Author's Note: So I was wandering around deviantART the other day and came across two oekaki sketches by kitsuK8: "Good Azula" and "Evil Zuko." I was then inspired to write this fic.
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender. However, I do own this story. Enjoy!
The biting arctic air whipped against Princess Azula's face. Her hands gripped the cool metal railing of her ship's deck as her golden eyes took in every detail of the icy, oceanic landscape. It was getting dark and her crew would soon stop for the night, but right now she wanted to put as much distance between herself and the Fire Nation as possible.
"Azula," a voice called from behind her. She heard the quiet fall of footsteps coming closer, but did not turn to look—instead choosing to keep her gaze out over the water. A warm hand fell on her back, as its owner came to stand beside the Princess and looked at her imploringly. "The cook just finished making a delicious roast duck."
"I'm not hungry, Ty Lee," she replied, casting the girl a sideways glance.
"You haven't eaten all day."
"I told you, I'm not hungry!" Azula snapped. She then quickly turned on her heels and made a straight line for her cabin, slamming the door behind her.
Ty Lee sighed and silently padded down the steps, heading for her own cabin. Things had only gotten worse over the last few weeks. Azula would barely talk to the crew, instead choosing to spend all her time on deck either training or staring out over the sea. The acrobat knew why she was avoiding them, and tried to get her to talk about what was bothering her. She had done everything from confronting her to cajoling her, but nothing worked.
Azula sat down heavily on her bed, running a hand through her long, black hair. It wasn't as soft as it used to be, but certain luxuries simply couldn't be afforded anymore. She caught a glance of herself in the mirror before quickly looking away. She closed her eyes and unconsciously brought her left hand up to her face. Her fingers brushed lightly against her cheek. The skin was rougher there. Scarred. "Don't cry," she told herself, dropping her hand and clenching it into a fist, willing the tears not to fall.
A year ago today, she had been banished from the Fire Nation with nothing more than an old steam ship, a crew consisting of a dozen firebenders, her best friend, and a hopeless quest—to capture the Avatar, who hadn't been seen in over a hundred years. She wasn't stupid. She knew her father was looking for any excuse to be rid of her. He had hated her since the day she was born.
"Prince Ozai," the doctor began gravely.
The prince glanced down at his young son—all of two years old and playing on the floor with wooden blocks—before getting up from his seat.
"Is everything alright?" he asked, bringing his gaze to meet the doctor's, a worried expression overtaking his features.
"I'm afraid there has been a complication. Princess Ursa has suffered from severe blood loss while in labor. She has gone into hypovolemic shock. She isn't going to make it."
Ozai's golden eyes flashed with anger as he grabbed the doctor by the front his shirt and shook him. The prince was known for his short, violent temper.
"Please, your highness," the doctor pleaded. He could feel the heat emanating from Ozai, his collar now smoking slightly from the prince's grip. "We've done everything we can."
"That's not good enough," he growled before swiftly ending the doctor's life with a fire dagger to the heart.
One week had passed and Ozai had still refused to lay eyes on his newborn child. If not for Fire Lord Azulon, for whom the child was named, he would have had her destroyed.
"Don't you want to see your daughter?" Prince Iroh asked his brother, who was sitting by the courtyard's pond morosely.
Ozai didn't answer him. He didn't even so much as look at him. The older man sighed and took a seat beside him. He knew his brother had always been stubborn, selfish, and more than a little cruel—it was due to his inferiority complex, Iroh had reasoned—but even this was above and beyond for him.
"Ozai, Azula is your child and she needs you."
"Don't lecture me, Iroh. I'm not in the mood for your nonsense."
"What nonsense? How can you be so cruel?"
"It's all her fault that I lost my wife. If it wasn't for her, Ursa would still be here!" he snapped, his eyes darkened by rage.
"How can you say that, Ozai? She is only a child."
"If you care so much, then why don't you take care of her?!" Ozai shouted, jumping to his feet before storming back into the palace.
Iroh looked after him sadly; hoping that eventually his brother would come to his senses, but inwardly dreaded that he would not.
Like every day before today, Azula woke at the crack of dawn. There was a comfort she found in rising with the sun—a kind of solar sympathy. The sun did not judge or hate her. The sun nourished and strengthened her.
Stepping out onto the deck, the air around her fogged with each breath that she took. Dropping into her firebending stance, she began to move through her katas one by one, slowly increasing the difficulty as her body began to wake up, allowing her chi to flow more smoothly.
As she came to her final movement, she pointed the index and middle fingers of both hands, circling her arms and drawing them in toward her heart. Then, stepping forward with her right leg, she sent her right arm out, unleashing a powerful bolt of blue lightning.
"I don't think I'll ever not be amazed by your lightning bending," she heard Ty Lee say from behind her.
Azula turned to look at her friend. It amazed her that the girl always managed to keep a smile on her face, no matter how dire things seemed to be.
"Are you feeling better today, Azula?"
"A bit," she replied. "Listen, about last ni-"
Azula stopped talking suddenly, her eyes catching something to the south that distracted her. Ty Lee turned to see a huge shaft of white blue light shooting straight into the heavens. After a few seconds, the light dissipated.
"Now that was amazing! I wonder what it was," Ty Lee said.
"Whatever it was, it came from a powerful source," Azula realized.
"A powerful source? Do you think it's the Avatar?" Ty Lee asked excitedly.
"I don't know. There's only one way to find out," Azula replied, trying not to get her hopes up. At least it was something to do, she told herself. Turning back to the ship's helmsman she ordered, "Set a course for the light!"
A flare shot up in the air followed by a loud boom, grabbing the attention of all on board the princess's vessel. Azula brought her spyglass up to her eye and looked toward the direction the flare had come. There she saw two figures—more specifically, one figure holding another—hopping down from the remnants of an old Fire Nation battleship trapped in ice and onto the frozen terrain of the South Pole. "Well, that certainly looks like an airbender. Could it really be him?" she thought to herself.
They were heading west, she realized, and so she shifted her gaze in that direction, where she spotted a small Water Tribe village. "Has this been where he's been hiding all these years? How did the Southern Raiders not notice him?"
"Helmsman, steer the ship to that village," Azula commanded, pointing in its direction. "I've found him. I've found the Avatar."