, her eyes started to scan the crowd until they landed on his. Time seemed to freeze as their eyes locked together, drinking in as much of the other as they possibly could.

She smiled, not a smirk, just a smile, a pretty little smile. Sokka couldn't return the gesture as his vision grew blurry. He blinked it away, releasing the tears to fall down his cheeks. It only made her smile grow as the executioner tightened the rope around her neck.

As strange as it was, he didn't want to lose her, and he still didn't want to accept her fate, even as the executioner grabbed a hold of the lever and started to pull. More tears fell from his eyes as she fell from grace. Unlike for the other executions, Sokka heard the crack, that deafening crack that signaled her final departure, and then he realized why this was effecting him so.

He fell to his knees as the crowd then erupted with cheers.

'How can these people be so happy?' He thought. They had just lost their princess, a young woman who they had loved and adored for so long. They had worshiped anything she even breathed on. Sokka should have been the one cheering, but he wasn't. He was down on his knees, crying like a baby as he watched them haul her corpse away.

All of this, all of these tears, they weren't because he had failed to put a puzzle together. That wasn't it at all.

In a strange, twisted way, he loved her, but he failed her.

Sokka reluctantly stood up, wiping his eyes with his arm. He pushed himself through the celebrating crowd until he was far enough away that the noise was now a dull roar. He needed to be alone now. There was a new puzzle for him to piece together.


...So this wasn't a drabble. Big deal. Leave me a nice review anyway to encourage more Sokkla100 madness?

--Frerak