I've decided to do a few pieces on Azula, who is actually really fun to write. It's just a matter of getting past the crazy and to the little girl buried underneath.

Once again, I managed to convince Aqualoner to spare some of her undeniably precious time to edit this, and I worship at her feet for it. Thanks, Aqua!

Disclaimer: Once again, I don't own Avatar.

Holes in the Armour

You make your choice amid battle and the crackle of lightning.

(The choice you never saw yourself making; the option you never let yourself have; the feeling you never experienced because you've always chosen your pride over yourself.)

(My own mother thought I was a monster.)

Zuko is crouched over you, body taunt, face sweating and he looks so different, it almost makes your heart break, because you wonder where he's gone, wonder what happened to the big brother, the failure, you always knew. What happened to the boy who chased the Avatar across the world and back, only to offer his hand to a twelve-year-old on whose shoulders the entire world rests?

(but you wonder this all distantly, very distantly, because Zuko is crouched over you and in his hands are those damn swords. he's always been better at swordplay than you, but you brushed it off, telling yourself it wasn't a real skill and that you didn't want to learn anyway. and you sat, sick with envy and clamping down on your awe as Zuko danced with silver cold metal in the heat of the Fire Nation sun, in the garden where no one would see him and mock him.)

(Then all that glory would turn to shame, and foolishness.)

So you stare up into his warm gold eyes, because you know yours are the same colour, but you've never been warm a day in your life, and you feel strangely warm now, with your big brother hovering over you, swords drawn. Because for only a fraction of an instant, you can trick yourself into believing that he is protecting you, that he finally chose you over him and his swords are drawn in your defense and he is challenging anyone who would dare to hurt his little sister. You've lied to yourself your whole life, so lying now, when there's no real indication of what is real and what isn't anymore, is almost pathetically easy.

(you close your eyes and wait for a blow that will never come. Zuko rolls off and for the first time you are struck by how complete he looks, how ready and strong he is. he clutches his swords and steps back and gives a look that isn't quite a smile, but isn't frown either, and suddenly, the lie isn't so far from the truth. you shake a little and try to ask why he hasn't ended it, why he hasn't killed you, why, oh dear sweet Agni why hasn't he thrown his sword into your steel covered heart with the same, sick force you've used to hurl lightning at him?! but the words are caught in your throat, because your heart has pushed up on the chains you left it in, and grasped the words and held tight, because it is a stupid question, because he is your brother, and for Agni's sake, just because you've forgotten how to love doesn't mean he has!)

(I'm just watching out for you.)

He looks at you with those eyes, and suddenly, finally, finally, he becomes the lucky one, and you're lucky to be breathing.

" I'm not you, 'Zula." He whispers in a voice you haven't heard for a lifetime, and you choke at the nickname no one's called you since you were three. " I don't want to see you die."

And the world stops because dear Agni, he does love you after all, and he doesn't want you to die, and he's picked you, he's picked you, yes, merciful Spirits, he's picked you!

(and you revel in it; revel in the way your heart is going too fast for it to be good for you; revel in the warmth of your blood, that's been chilled since you were born; revel his eyes on you, half sorrowful, half broken, all protective and helpful and picking you! and for the first time you let yourself be loved. because for the first time that you can remember, and maybe a little before that, you aren't feared, you aren't hated, because Zuko chose to save you, because he reached back when you reached out, now, after waiting your life for a hand to reach back.)

(No, you miscalculated! You should've feared me more!)

A voice calls for Zuko, and he runs off to a figure in blue just off to the left, and you snort to yourself on the ground, because you're in the middle of a war, in the middle of a life and death fight, and your brother can't manage to keep that slight blush of his face, can't keep the eagerness out of his eyes. And you laugh to yourself because it's Zuko, and he's your brother, and now, after so long, you can actually call him that.

(and you pull yourself up off the ground and stumble lightly, and vaguely wonder if Mai or Ty Lee were here if they'd catch you as you fall. Ty Lee didn't last time, but maybe you can forgive her that, and maybe you can forgive Mai for choosing Zuko. maybe you can let it go that Uncle went off with Zuko, and Mother destroyed everything to keep Zuko safe. maybe you can finally let it all go, because someone chose you, because your brother reached back and grasped your hand when you held it out, and now, it doesn't hurt so much anymore, and you distantly wonder if this is what happiness feels like.)

(But it still hurt.)

(and quietly, you let go of your pride.)

(And your heart unbreaks just a little.)

Because Zuko isn't Azula (never was, never will be), and I don't think he could kill her, because when it comes down to it, she's still his sister. And I think Zuko does love her; as much as she'll let him, anyway.