Title: Prelude to War
Author: Zorpox
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Characters/Pairing: Azula, Zuko (Sorry, Sokka's not in this one)
Rating: T for child abuse (alluding to it anyway)
Genre: Angst/Tragedy
Word Count: 1,386
Disclaimer: Do not own ATLA or any of the characters
Summary: Modern AU. Prequel to Another Battle (takes place 6 years before) but can be read separately. Azula's view on a tragedy and the events that follow.

Prelude to War

'This doesn't mean anything,' Azula thought as she stared at the grave in front of her. The monument was fairly large with many names of past ancestors already engraved on it. The site had been in the family for years but Azula only remembered visiting it during her paternal grandfather's funeral not so long ago. The eight-year-old glanced at her grandfather's name, remembering when the red paint had been washed off the engraving. At the time, she had overheard her uncle explaining the significance to her brother, Zuko. Engraving both names when the first spouse dies and painting the name of the second red symbolized that the second is waiting to follow the first.

It did not escape Azula's notice that her father's name was not engraved next to her mother's. Nor did it escape her that the man standing to her right seemed more annoyed then upset, as if today was more of an inconvenience then a tragedy. Azula was sure there would be many whispers and comments about the lack of the engraving. Although the practice is not as commonplace as it once was, this move will be viewed with a critical eye, mainly because they are considered a very traditional family. Despite this knowledge, the missing name did not surprise Azula. She hadn't expected her father to waste time on such a pointless, sentimental gesture.

Azula glanced at her brother on her left, not at all surprised to see the tears streaming down his face. She was amazed, however, that he had managed to stay so quiet about it. Being the mamma's boy he was, she had expected him to be sobbing loudly. Instead, he was just standing there, staring at the grave. Their uncle was standing to his left with his arm securely around Zuko's shoulders.

Sighing, Azula looked back at the grave. She was thoroughly bored with this entire process. Funerals were exhausting and far too drawn out. Who wants to dwell on something this depressing for so long? She would have preferred to have the wake, which had been held yesterday, the funeral and the memorial service all in one day to get it over with. Azula knew the impossibility of this statement considering the untraditional lack of engraving. Not only that, but her father had only scheduled one memorial service instead of several though out the week which would be normal. A casual observer would look at these things and assume that the man was merely trying to modernize his family a bit. Any more unconventional acts would be looked at more strictly, especially by their extended family members.

It was a great relief when the funeral was finally over and the last guest had left the grave site. Azula knew she would have to awake early the next morning for the memorial service but that should only last to about midday. Once it was over, Azula would be free to get back to her life.

These thoughts brought a smile to Azula's face as she climbed the stairs of her family's estate, walking past her brother's room in order to reach her own. She stopped outside his closed door when she heard a sound coming from the other side. Her brother was sobbing uncontrollably, the sound muffled, Azula assumed, by his pillow. Her grin widened considerably with the knowledge that she had been right. It just took him a bit longer to come undone then she thought it would. Azula deliberated for a moment before deciding against bothering him, mostly because she was worn out from the day. Continuing down the hall, Azula closed herself in her room and got ready for bed.

The next few days were much the same for the young girl. Every morning, Azula would awake around 7:30 and travel down to the dining room where breakfast was served, joined shortly after by Zuko. Azula narrowed her eyes when she saw her brother. She was becoming increasingly annoyed with him. She used to love to taunt him because of the indignant way he would always react. It was so easy to get a rise out of him. Now, however, he simply stared, usually at his food or just the table. He didn't even speak. Azula gave up by the end of the first day, deciding it was no fun anymore. She even ignored his sobbing that night, and each night thereafter. Why bother if he wasn't going to react?

This routine was eventually broken a few mornings later when Azula noticed her brother limping to the dining room table.

"How the hell did you manage to hurt yourself?" Azula asked, automatically, "It's not like you've gone anywhere, recently."

Zuko flinched before responding with a stutter, "I-I tripped."

Azula looked up sharply, surprise from hearing her brother's voice clearly etched on her face. She quickly tried to mask her surprise with a smirk. "On what? Your own feet?" she said, sarcasm evident in her tone, "You're such a klutz."

"I just tripped, okay!" Zuko yelled angrily. Then he turned and limped towards the kitchen, presumably to get ice for his ankle.

Azula chuckled quietly. She hadn't realized how much she had missed his little outbursts. They were always so amusing. Granted, this one hadn't lasted long, but it was still a sign that things would be back to normal. Passing by Zuko's door that night, Azula noticed that, for the first time since the funeral, he wasn't crying. Definitely a sign.

It was a couple nights later when Azula was awoken by a loud noise. The sound was unfortunately gone by the time she was coherent enough to try to identify it. Glancing at her alarm clock, the young girl groaned, thoroughly annoyed. It was 2:30 in the morning. Whoever interrupted her sleep had better hope she didn't find them.

Azula rolled over, intent on going back to sleep when she heard the noise again. She shot up in bed, thinking she might have heard wrong, but there was no mistaking it. What she had heard was an extremely loud scream. She was even positive that the scream had come from her brother. 'Maybe he's having a bad dream,' she thought irritably.

Grumbling, Azula turned on her light and stepped out of bed. She was out in the hallway and just about to walk down the hall to Zuko's room when she heard the scream again. She instantly realized it was coming from the opposite direction. 'Strange,' Azula thought, 'only father's bedroom is that way.' Curious, Azula began down the hall, stopping at her father's closed door.

It was a moment before she heard the scream again and was positive that it was coming from her father's room. Stepping forward, she put her ear up to the door.

"Father… No… Please don't…" She could hear Zuko's whimpers, barely above a whisper and obviously hoarse from screaming. "I'm sorry… Father, please—"

There was a loud crash and the sound of glass breaking, followed by more screams from her brother. Azula gasped in shock and then jumped back from the door. Not wanting to be caught eavesdropping, she ran back to her room and locked her door.

Leaning against her door, Azula began to think over what she had just heard. She knew that her brother needed a firm hand if he was going to actually mean something to this family. Their mother had spoiled him, she was very aware of that, and her brother was weak because of it. His reactions to her death were proof enough of that fact. Their father was obviously just trying to make him stronger.

'But was this method really necessary?' Azula thought back on her brother's injured ankle, now fully aware of how it had happened. That was the first her brother had spoken and he had even stopped crying. Apparently it was working. Besides, what reason did she have to question her own father?

Decision made, Azula crossed the room to get back into bed but found herself unable to sleep until the screams had stopped.

The next morning, Azula made every effort to ignore her brother, pretending not to notice the way he favored his left arm. And when she was awoken by screams again a few nights later, she resisted the urge to cover her ears.

That's it. I hope you liked it. I am writing another story in this same little universe I created that will take place between this one and Another Battle (and Sokka will be back!). I'm also thinking it will actually have multiple chapters. Anyway, please review! I want to know what you think. No flames please but I'm all for constructive criticism. I still consider myself a new writer and I want to get better. Thanks for reading!