I wrote this as an AU for a challenge of what could have happened if Ursa had not left the palace but had made a different choice. Hope you enjoy it!
Done a lot of things that I'm not so proud of.
Took a lot of turns, turned out wrong.
That's a worn out song.
Day by day moment by moment.
Takin my chances, trusting my heart. Wasn't to smart.
Lonely, as lost as I could be.
No way it's up to me.
Letting go of my bad habits.
Hanging on the hold for better times. I'll be fine.
Learning to sleep in the bed that I made.
Laying the blanket where it belongs. I've gotta be strong.
Tear drops no one sees but me. I won't stop, I'll always believe.
I Will Survive
Year Twenty of Azulon's Reign:
Ursa did not flinch when she heard the horrible news. She had been born a princess and princesses did not have the luxury of losing their composure when faced with the worst. She had only prayed she had misheard her husband and daughter. "What did you say?" she whispered, feeling her head begin to ache. Her hair pin crown had been pulling her hair too tight.
"Father has decided to punish me. I have to kill Zuko so I feel the pain of losing a son. I'm sorry it will hurt you, but it must be done," Ozai said in a level tone. Ursa had a sudden image of the sun going dark right before her eyes. "Besides, we still have Azula. And we're young, we can have many more children. I know you will cry, my love, but it will be over soon. I won't make it painful at all. He is just a child, after all." If that was supposed to sound comforting, it had failed completely.
Still, the princess would never lose hope. She had always soothed her tempestuous family and she could do it again. "We must go and throw ourselves before the Fire Lord's throne and beg mercy from him. We will remind him of how enchanted he was with Zuko, how Zuko is an innocent boy of eight and how horrible it would be to lose your heir," Ursa said, thinking quickly. She had already gone through her mind of gowns to wear, knowing the dark red one reminded Azulon of his beloved wife Ila and would make him in a more sentimental mood.
"I don't think that is wise, my love. I would lose face before the court, a prince of the Fire Nation doesn't beg," Ozai said, taking her hand and squeezing it. His smoothly handsome face betrayed no sign of inner agony over the impending knowledge of the murder he had to commit.
Ursa knew that both had been trained to keep calm, but she had always been able to read her husband. Now, he just seemed empty inside. "I know it's hard for you, but trust me, this is all for the best." Of course. He would win back his father's favor. Azulon would believe justice had been done. Ursa would just have to endure opium or drink to soothe her pain. What a fair bargain. The pounding in her head was starting to get worse.
"My darling husband, I am begging you. I will do anything you ask, endure anything the Fire Lord demands, but I will not bury my son tonight. I will die before I allow my child, my baby boy to be a sacrifice to your ambitions. What will it take to change your mind?" Ursa demanded, finally losing her composure. Her great grandfather had been the Avatar and perhaps a small amount of his spirit remained in her.
"What? So if I demand that you kill my father, you would? Slay him and forge papers making me Fire Lord?" Ozai asked, with a mocking drawl to his voice. He had no concept of the lengths she would go for her children. In some ways, he had no concept of her as well.
"If I must." Ursa raised her head and stared at her husband for the first time with something beyond fond wishes. She was actively preparing to commit some violence, even before knowing the target. Her headache had sharpened her senses, making her ready for anything.
"And for that, if I strike you down or exile you, that wouldn't change your mind?" Ozai asked, his face clouding with anger. Ursa had never revealed this side to him and he must have been confused to what had happened to his docile little wife.
Still, his threats didn't cow her. "I am not afraid." Without her children, she had no need for this pampered life. These marble halls that had been her home had become her tomb while she still breathed. Only the people mattered to her.
Ozai stared at her for a long moment. "Tempting…but no. I will not have you will not defy me, dear wife. When I make a choice, you will obey it as the will of your husband, which is the will of Lord Agni almighty," he said in cold tone. "You will never defy me. And Zuko's death will remind you of the power of my family. I will make you watch it so you remember."
At that moment, Ursa couldn't exactly explain what happened. The hair pin had fell from her hair and into her hand and then into Ozai's throat. His shocked eyes were staring at her, looking terrified and confused and furious, before blanking out. It had gone straight into his windpipe, a perfect shot.
Ursa's upbringing had prevented her from screaming in terror of the sight before her. The aching in her head kept her wits about her, as she removed the hair pin and replaced it into her hair. Without waiting a second, she used strength she didn't have to push him out the window into her beloved lake. With her hidden behind him, anyone watching would believe her husband had jumped to his death. The fall into the rocky lake would break his neck and hide the wound as it shredded his body.
As Ursa heard the horrible noise outside, she allowed herself to finally succumb to grief and anger and guilt. She wailed in pain and sank to the floor, as guards rushed to her aid. "My husband, he threw himself…" she began, before sobbing. She didn't know if it was from sadness from losing her husband or terror that she and her son would be punished for what happened.
"Mom, what's wrong?" a high voice said, as two sets of small feet bounded into the room. Zuko and Azula were staring at her, looking to her for answers she could never give. They were the reasons she had done this.
"Your highness, should I return them to their rooms? The situation has become…very ugly," one captain said, following them into the room. He was a young man who was the best of the Fire Nation academies. He wouldn't understand a woman's pain and suffering yet. But he was trying very hard.
"Ugly? But is he…" Ursa asked, feigning terror through her tears. "Surely they will…" she didn't finish her sentences to spare her children. The night sky seemed to have gotten lighter as the sunrise began, a new day was arriving.
The captain shook his head. "Rocks. Sharp ones to prevent its use for spy missions. Never had a chance. My deepest apologies," he said, bowing deeply. He did look sorry, even if she wasn't. She would never stop mourning her husband, but she would never be sorry for what she had done.
"What's going on, Mom?" Azula asked, her hair mussed from sleep. "Why won't you talk to us?" she asked, her clever golden eyes boring into her, searching for some weakness to the story.
"Mom, I'm scared," Zuko whimpered. He was gently looking for some comfort, but she couldn't do it now.
"Mom doesn't feel well. Please, go back to bed. I will explain everything in the morning," she commanded. "I need to rest first."
The two babies of hers were ushered out to protests, but Ursa didn't care. There would be time for comfort soon. For one moment, she just wanted to be alone. She had won so much, she had lost so much and now she had to hope no one noticed.
"So, you see, my lord, my husband couldn't obey your command. He decided to take honorable suicide rather than shame himself or your majesty," Ursa explained, pressing her forehead to the floor. "Please, let my husband's sacrifice stand and spare my son."
"That displeases me. My son should have been strong enough to obey my demands," Azulon rasped and hissed. "But…the price has been paid. Zuko is spared." Those words belled victory in her ears. Everyone had believed her deception. "He will be given to Iroh to raise." And those words, did not.
"My lord?" Ursa wondered if the spirits of vengeance had finally caught up with her. She had committed murder and treason, she had no doubt that reckoning would come.
"Zuko was intended to be Lu Ten's replacement in death. Now, he shall be it in life. Iroh, my first born has no heir. I shall give him your son," Azulon explained. "I will send him to Ba Sing Se with a message that he will have another child to raise. That will give him the hope he needs to return to his campaign and burn down the Earth Kingdom."
Ursa's composure had been severly tested in the last day, and it was beginning to crack. "My lord….my son is but a small child, unworthy of such honor." She had planned to retire with her children to the countryside, not lose her son to a dear friend.
"Zuko requires a firm hand and a great deal of work. He is no prodigy, as your daughter is, but I have decided that my first born can teach him. He is of my bloodline, he must have the potential he needs to become Fire Lord someday. His letters indicate a preference for Zuko, so it must be him that is chosen to replace his cousin. Since Ozai has disgraced himself and removed himself from succession, I must work to make sure that the line is kept stable," the Fire Lord said sagely.
Ursa's breath caught in her chest. "I beg you, my lord. Iroh is a young man, he can sire ten more healthy sons. Please, my children are all I have. I fall upon your mercy to grant me the honor of raising your grandchildren," she pleaded, bowing again.
"My second son's mysterious death still bothers me," Azulon said, annunciating the word mysterious. The old man knew. Why he said nothing was a mystery as well, but Azulon had his own reasons for everything. The look in his eyes was furious. He knew she had killed his son and he was angry enough to take revenge.
Ursa would have to obey now or risk losing more. "Yes, your majesty."
"Tell your son to pack. I wish him to leave by tonight," he commanded. "You and your daughter will retire from court until I send for you. Frankly, I don't want to lay eyes on you. I have spoken."
"Mom, why do I have to go?" Zuko pleaded as he was dressed in a new suit of clothing. He looked so frightened. Poor child had no idea how close he had come to death and how this was all his beloved family's fault. He was too sweet and good for this family.
"Because Grandfather said so," Ursa repeated numbly. How tiny her little boy was. He needed her, how could she send him away? "I have to go away too. But you will write to me and I'll write to you and soon we'll all be together." The words sounded hollow, even to her.
"I don't want to leave," Zuko sniffled, sounding so betrayed. His hair had been slicked into the top knot of royalty. He was now second in line to the throne, the future Fire Lord. He would be a great leader, and she had placed him there. She had done this for his own good. It had been the only way to keep him alive.
"Uncle Iroh is a good man. You love him, don't you? Well, he's going to take care of you now, and teach you things, since Father went to Agni. And I'm going to teach Azula girly stuff. It will be so much fun," Ursa lied. It wouldn't be fun, but it would be for the best. Zuko would be in good hands. Iroh would love him and train him and treat him like a son.
"Why did Dad have to die? He wouldn't have let me be sent away," Zuko sniffled innocently, not knowing the horror that sired him. If Ursa had anything to say about it, he would never know how a night ago could have been his last.
"Hush. It won't be so bad," she whispered. "Be strong and remember, I love you. Never forget who you are," she urged him. And never forget me, she begged.
"I won't go, Mom. They can't make me," Zuko snapped, trying to look fierce as he clung to her leg. "I am staying with you. We can run away together. Bring Azula, we'll find Uncle and he'll make everything okay. We'll go together."
Ursa knew Zuko would be caned if he refused his grandfather. She had never allowed Ozai to apply such methods but Azulon would have no qualms beating his grandson into submission. He was angry enough as it was. "You must go, love." She couldn't watch him cry in pain and give him false hope that he could change his fate. "You'll write to me, won't you?" she begged, but she was unable to let go of him.
"Every day, I promise," Zuko wept, realizing finally that there was no hope. Even in his soldier uniform, he still looked like a small boy. He would be happy with Iroh. Iroh would be kind to him. She kept repeating that in order to keep herself from screaming. "But don't make me go."
"Your highness…the ship is waiting," Captain Zhao said. A cruel, disgusting young man who had been a close confident of her husband, he was no person proper to escort her son to battle. "Please come with me."
"No," Zuko hissed. "Go away. I'm not going anywhere," he said, burying his head in Ursa's skirts. "Mom!"
"Lady Ursa, I would beg you to tell his highness to come along with me and accept his new home. It would be a pronounced sorrow for me to be forced to drag or carry him, and it would displease the Fire Lord greatly." Zhao could coach his threats to sound benign, but no one would dare touch Zuko unless ordered by Azulon.
Ursa tried to let him go, but her hands were frozen in a clutching grasp on the son she was losing. She couldn't break his grip without hearing him sob and that sound tore her soul apart. "I am trying, Captain," she said, her voice finally beginning to break.
"Kindly try harder. Or rather, I shall," Zhao said, grabbing Zuko around the waist and ripping him away from her. "Come along, your highness. Behave yourself like a good boy."
"Mom!" Zuko screamed as he was wrenched away, helpless against the bigger man. All Ursa could hear was the sound of the dress tearing and the sounds of her son screaming in terror, echoing through the halls. Even after the screams had faded, they still roared in her ears. She had saved his life, but she had not managed to keep her family together.
She would never see him again, not as long as Azulon reigned. He had been thwarted and now he would punish her in the worst way possible. She had destroyed her happiness with her husband for her son, and now he would destroy her son, giving him away and leaving her to rot.
Hot tears ran down her face as she realized that it was all over. She had maintained her composure for so long, but now she succumbed to the acidy depression that filled her entire spirit. She had won, but at such a high price. Zuko was going away and she was helpless to stop him.
"Mom? Why do we have to go to the country? Mai says that her father said we're going away to Mira Island to live. Why are we leaving?" Azula whispered, tiptoeing into the room. "Doesn't a princess have to live in the capital?"
Poor little mite. She had no idea she was now the disgraced daughter of a traitor, that she was exiled and would be forgotten. There would be no more Fire bending lessons, no more crowns and jewels and silks. She would grow up to be married off to a minor official and bear sons. Even with her strange ways and cruel habits, she deserved better.
It was Azula who needed love and attention now. She would have many quiet months to bring out the goodness in her second child. No matter how hard it would be, she now had the golden opportunity. "Come, darling. Come and sit by me and I'll try to explain."
She had no idea what she would tell her. There was so much that would always have to be kept secret. But for now, Azula needed to know one truth. "I love you, Azula. I love you so much. And you will never understand a mother's love." Even though it had cost so much, it had all been worth it. "And from now on, you and I are going to be a family."
There was still hope.
Year Twenty-One of Azulon's Reign:
Uncle conquered Ba Sing Se today. He placed me on the Earth Kingdom throne and everyone cheered me. I know you must be proud of me. I'm sending you and Azula some beautiful silk robes. I think of you every day. I miss you so much. Why won't you visit me? I know you're busy, but you can bring Azula too!
Year Twenty-Three of Azulon's Reign:
We conquered Omashu. I myself helped plan the attack. My fire bending is great, everyone says I'll be a master soon. I miss you so much. I have gifts for you and Azula? Why can't you ask Grandfather to let you visit me?
Year Twenty-Five of Azulon's Reign:
I'm going to the Northern Water Tribe as part of an Armada. We're going to make the world civilized like us. I hope you're well and I think you every single day. I know we will meet again. I keep begging Grandfather to let me see you. Someday, I will come back a hero and I will demand the right to see you. Wait for me!
The letters made it worth it.
AN-Sorry, but I couldn't make it all happy. But don't worry, Zuko and Ursa are eventually reunited. If you're wondering why Iroh is still at war, Zuko was sent to him before his spirit journey, so he hadn't become such a spiritual guru. So now he's an enemy. Sad, but that's life.