From the Ashes
Ch 1

He felt the solar eclipse acutely, even though he'd never known the sensation before. A sudden loss, a coldness tingling in his fingertips, as if he'd been holding ice for too long. Something missing in each breath as the inner fire didn't follow the rhythm of his breathing.

The eclipse had started. Even in the underground bunker, Fire Lord Ozai felt his cognitive connection with the flames dissolve. Until it was over, he would be unable to firebend. For now, he was the same as everyone else.

The Firelord sat stoically in his hidden room, absorbing the feeling. It was…strange, to be sure. Almost a little disconcerting. He was now an older fire bender. It was harder to turn the complex acrobatics that his daughter was so fond of. Without his flames, he was much less of a threat, even with the dagger in his belt that he knew full well how to use. If he weren't one of the most powerful fire benders in the world, it was highly unlikely he'd be occupying his current position. Strange.

Now, he wasn't worried. That was not an accurate description of the feeling. This was a temporary situation. The solar eclipse would pass. The paltry invasion force of his allied enemies would never reach this place to capitalize on the opportunity no matter how hard they tried. They would reach the royal city, if they even got that far, to find it empty and abandoned. All the necessary preparations had been made. He and his court would not be forced into a fight during the time of black sun. When the eclipse was over and the invaders realized that their pathetic plan had failed, they would flee, only to be caught in the waiting arms of the Fire Nation royal guard. The war would be over, all opposition crushed beneath his heel.

The thought pleased him. Everything was settled. They could finally end this infernal war that had been his whole life.

It was a strange thought. He'd never known what peacetime was. It was an old story. He'd been born in the midst of his father's great war, the great war of his grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin.

Ozai didn't mind. The great war was a campaign for his country. It was to demonstrate the greatness of his people. It was his grandfather's dream, his father's life's work. It was up to him, as Azulon's successor, to finish what had been started so long ago, what his father had been unable to finish, and his name would be etched into history forever. This was as it should be.

It was the solar eclipse, which severed his connection to the flames, that made him think strange thoughts. He was off balance. But the thought was there, like a splinter, irritating him. What was peace? How was he supposed to finish the war if he'd never once known peace? What was he supposed to do after he had the world in the palm of his hand? Azulon had had it easy; just continue as his father had done before him with all the bloodshed and pounding on Ba Sing Se. But now Ozai was faced with finishing it. What if he didn't know how?

Scowling inwardly, Ozai twisted the insidious thought backwards and forced it to shatter. He had more discipline than to ask meaningless what if questions. What a foolish use of time. It was useless and he was far above such feelings. He was Fire Lord, soon to be the Phoenix King of the entire planet.

It did not matter if he knew he didn't know what peace was. It didn't matter if the traitorous part of himself, left over from his youth, whispered that he could never lead a world in peace, that he had no idea what he was doing. He chased the betraying thoughts out of consciousness, knowing that they'd move to other, more personal failings soon unless he made them disappear.

He would be the Phoenix King. What he said was peace would be peace. There would be no other option.

A thundering sound; the doors to his room opened and Azula entered his chamber. She walked with the same harsh confidence as always, an irrepressible force, radiating self assurance with each step she took.

Ozai restrained a smile for the sake of appearances. It always gave him great pride to see his daughter. However, now her appearance was unexpected. He had been under the impression she had been leaving to distract the Avatar and his friends on the off chance that they managed to enter the tunnels.

"Father, I need to speak with you." Azula smiled at him, seeming pleased with herself.

Ozai dipped his head in greeting, raising an eyebrow. When Azula gave no hint to her purpose, he set down his tea and granted her silent request. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the guards. They marched quietly off to each side, leaving the two royals alone.

"Princess Azula." Ozai watched his daughter curiously. "Why have you come before me?"

Azula stood from the customary bow, that same amused tilt in her eyebrows. "I'm sorry for the intrusion, Father. But something urgent came up, and I couldn't think of a better time to bring it before you." She smiled to herself as she came forward.

Ozai's eyes narrowed. An invasion, a solar eclipse, and she thought this was the best time to be discussing things with him? He scowled. "What do you mean?"

Azula cocked her head at him, golden eyes shocked. "Father!" She said it as if he had said something scandalous, foolish, raising a hand over her mouth in obviously fake surprise. "Don't tell me you haven't seen this coming?" Her eyes flashed gleefully.

Ozai felt his temper flare. He didn't like her tone, mocking, as if he were someone to laugh at. He was her father, and the firelord. There was an invasion, none of them could firebend, and she was supposed to be somewhere else. He glared at her as she came up to him. "Speak clearly," he ordered. "I do not have time for games."

"As you wish," She smiled at him.

There was a freeze frame image, something flashing blindingly in the light of the torches. He had a momentary understanding of a shape flying towards him. Instinctive reaction, a rush of adrenaline and his body reacted to move out of the path.

An explosion of intense, white hot pain.

Shock undid his mind. Something was tearing his chest, something cold inside each breath as he struggled to think, to move, to understand, to survive the sudden onslaught.

A low choking sound. His mouth was full, salty. He couldn't breathe. Something inside him shuddered. The world wouldn't stay still.

Azula was standing in front of him, smiling at him. She was reaching forward; he couldn't see her hand.

"You actually saw it coming…I didn't think you would." Azula smiled and her arm moved. The pain shifted, blinding him for a moment, and air echoed hollowly in his lungs in a thin gasp.

It dawned on him. The gurgling, choking sound was him; him trying to breathe. He tasted blood.

Azula was smiling at him. And he suddenly understood, understood everything. He was fool. He had been blind, naïve, thoughtless to never see this coming. She was right.

After all, Azula was the perfect child of fire. She was skilled, flawless, powerful, intelligent, and she was ruthless. It was that quality in particular in himself that had made his father deem his existence passable. It was these qualities in her that he had watched so proudly for all these years. They were similar to a point.

Fatally similar.

He was a fool.

Azula sighed. "Sorry. It wasn't supposed to take this long, Father." A slight shake of her head. She pulled back.

The knife left his body, trailing an arc of crimson drops that caught the firelight. The air was cold, and stung inside the flesh, and he couldn't breathe. It was as if he had swallowed coals, and was frozen on the outside. Pain and fear erased his pride and he gasped.

She had been aiming for his throat. He'd moved just enough to survive. The blade had connected with his chest, buried deep inside him, the wound spurting blood. It soaked down the front of his ceremonial robes, he could feel it weighing them down.

He was barely on his feet.

Azula pondered him for a second, Ozai's wide orange eyes finding hers.

It was expected, and he shouldn't feel this sudden sense of betrayal. But it was there. He was furious, but choked on his anger. All that came out was her name. "A…Azula…"

He wanted to ask why, but the words were strangling him. His whole body felt sluggish.

Azula was looking at the knife. "Foolish weapon. I should have brought a longer one." Then, still grinning, she launched herself forward. "Nothing personal, Father."

He saw her move, perceived the arc of the blade in the air. Instincts screamed. No, he refused! He wouldn't die here! He hadn't survived so much, been a least favored child of the Firelord, clawed his way to survival and then power, just to die here!

The movement seared like all too familiar flames; the world was spinning and hazing, but his body fought to avoid the blade. He wasn't sure which way was back, but Ozai managed to push away from Azula, leaping backwards as best he could. Her strike missed. Instead of sinking into his neck, it sliced across his shoulder and side, sweeping an arc of blood.

The new wound slammed into him, pain on top of pain. His right arm couldn't lift. Muscles screamed in rebellion if he tried, and he still couldn't breathe. He couldn't counter her. She was younger, fresh, faster, and he was wounded, and fading. He could even find her.

Stumbling backwards, he didn't even see that she wasn't in front of him anymore. The steps at the edge of his dais tripped him, and he stumbled on his ceremonial robes. He couldn't see, couldn't bend, could find his attacker, and couldn't stand.

He was afraid. He couldn't survive this, not for more than a few seconds. And now, even with his bending, he didn't know if he could beat her. He couldn't breathe.

Breathing is the basis of all Firebending. His brother's voice.

Iroh… But, no, just a memory. He had no family. They were all traitors; exiles, prisoners, or murderers.

A hand snatched at his hair as he stumbled, wrenching him to the side and throwing him across the rug. Ozai rolled, too weak to stop himself, trailing blood on the blood red material. He finally came to a stop over the Fire Nation symbol. The blood began to soak into the black.

He tried to rise. The need to survive was strong, and had been for his entire life. It made him to grit his teeth against cries of pain, close his mouth on the blood, struggle to force shaking hands to obey him. But the rug was slippery and he kept sliding, his right arm in agony.

"Enough." A whistle in the air, and a blade embedded itself in his back, slamming him to the ground. He coughed and felt fresh blood on his back, dripping along his hair.

Get up…don't die now! You're my only brother.

Iroh…

If you can't get up, you are worthless, and I never will acknowledge you as my son. You are weak. Die there.

Die…

Get up…Ozai, please, please, get up! I can't…I can't lose you!

Ursa…gone…

Get up…

He tried. He tried to push pain and weariness and defeat away. But he couldn't. He had lost. Azula had killed him.

Ozai shuddered and stopped trying to rise, lying brokenly on the floor. Why was the world so heavy? Why couldn't he look up at his daughter, his killer, and ask why it mattered so much now that it was all over.

He wanted to ask his brother.

The dagger was pulled from his back.

"I was going to make it painless. I was going to kill you in one shot, just slash and it was going to be over. Why can't you just hold still and die? I didn't mean to hurt you this much…"

He couldn't lift his head to look at her. All he could see was blood spattering on her shoes.

A hand reached into his hair. He flinched.

No dagger this time. Just tugging on the hair, a swift, almost imperceptible sound of metal.

Don't touch that! -Slap.- That is only for the Firelord to wear. Your father, then your brother. You may never touch it. Do you understand?

I…understand…mother…

Mother…hurts…please…

"I'll be taking this, though. Fire Lord Azula has such a nice ring to it. There's so much I have to do. You were only in my way…"

A hand again, this time against his chin. Blood splashed onto it, blood that belatedly he realized must be his. It trailing down his chin. Then his head was turned a little to the side and he saw her eyes.

She'd wanted to see him. Maybe she wanted to remember the face of a dying opponent. Maybe she wanted to know she won.

Maybe she wanted to see her father one more time before he was gone.

Or perhaps she didn't even know why.

A flickering moment, almost uncertainty in her eyes. Ozai didn't move. He couldn't. He didn't try. She was all he'd trained her to be, and this was her moment. He was too tired to ask if it was worth it. He was too tired to answer the question.

Another breath he couldn't get.

"I will end our glorious conquest." She smiled at him, and confidence returned. No more uncertainty. Azula never felt doubt or uncertainty. "Farewell.."

She let his head fall. He fell with it. The world was too heavy to think. He just lay there on the ground, his strength gone.

The sound of a dagger. A hand in his hair, pushing it to the side to reach his skin.

Like father, like daughter…You always knew you'd die by your children, as I died by mine. Fool.

I…didn't…think-

-Flames-

Keep your mouth shut. You never think. You'll never learn.

The dagger came whistling down.

"Azula! Stop!"

Zuko...?

A/N: ...not final fantasy...I know. (hides). But this was in my head and wouldn't get out. It seems I like making villains human and pitiable. My sibs and I watched all of the avatar Go figure. I hope you guys like Ozai in trouble for once. I don't like Azula...