By Blood Only

Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.

Warnings: Language, Speculation, Spoilers up to the very end

AN: I'm going under the assumption that Azula recovered enough to be lucid within a few weeks of the finale.

Azula, of course, loves deeply. She loves her firebending. And her father. The color red. Lightning. Cherries, definitely those. The sound of her voice carrying commands. Pedicures. Her armor. And most of all her own perfection.

Sometimes, she even thinks she might love Zuzu. If she turns her head. And squints. And sort of leans to the side.

Her brother though… Zuko hates everything. Himself. The scar on his face. His own weakness. Himself. The Avatar's mercy. Failure. Himself. Being useless. Admiral Zhao. And himself.

The only things he's ever really loved are their mother and that tea-drinking kook. And he can't even do that right. The first was banished to save him. And the second, he allowed to be taken away in chains. To be locked up in a small, dark cell.

For all that they share blood. The same parents. The same nation. The same bending. The same crown. Azula thinks that they couldn't possibly be more different.

She isn't Zuzu. And he certainly isn't her. Not even close.

But sometimes, Azula wonders.

Sitting here in this cell – where they dumped her after that Waterbending peasant dared face her – there's only time to think. Time to ignore all her mother's visits and sort out things for herself. Time to ponder how it all went wrong. How that idiot pacifist of an Avatar could defeat the Fire Lord. How her useless brother could bring Mai so easily to his side. How he could find allies not only strong but loyal. Willing to support him even though he's weak. Willing to fight her and the Fire Nation itself during the full effects of the comet.

Azula doesn't understand at all.

And she's still attempting to make sense of it when they finally remember her. Finally recall that yes, she's still technically in the palace. And maybe, just maybe, they should move her somewhere else. Opening up her cell and escorting her on her merry way. Around that bend and through this corridor and taking the next left followed by a right. Straight through the intersection and then left again. Until she's more than tempted to tell them just to get on with it and take her to the damn transport.

But she sees it then. Azula sees it as they shuffle her endlessly through the back corridors, bound and chained and nearly gagged, and out to the transport waiting to haul her off further. She sees Zuzu and the blind kid and that treacherous bitch Mai. The Water Tribe trash with that bald moron the Avatar and some girl she thinks might be a Kyoshi Warrior. She sees all of them in the distance. At the end of a courtyard. With giggles and sparkly eyes and sunshine gleaming in the background.

Azula looks over, and Zuko looks up. And for once, his good eye isn't narrowed with anger or resentment or loathing. For once, his posture isn't stiff or his spine like a steel bar. For once, there is no hate.

And whatever comments that are forming. Whatever vicious words that shape on her tongue. They all die away at the sight of him. At the fact that even in his royal robes, he's relaxed. That his movements are light and easy and his voice firm but soft.

That he's actually smiling.

This isn't her brother. This isn't Zuzu. This is some stranger who just happens to wear his face. Someone strong and powerful and free. Someone who doesn't need fear to rule or have to do so with an iron fist. Someone who isn't alone save for the guards and a mother who may or may not really be there. Some who's left her completely behind.

Someone unrecognizable.

She stares at him. And the stranger – Fire Lord Zuko – merely nods his head at her passing. Barely even gives her a glance before turning back to his companions. Dismissing her from his sight. Dismissing her from his mind. Dismissing her from his heart if she was ever there at all.

Azula lets them pull her along without resistance or comment. All the way to outer wall of the palace and the airship waiting there. To her special new home after they land. Complete with bars, bending suppression herbs, and three square meals a day.

And all Azula can think about is the man who used to be her brother.

Ever Hopeful,