Title: A Sound of Thunder
Author: Simply Kelp
Rating: T, it's kind of violent, and there is a character death.
Summary: "Sokka, now would be a-" Zuko began, dodging a particularly nasty flame sent his way by Azula. "A good time for one of your bright ideas!" How would the battle with Azula changed had Sokka, instead of Katara, joined Zuko?
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar; Mike, and Bryan just let me play with the characters as long as I put them back in roughly the same condition I got them.
A/N: I began this directly after watching Sozin's Comet, and have been working on it off-and-on ever since. I thought it was really unfair the way Katara got to beat Azula. I mean, she's Zuko's sister, doesn't that mean that he gets precedence over Katara? That, and I wanted more scenes with Sokka, and Zuko together…
A/N2: Ever since Azula was introduced, I have desperately wanted her to refer to Zuko as her 'sodomite brother'; don't ask why...
A/N3: The name went through several evolutions. Eventually, I chose 'A Sound of Thunder' after the short story by Ray Bradbury (read it!); it's all about how something seemingly insignificant can change everything. I have an idea for continuing this, but I have so many other stories going, it would likely take a while (and the chapters wouldn't be so long).
A/N4: I was stupid, and accidentally uploaded one of my other fics at first-- that's why the word count is so off...
Zuko sighed loudly as he tried to saddle Appa. It really would have been a lot easier if there was someone to help him, but he was feeling too stubborn to ask for help, and the others were busy with other preparations. Aang was going to fight the Fire Lord today. Zuko was returning to the Capital. To fight Azula. He cursed as Appa's great saddle shifted dangerously close to falling off the animal's back.
He was taking Katara with him; a fact that he was not excited about, nor did he think that she was excited by the prospect. Zuko would have preferred any of the others above Katara. Despite the fact that she had 'forgiven him', she still was unpleasant to be around at times.
His train of thought was broken when he was met with Sokka. "Katara's not going with you," he said simply, determinedly. At first Zuko thought the comment was strange: had he not proven his worth to them all? Especially to Sokka when he helped free Hakoda, and Suki. But then, Sokka clarified, the ghost of a smile on his lips: "I am."
Zuko felt his lips twitch. "Have you told Katara yet?" he asked. Sokka's expression faltered; he shook his head. As much as Katara hated Zuko, he doubted she would want to be told that she couldn't go. Zuko shrugged. "It's all fine with me-- personally, I'd rather you come--, but you'll have to tell her."
"Yeah," Sokka chuckled nervously. He turned to find Katara, muttering, more to himself, Zuko thought, "I can handle that."
When Appa was properly saddled, Zuko left to look for the Water Tribe siblings. He found them; Katara was frantically unpacking, and repacking her things, while Sokka was standing a few feet away, steeling himself. He looked at Zuko; Zuko shot him what he hoped was an encouraging smile, and Sokka returned it nervously.
Sokka took a step forward. "Um.. Katara," he said hesitantly. "I was thinking that maybe..."
Katara stood quickly, and fixed him with a pointed glare. Zuko recoiled slightly. "Sokka, what are you doing?" she asked, her voice was reaching a dangerous pitch. "You should be getting ready!"
Sokka chuckled nervously. Zuko smirked, glad that it wasn't him in Sokka's place. "That's what I wanted to talk about," Sokka said carefully.
Katara frowned. "O-kay." Zuko's smirk grew; it sounded like she was talking to a toddler. But, he reasoned, she was talking to Sokka, which was kind of the same thing.
Sokka looked away, scuffing his shoe on the dirt. "Well, it's just that I think that it may be a good idea to possibly-- only if you want to, of course…" Sokka began tentatively. Zuko frowned. If this was Sokka handling things, Zuko was beginning to thing him coming along was a bad idea. If Sokka couldn't stand up to Katara-- Azula was even scarier.
Katara groaned. "Spit it out, Sokka!"
"Katara, I-think-I-should-go-with-Zuko." He said as quickly as possible.
Katara paused to sort out what Sokka had just said. She glared. "Why?" For being so adamant against him, Zuko thought that Katara would have been glad to be rid of him. He then decided that she must have wanted to go with him to keep an eye on him.
Sokka grinned nervously. "I'm the ideas guy, right?" he asked, his lips were quirked into a nervous smile. "He'll be facing Azula; and no offence buddy, but you'll need all the help you can get." Zuko shot Sokka a glare-- which, unfortunately went unnoticed, because Sokka was entirely focused on the glare coming from his sister.
"That's why I'm going: to heal him when he gets hurt," Katara said. Zuko did not like the way she said 'when he gets hurt'; as if it were inevitable. While he did concede that Azula had more natural talent, he was not a complete weakling.
Sokka shot Katara a winning smile. "With my brain, I can keep him from getting too badly hurt. Besides, don't you think Aang might need healing going against the crazy, psycho fire lord?" Sokka seemed to remember that Zuko was standing there, for he muttered a quiet "no offence."
Zuko shrugged. "None taken."
The trip to the palace was frighteningly quiet. Zuko was too anxious to speak. He was surprised, however, that Sokka was also silent. The only other time he had seen Sokka marginally as quiet was when they went to the Boiling Rock. Zuko thought vaguely that he would much rather return to the Boiling Rock. He would rather face all of the guards at once than Azula today.
When they finally reached the palace, Azula was in the middle of what looked to be a coronation. She looked terrible. Her hair was uneven, her hands unconsciously shook. When she finally looked in their direction, there was a mad glint in her eye. Unperturbed, she smiled wickedly at Zuko.
"Well, if it isn't my sodomite brother, and his Water peasant plaything," Azula sneered through the uneven fringe falling into her eyes. He had learned not to react to comments such as these from her. (He had always wondered vaguely if, in Azula's eyes, snide remarks on his dubious sexuality, or masculinity were rather like terms of endearment.) Sokka, he could almost hear, made some reaction. Whether is was to gape his mouth, or throw out his hands, Zuko did not look to take note. It did not matter right now.
He hardly recognised Azula. There was something different about her. Something dangerous. It was like she had slipped halfway to insanity. She was distracted, he could tell. That would give him an advantage. But if she truly was losing her sanity, she would lose all control of her bending. How powerful could she be now with nothing to control her?
Azula smiled wickedly. "Did you come to watch my coronation?" She asked. "That was very sweet of you; how better to celebrate than an Agni Kai?" she asked sweetly. A burst of flames shot from her hand. Zuko managed to push Sokka behind a pillar, and only just guard himself. He felt the skin on his arm singe; it was white cold. He bit his cheek to keep from gasping.
Somehow, Azula had come closer. He had not noticed her walking. Flexing his fingers experimentally, Zuko sent a wave of red hot flames at her. Azula countered with her own blue flames. They went on like this-- blue, and red swirling, and mingling until they became a dark purple colour-- forever. Was it minutes, days, years, eternity? Zuko could not say. The world seemed to melt around them, from the heat, from the hate oozing out of Azula's mad eyes, from the strain at trying not to die, damn it.
Suddenly he remembered: Sokka! He had Sokka with him, to help him. And he needed help-- desperately. Azula's control was slipping; her aim was much worse, but the power behind each hit-- if the melted bronze pillars were any evidence of this, Zuko could not be hit again.
"Sokka, now would be a--" Zuko began, dodging a particularly nasty flame sent his way by Azula. "a good time for one of your bright ideas!"
"I'm thinking!" Sokka shouted, his voice reaching a dangerously high pitch. The fire surrounding the royal siblings was growing fast; it swiftly encroached on his safe spot behind a large pillar.
Several minutes later, Zuko was sweating, and near exhausted. He had a burn on his leg that was beginning to blister-- the flames had not even touched him. Zuko tried to ignore the pain, as he jumped out of the way of a wave of flames.
"Oy, Zuko! I've got an idea!" Sokka shouted, dodging a rogue flame.
Zuko forced a wave of flames at Azula, and dashed behind a pillar. "Zuzu, where have you gone?" came a crazed voice. He saw Sokka a few pillars ahead, and quickly ran to where the other boy was standing. For a second, he tried to speak, but nothing came. Instead he gasped, trying to catch his breath.
Fortunately, Sokka broke the silence. "Can you work a boomerang?" he asked pointedly. Rather randomly, Zuko thought as well.
"A bit," he panted finally, nodding his head in case the words didn't come out.
Sokka smiled-- relieved? "Okay, here." He drew his boomerang from its sheath, and placed it in Zuko's hands. "It's metal! That means that it'll conduct electricity." Zuko responded by raising his eyebrow. Sokka rolled his eyes, probably at the fact that no one knew anything about science, but Zuko was too distracted by his deranged sister to care much about that at current. "Get her to make lightening, then toss it so that it'll gather lightening, and hit her," Sokka explained finally. "That will shock her, and give you an opportunity to finish her off." As an afterthought, he added, "Just try not to let it melt."
As much as Zuko did not like hearing the words 'finish her off' in reference to his sister, he knew that it had to be done. Pushing the thought out of his mind, he focused on the situation at hand. "Sokka?" he breathed, still trying to regain control of his voice.
Sokka winced momentarily, as if expecting Zuko to call him an idiot; poor guy, Zuko thought vaguely, must have been picked on a lot by the others. "Yeah?" He asked nervously.
With the excessive adrenaline coursing through his veins, Zuko pulled Sokka into a sudden, and startling hug. There was no time for Sokka to react for as quickly as it began, Zuko pulled away. He had no time to think on the embrace-- so unusual of him; he would do that later. "You're a genius," he finally managed.
Sokka smiled. Zuko was unsure if the expression was smug, or sheepish; perhaps it was both. "I try..." he said mock-dismissively.
Zuko ran out from behind his pillar, and right into Azula's path. He grinned at her. "What? No lightening today?" he scoffed. Azula glared menacingly at him; he felt the pit of his stomach fall out. Now was not a good time to get nervous. "A-are you afraid I'll redirect it?" he asked, focusing all of his effort at keeping his voice level.
Azula smiled. Even when they were little, Azula's smiles were not like a smile ought to be. They were thin, and cruel; they held no happiness, just ruthless amusement. "I'll show you lightening...!" she shrieked. Her hand crackled, and white sparks shot from it. Not at Zuko. No, they shot toward the pillar he had emerged from; the pillar Sokka was hiding behind.
Zuko swore. "Sokka, move!" he shouted. The lightening hit the pillar, and completely demolished it. There was nothing behind it. He had moved? Of course, Zuko thought, he was a tactician; he would have known Azula would take him out at the first possibility. Zuko smiled slightly.
He turned to face Azula. "Are you ignoring the rules of Agni Kai?" Zuko asked, pushing a wave of flames her way. "I'm your opponent; forget him."
Azula faced him; her eyes widened, and narrowed as if she only just noticed he was there. She smiled slightly, hand beginning to crackle with lightening again. "Is brother jealous I'm not playing with him?" she asked in a sickeningly sweet voice. Zuko drew the boomerang from his belt, and waited. "Is that a boomerang?" Azula asked; her voice was still disdainfully saccharine. "You're losing your touch, brother, if you think that toy can stop me."
"We'll see about that?" Zuko called. She shot a bolt of lightening at him; perfect. In the blink of an eye-- and with a speed Zuko didn't know he possessed--, Zuko threw the boomerang, and caught the lightening in his hand. He brought his hand down from his fingertips to his stomach, and back out the other hand. The thrill of conducting electricity, of all that raw power flowing through his body, was almost more than Zuko could handle. He felt his knees wobble slightly, and his eyelids, as though they had been made of lead, threatened to crash shut.
"Ha! You missed!" Azula scoffed. Zuko willed his eyes open. She was laughing; head thrown back, guttural laughing; he cringed.
He saw a glint of metal behind her; it flashed, and crackled. "Boomerang always comes back," he whispered.
Azula sobered slightly, and turned her head. Zuko's eyes threatened to close as he watched the statically charged boomerang come right for her, as it hit her temple, as she fell. But he watched. Steeling himself, Zuko sent a final wave of flames at her. There was no resistance, and she fell limply to the ground. Dead.
For a fraction of a second, as Azula fell to the ground, her face burnt beyond recognition, an emotion flooded her features. Something Zuko had not seen in her since she was very small: fear. It was not, he thought, the normal, rational fear of an adult, but rather the overwhelming fear a child experiences when faced with something out of their control. Zuko suddenly remembered that his sister was truly only fourteen years old. She always seemed much older.
"She's... gone." The words were hoarse, and tasted bitter. Zuko had said them once before. Would Azula come back again? He chided himself for asking that. She was dead this time, he knew; the limp body laying on the ground was proof of that. She would never come back.
"Sorry." The word came out as a whisper. Zuko wondered if he had only imagined hearing it. He felt a weight on his shoulder as Sokka rested a comforting hand there. While Zuko was not normally fond of touching, he was thankful for the other boy's presence. The whole situation felt so surreal; Zuko needed the touch to remind him that he was not dreaming.
"Thanks, Sokka," he whispered, finally averting his eyes from the corpse.
"Don't thank me..." Sokka said, attempting to wear a cheesy grin; the result was more of a grimace. "It was boomerang," he finished, holding the weapon up as if it deserved a thank you as well.
Zuko smiled weakly, trying to hold back tears. They were silent, and unmoving for several minutes. It felt like hours to Zuko as he tried not to think of the scared look in his sister's eyes as he...
Resigning himself to the task at hand, Zuko withdrew Sokka's arm, and walked toward his sister. No, that was not his sister; the body in front of him was not Azula, she was somewhere else-- somewhere happy, he hoped. The body's eyes were still open, staring lifelessly back up at Zuko. It unnerved him. He kneeled down; hesitantly, he reached out a hand, and pressed its eyes closed. Despite his best efforts, Zuko felt tears well in his eyes.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Zuko stood, and took several steps back. He looked back at Sokka. He wanted to explain, but found no words. Turning back to his sister-- no, he reminded himself, it was only a body--, Zuko sent a wave of flames at the corpse.
He watched, disgusted as the flames enveloped the corpse. The putrid reek of charred flesh sickened him. He did not want to look at his companion; he was sure the smell would be worse for Sokka-- he had less experience with it. The flames continued to lick the bones of flesh. Zuko forced the flames hotter; they had to devour the bones as well. He could not leave the body to be defiled. She may have done wrong, but she was still his sister. And he loved her.
When the corpse was reduced to ashes on the charred ground, Zuko, head hanging, returned to where Sokka was standing. Sokka's expression was confused, but he didn't say anything. Zuko was glad; he did not have the will to speak.
"We should probably, um, go. Help the others, that is," Sokka muttered.
"Yeah," Zuko breathed. He cringed at how weak his voice sounded. He had forgotten about the others. How was Aang faring against Ozai? Would he lose his entire family today? Somehow, the thought brought only vague curiosity; there was no sadness, no anger, nothing that he figured should be behind the question. "Sorry... about the... um," he gestured vaguely at the columns, "hug. Ealier."
Sokka smiled sheepishly. "No, it's fine."
I'm sorry if the burning Azula's corpse kind of weirded you out. When I was writing that part, I was thinking about how often overthrown political figures are treated after death (i.e. heads on pikes, or bodies displayed prominently, or left to rot). I'm thinking of the Avatar world as being more medieval than our own, in which the likelihood of something like that is much higher; and as mean as Azula was, I think Zuko would hate to see his sister in such a state.
Thank you for reading this; I hope you enjoyed it! I'm so glad that I've finally finished it... I would love to hear from you.