Author's Note: The second of my Azula centered stories, offering another alternate character interpretation. I think this one is rather obvious. I was inspired by thinking about how lightning could be used to revive people, and how our neural pathways are often connected by electrical charges. I then thought about what would happen if Azula, the undisputed mistress of lightning, could not control her own body's lightning, or some such thing. And so, this was born. Reviews and constructive criticism are appreciated, if you want more details, simply ask for them in your review and I'll try to answer.
Azula hated this. She knew it was necessary, but she didn't like it at all.
It had all started when she was training. She had felt a bit tired, but then again, she had been training all afternoon. However, her opponent noticed that she was sweating and pale, and immediately called for a healer to check her condition. While it was good to have attentive followers who took care of their leader, this was ridiculous. She felt perfectly fine. But no, the healer had to examine her, listen to her heart, and measure her temperature, and all kinds of annoying medical procedures she cared nothing for. And now she was waiting for him to tell her she was fine, wasting her time when she could be training.
Finally, the healer came in and bowed. Oddly enough, he was a man, not a woman, as most healers were. Still, he was the best there was, so she couldn't care less. "Well?" She raised an eyebrow. "Aren't you going to tell me nothing's wrong?"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry for causing you delay princess, but there is a problem. In fact, it's rather complicated…" he trailed off, obviously not knowing the proper etiquette for telling a Princess she was sick.
Azula eyebrows contracted, and her eye narrowed, displeased. "Out with it, man."
"Well…" the healer began helplessly, "do you know of Fire Prince Azul?"
Azula's eyes remained narrowed. "Son of Fire Lord Temujin, lived 528 years ago, last known firebender to wield the blue fire before me. Died at the age of 15, after winning the great victory against the Earth Kingdom at Baida. Your point?"
The healer bowed in acknowledgement, and finally showed some spine. "Please bear with me, Highness. Do you know what he died from?"
"It is commonly assumed that he either sustained a poisoned wound, or that some enemy agent poisoned his food."
The healer nodded. "Indeed. But the healers examined his body afterwards, and found nothing to indicate any sort of poisoning. Eventually they discovered that he died from a heart defect – after winning the battle, his heart simply stopped working."
Azula growled. "Why is this not known, and why are you telling me?"
"Higness, the healers found that it added up to a very disturbing pattern of deaths, which they had to keep secret for the safety of the Fire Nation. As for telling you… you see, it was not only Prince Azul who died from a heart defect. Many of the greatest firebenders, those who would wield lightning from a young age and generate differently colored flame died young, very young, all of them from heart defects. I believe you suffer from one as well."
Azula frowned, realizing he believed he was telling the truth. "That is your professional opinion, then? Very well. What do I do?"
He winced. "Highness… there is no actual cure. I can give you medicines which will slow the eventual failure. Additionally, you must stop all lightning generation, and firebend in large amounts only when needed. If you do this, you probably have some twenty to twenty-five years ahead of you. Ten to fifteen years more if you can find a waterbending healer to take care of you. You know, we healers have many theories regarding this – most think it was caused by the spirits in order to ensure balance and-"
Azula stared at him, furious. "Are you insane? Do you think I'm going to stop fighting at this critical juncture? My lord father plans to send me to the front next year. What am I supposed to do, tell him I can't fight?"
The healer refused to back away. "Highness. I must warn you that if you continue as you've been doing until now, you should expect to see no more than another year of life, at the most."
Azula got up, and invaded the healer's personal space. "No. I'm going to end this war, if it's the last thing I do before I die. You will not tell anyone of this conversation. You will say that I was merely fatigued from previous exertions. You will become my new private healer, and supply me with enough medication for me to live until this war is won, one way or another. If not…" she brought her hand before his face, and ignited a roiling blue flame in it. He stared at it, transfixed. "I trust we have an understanding, Healer Lao?"
"D- Definitely, Your H-Higness", he stammered, nodding.
Azula cursed as she wrung out her hair. That was a mistake, she knew. She shouldn't have tried to shoot lightning at Zuko – it was overkill. But she had been about to create another piece of her legend – the princess who would defeat her older brother out of loyalty to her father and the Fire Nation. But the firebending and lightning generation had weakened her, causing her to slow down, allowing Iroh to stop her and throw off her the ship. She cursed Zuko, Iroh, and most of all, she cursed the damnable spirits for giving her ultimate power at the price of her body and life.
As she stalked into her room to change her clothes, she vowed she would live long enough to become a legend, if only to spite those spirits.
Azula cursed as she realized Ty Lee didn't want to come with her. It was finally here – the task she had waited for her whole life, making her a legend – and her allies were abandoning her. She considered telling Ty Lee about her condition, but only for a moment. She was Fire Princess Azula, the greatest Fire Princess who had ever or would ever live, the youngest prodigy ever seen. If she had not been possessed of a heart defect, would she ever stand for this? Never. Ty Lee would have come with her, if it meant burning this whole circus down. Suddenly, a smile began to curve her lips. She knew how to make Ty Lee come with her.
Azula cursed as she saw the stone wall rising suddenly in their path. She knew there was only one way to continue the chase, and so she gathered lightning, and loosened it in an explosive blast which obliterated the wall, rocking her back in the saddle. Even as they charged through the breach, she saw the Avatar and his companions fleeing on the Air Bison. As they crested the rise, coming to a stop, Azula smiled, knowing that they were winning – the Avatar and his followers could run, but their weariness would defeat them in the end. Suddenly, her face twisted in a grimace, as a pain ran through her chest, radiating into her body. She leaned back against the saddle, took out a bottle from a saddlebag, and downed it one gulp.
"Azula?" Ty Lee's voice interrupted her, concerned. "Are you all right?"
Azula shook her head and spat on the ground. "Yes. Just a bit thirsty."
"Are you sure?" Ty Lee continued, obviously worried. "You looked like you were in pain."
"I said I'm fine, Ty Lee", she snarled, tucking the bottle back into her saddlebag. "Let's move – no chase was won by standing in place."
Azula looked out the window over the Fire Kingdom, flushed with victory. Finally, she was a legend. It had taken skill, cunning, patience, and a huge personal effort – but she had defeated the Avatar, and practically single handedly taken Ba Sing Se. No more was it the Impregnable City. And her victory over the Avatar was all the more satisfying, for she had struck him down with lightning when he was at the apex of his power, in the Avatar State. She found it highly appropriate – she had mastered her body's weakness to wield her most dangerous weapon, just as the Avatar had accomplished the same.
She turned as she heard steps behind her, relaxing when she saw it was only Healer Lao. "Yes?" she queried, feeling in a generous mood.
"My congratulations on your victory over Ba Sing Se and the Avatar, Higness."
"Surely you did not come here to tell me that."
"Highness", she saw him gather his courage, obviously not wanting to confront her. "I'll be frank. You should not have lived so long, not with what you have been doing. Now are you willing to cease training, and allow me to attempt to heal your body?"
She smirked at him, considering. "No. Zuko's done and said some things which make me… suspicious. I am unsure if out victory is truly complete, and if the Avatar is truly dead. Until I have his body before me, I'm not stopping."
Lao threw up his hands in disgust. "Princess, do you want to die? No one who has been diagnosed with this condition at your advanced stage has lived for more than a year if he continued to bend. That you have done so is a testament to your powers… but from now on, you are living on borrowed time. I cannot promise you you will wake up next morning."
She laughed at him. "Keep your dire prophecies to yourself. I have lived so long not because of my power, but because of my control. I still control my body, and I will allow no one but me to decide my death. Believe me, I'll tell you when I'm giving up."
Lao nodded, gritting his teeth. He didn't really have a choice.
"Good. Now, have you kept with the task I assigned you before I left?"
Azula lay on her bed in the cabin of her airship, looking down at the prison. She was only partially robed, and Lao was rubbing unguents and salves into her body. She cursed savagely every time his hands touched another fragile nerve.
Ty Lee had only meant to stop her from killing Mai. Of course the innocent acrobat had no knowledge of her true condition. She didn't know that her attack had almost killed Azula. She was lucky Lao had been with her. If there was one way she refused to die, it was stabbed in the back, betrayed by her 'friends' as her traitorous brother escaped.
However, as the pain eased, she realized that she could turn this to her advantage. Her legend would become even greater – Princess Azula, betrayed and stabbed in the back by her two loyal companions, who still managed to survive and destroy traitors and enemies to the Fire Nation… They would tell her story for millennia, and every additional attack would become another victory which would cement her legend. She began dictating to Lao, telling him what to enter in the book regarding this battle.
Azula fell off the Airship, plummeting towards her death. For the first few moments, she wasn't even aware of it – all she could feel was the pain ripping through her body, paralyzing all her muscles, stopping her from bending. And then her brain caught up with her body, and she realized what was happening. Her eyes narrowed in anger – this was not her choice, and she refused to die like this! With that furious thought, fire erupted from her legs, sending her towards the cliff, where she could gain a hold and then return to her airship. As she hung there, she stared hatefully at Zuko. He had tried to steal her freedom, negating her choice of death – just for that, he deserved to die. And she would kill him. The Avatar was a minor threat – she had already defeated him, and doing so again would not add to her legend. But the loyal prodigy defeating her traitorous older brother, winning the throne of the Fire Nation – Now there was a legend. She bared her teeth, knowing what she would need to do.
Azula smiled mirthlessly as she watched her father depart. He thought she could not see what he did – but she was no fool. She knew he wanted her here with no real power, because he feared her. She sneered at his stupidity – he would only increase her legend, the fool.
Now she needed to find a way to clear the palace. She needed the servants out, for their safety. The Dai Li, because they would betray her in an instant when they learned of her weakness. And Li and Lo, who were her father's tools and spies. As she thought, a plan began to take shape in her mind…
Azula walked swiftly through the palace towards the outer courtyard where she would soon be crowned, Lao by her side. She was immaculately dressed, as always. The only thing off about her was that she had no headpiece, and was pale and sweating. Her headpiece she had left at the Shrine of Agni on the altar, her last sacrifice before her body. As she was about to exit to the courtyard, she looked at Lao.
"I should thank you", she said, causing him to gasp. "You stayed with me since this has started, and you're here at the end. You'll be a legend too, you know. The brave healer who stuck by Princess Azula through thick and thin, never wanting a reward. And since you're telling the story, nobody knows the truth. I'm going soon. I can feel my heart burn within me, waiting to return to Agni. I have one last order to you – if I don't manage to think up any better words before I die, my last words were 'The brightest flames are quenched first."
Loa stared at her, amused. "Choosing your last words as well. Why does that not surprise me?"
She smiled at him, one last smile. "Yes. You know, I considered thanking you with a kiss, explaining that I've never had one, and wanted one before I died – but that would be a lie. I never wanted a kiss, and there is no love lost between us. I've lived my whole life without love – only fitting, considering how my heart was flawed. So. You'll be a legend, and I've given you all my wealth. You have my respect, Healer Lao, for all that you've done to help me defeat the spirits."
She walked out into the courtyard, leaving him alone. "You were right, Princess", he whispered to himself. "It should have been your choice."
Azula struggled to rise, her chest wracked with incredible pain. Immediately after the Fire Sage had crowned her, Zuko had arrived with the waterbender peasant and challenged her to an Agni Kai. After more than an hour of battling (another thing to add to her legend, she realized), he had finally knocked her down, daring her to use lightning. She could barely stand from the pain, and knew it was time to end it.
She started gathering lightning. Zuko was preparing himself and so did not realize it, but Azula was acutely aware of how slow, jerky and erratic her movements were compared to her usual katas. Lightning was crackling all around her, an amazing effect, but actually an indicator of power escaping her control. As she finally completed the kata, thrusting her hands forward, another spasm shot through her, and her hands jerked to the side – sending the lightning bolt straight at the peasant.
Azula watched, drained, as Zuko jumped to intercept the bolt, taking it straight in his chest, throwing him against the courtyard, incapacitated and groaning. Azula realized her knees were buckling as she watched the peasant rush to try and heal Zuko. She removed the royal headpiece from her hair.
"Zuko", she rasped, "here." She threw the headpiece to the floor, watching it skid to a halt before Zuko.
"Ironic, isn't it?" She let out, falling to one knee. "Your heart was always stronger than mine… and yet, even now, it could never defeat my will."
With that, she gathered lightning to her one last time. This time, however, rather than releasing it, she held it in her hands, watching as the light grew brighter and brighter, finally exploding in her hands. As she flew across the courtyard, the light disappeared, and with it the pain, leaving her to fall into blessed nothingness.