A/N: This one-shot is the result of a conversation with my beta, Caelum Blue, about...well, many, many, many varied things. (Don't ask what the varied things were, I don't remember. Our conversations end up being mostly tangents, unless we're exchanging beta-like advice, and even then, we wander pretty quickly off topic once 'business' is done...Ah, who cares? I maintain my opinion. Staying on topic is overrated!) But anyway, we were talking about Azula, and how it was nice to see a 'villain' with some depth, not just 'Grr...I'm evil, fear me!' And somehow, we got onto the topic of her relationship with Zuko...and that morphed into, "How did Azula come up with Zuzu? Was someone trying to teach her the names of her family? Or did she come up with it on her own?" And voila! This ficlet was born! And 'Zufluff' is courtesy of Caelum. She came up with it. It signifies sibling fluff between Zuko and Azula, if you hadn't already figured out the focus of this story...
And for anyone following my other Avatar story, Letters from the Past, I'm working on the next chapter, this little idea just ambushed me and demanded to be written. And both Caelum and I wanted to see a baby!Azula... :P
Edit 6/21/09: I recently had the chance to expand my knowledge of a just-turned-three-year-old's vocabulary. (My cousin's little girl.) So I've changed Azula's lines to be more in tune with that. Thank you to all who pointed out her vocabulary was a little lacking for her age, since that's what made me think to pay such attention to my little cousin's words.
It was a pleasant summer day. A cool breeze blew in from the ocean to keep the Fire Nation Palace and its occupants from sweltering in the heat common to the summer season. Birds flew lazy circles in the sky and every door and window that did not need to be closed was opened, providing pathways for the breeze.
It was the sort of day that made it hard to feel mad about anything. Five-year-old Prince Zuko, however, was most definitely mad.
She's taking Mom's attention from me, he groused in his mind. He already knew that his mother would rebuke him if he voiced his thoughts aloud. Mother was always telling him he was the big brother and had to be responsible for little Azula now. He couldn't expect to have all of his mother's attention all the time anymore. It wouldn't be fair to Azula.
Mom loves her more than me. Zuko cast a resentful glance towards his young sister, just now three years old, who was happily spouting baby talk at their mother, and reaching out with her little baby hands to play with their mother's hair.
Zuko had wanted to play with his mother by himself today. He had thought he'd be able to, since Azula had been perfectly fine with her nurse earlier. The little attention stealer hadn't cried once for her mother, and Zuko had taken this as a sign that he could monopolize their mother's attention for a little while. Before the baby ruined things again.
But the nurse had suddenly come down with the sun fever, like a perfect idiot. Who in the Fire Nation didn't know better than to be out in the summer sun too long? And Zuko's mother, being the kind person she was, had offered to care for Azula for the rest of the day, letting the sun struck servant have the time to recuperate.
Zuko had thrown a fit about his little sister interfering with his time with his mother, and his shouts had caused big tears to well in Azula's eyes. She had looked at him with hurt and confusion, not sure at all why her big brother didn't want her around. Ursa had picked Azula up, cradling her close and cooing soothing words in her ear, and cast a disapproving look Zuko's way.
"If you can't play nice, Zuko, you'll just have to sit in the corner until you learn better," she had said firmly. Zuko had stormed off to a corner of the room, declaring he didn't want to play with girls anyway.
"She ruins everything," he muttered under his breath now, glaring at his little sister, but being sure to turn his head away whenever his mother glanced over to check on him. He didn't really want to watch his mother playing with Azula anyway, not since he wasn't allowed to come over until he could behave nicely with his sister and he didn't feel like being nice to her.
"Princess Ursa? May I have a word?"
Zuko's mother gently disentangled Azula's small hand from her hair and nodded graciously to the man who had entered the room, who wore the uniform of one of the royal scribes.
"Just a moment," she said calmly. She turned her head, gentle golden eyes seeking out her son. "Zuko, I need you to do something for me."
Zuko perked up, he couldn't help it. His mother needed his help; something he could do that the baby couldn't. He trotted over to her, smiling widely.
"What is it?"
Ursa smiled down at her son and crouched to bring her face more on a level with his. "I need you to watch your sister while I speak with this man, alright?"
Zuko's face fell. "But…"
"Zuko," Ursa's eyes were serious. "You're a big boy now. And you're Azula's brother. You have the responsibility of looking after her." Ursa absently captured one of Azula's hands, which had been trying to play with her mother's hair while she was distracted. Ursa smiled at her son. "I'd appreciate it very much if you would watch Azula while I'm busy."
Zuko frowned severely for a moment more, before his resolve to have nothing to do with his little sister melted completely. He squared his shoulders though, and put on a serious look.
"Very well, I will guard her," he told his mother. "I can be very responsible."
Ursa's mouth twitched, but she set Azula down by her brother and leaned in to give her son a quick hug.
"Thank you, Zuko. I know you will do a good job with your sister." Ursa stood and followed the scribe from the room, pulling the door mostly shut behind her. Zuko dropped his serious stance and stared down at the little troublemaker at his feet. He could watch her for a few minutes and then go back to disliking her in his corner.
Azula's wide golden eyes blinked up at him, seeming to be trying to decide if she liked this turn of events or not. Zuko stared down at her in a manner he privately thought was quite intimidating. Apparently this didn't put her off in the slightest, though, as she lifted her arms to him, smiling widely, and declared in her little baby voice.
"Up! Up! I wan' up!"
Zuko scowled. He wasn't going to pick her up! Who did the baby think he was? Her nurse? Azula's smile dimmed somewhat and her request became slightly strident, demanding.
"Up! Pease up, Zu…!"
Zuko stared at his little sister. Had she just attempted to say his name? Azula pouted now; Zuko obviously wasn't paying enough attention to her. She drilled her little feet on the ground and demanded again.
She had! He was sure of it. Azula had tried to say his name. Zuko's young mind was astounded. He hadn't thought his little sister even really cared about him, she'd always been more interested in monopolizing their mother, or so he'd thought.
"UP NOW, ZU…!"
Zuko snapped out of his contemplation at her shout, hurriedly crouching down to her level, and casting a glance to the door. He didn't want Mom coming back in and being disappointed that he couldn't keep Azula quiet.
"Shh! Azula! Not so loud."
Azula pouted at him, her lower lip puckering. Zuko hurriedly went on, knowing that expression all too well. It precluded screaming and crying. He definitely didn't want that.
"I'll pick you up if you say my name," he told her, smugly. He knew his little sister was easy to distract. Presenting her with a new challenge would keep her quiet.
"Na…me?" Azula asked, followed by a stream of words spoken so quickly that Zuko couldn't decipher them. It sounded like gibberish to him.
"If you say my name, Azula, I'll pick you up. You have to say my name first," he said firmly. "Zuko. You have to say Zuko before I'll pick you up."
Azula frowned up at him for a moment, and then her face scrunched up. Zuko winced, thinking she was going to start screaming.
"Zu…zu…zu…." she stuttered out. Zuko blinked. She was actually trying? "Zu…-o…zu…."
After a few more moments of staring in astonishment, Zuko shook his head.
"Zuko, Azula. It's Zuko."
Azula's tiny face scrunched up even more in a furious effort of concentration. Zuko found himself unconsciously rooting for her to succeed, momentarily forgetting that he was mad at her for stealing his mother's attention.
"Almost, Azula. Come on, it's easy. Zu…ko." He separated the syllables of his name for her. She frowned again.
"Zu…zu…" A strange look crossed Azula's face, and then she beamed. Zuko was confused.
"Zuzu!" Azula squealed at the top of her lungs. Zuko gaped at her, before scowling.
"That is not my name, Azula! It's Zu…ko. Come on, say it. You want me to pick you up, don't you?"
"Gahh!! That's not it! Zuko!"
"Zuzu!" Azula proclaimed with all the authority of a three-year-old. She beamed at her brother and held her arms up, apparently convinced she had held her end of their deal up. Zuko frowned and stamped one foot on the ground.
"Azula!" he whined. "My name is not 'Zuzu'!"
"Zuzu!" Azula said with even more certainty and waved her little arms at her big brother, demanding to be picked up. Zuko opened his mouth to retort and was interrupted by the sound of his mother's voice.
"Zuzu?" Zuko turned and his eyes pleaded with his mother to make Azula see sense.
"I was trying to get her to say my name! But all she does is say 'Zuzu'!"
Ursa's confused expession softened into a smile. But she hid her laughter from her eldest child.
"I think that's sweet, Zuko. Your sister has her own name for you."
"But it's not my name!" Zuko protested, not quite sounding as outraged as he had meant to. Azula drummed her heels on the floor again in a bid to capture, not her mother's attention, but her brother's.
"Zuzu! Zuzu!" she called happily, her golden eyes sparkling. She was obviously pleased with her new name for her brother. Zuko's resistance to the nickname was visibly weakening the more Azula called for him and Ursa found the entire scene heartwarming. Zuko had not been very warm or loving towards his sister for a long time. He had briefly been fascinated by her after she was born, wanting to know the reason behind everything she did, but it had quickly been eclipsed by the newborn's more constant need of attention than her two-year-old son's. It was a resentment that Ursa had feared wouldn't fade as they both grew older, but perhaps there was hope for her children yet.
Zuko turned and squatted down in front of his sister, staring her straight in the eye. Azula stopped her calling to regard him curiously.
"I guess you can call me that until you figure out how to say Zuko. But only until then," he said seriously. Azula blinked and smiled at him. She held her arms out, demanding to be held again. Zuko sighed and reached out and gathered her, slightly awkwardly, into his arms. He felt his mother's hands guiding his own as he stood with Azula cradled gently to him and smiled at Azula's glee.
"I'm proud of you for being such a good big brother," Ursa said quietly, and Zuko beamed up at her. "Zuzu."
Zuko pouted up at his mother. "Only Azula can call me that, cause she can't say my real name yet." He didn't feel like sharing this with his mother, and odd as it felt, Zuko knew it also felt right. 'Zuzu' was something only he and Azula would share, brother to sister. Ursa smiled knowingly down at her son and patted his arm softly.
"Alright, Zuko. 'Zuzu' shall be Azula's name for you. Only hers." Zuko nodded, glancing down at the unexpected feel of a small head coming to rest on his shoulder. Azula had apparently worn herself out with her earlier antics, first with their mother, then with Zuko, and was now contentedly going to sleep in Zuko's arms. Zuko felt his sister's weight inexplicably double as she fell asleep, but couldn't find it in himself to mind very much.
I'll be the best big brother, ever, Azula. He silently promised, following his mother as she led him to a small couch where Azula could nap without putting Zuko's arms to sleep. I'll protect you. Nothing will ever hurt you, not while I can help it.