Princess of mine!
So mother disappeared one night, just like Azula always suspected she would. Mother was soft hands and kind words and cinnamon and vanilla. Cinnamon and vanilla people never lasted in long in a world of fire and steel. Mother thought the world could be a kind place, but Azula knew she was wrong. And now mother was gone because the world wasn't a kind place after all.
Azula doesn't miss her.
At least that is what she tells everybody.
She is not allowed to miss her after all because mother was weak and Azula is not. Azula doesn't cry, she hasn't cried since she was six and her father told her what happened to little girls who cried too much. Crying is weak and Azula is not. So Azula doesn't do it.
What Azula does is sneak into their old villa, into her mother's old room. She wanders around and fingers the perfume bottles and the hairbrushes and combs and ribbons and other strange more feminine and mysterious things, all left scattered. More often than not, she runs into Zuko here. They are both sneaky kids after all.
Zuko misses mother. He tells everybody frequently. He wants to know where she is? what happened to her? she wouldn't just leave, so where is she? His questions are so obvious. He is so obvious. He is makes dad mad every single day and Azula knows where that'll eventually end up. She tries to tell him to just pretend he doesn't miss her. It'll make things easier for him and it gets easier, pretending you don't miss someone. Eventually you believe it yourself. But Zuko's not good at pretending the way Azula is. Azula is the expert.
Sometimes they talk. In quiet hushed tones because neither of them are meant to be here. This one random night, Azula is smelling their mother's perfume over and over again. Cinnamon and vanilla. Every dessert reminds her of mother and so Azula has given up sweet things. But sometimes she likes to smell.
Zuko asks her quite bluntly if she misses their Mum (for the billionth time). Azula says she doesn't. Zuko doesn't argue with her about this for once. Normally it is all how can you say that? I know you miss her too! What is wrong with you? He just smiles sadly and says liar, but somewhat affectionately. If you don't stop lying they are going to send you to one of those mind-doctors, He says gently. Their uncle Iroh is back now and he is just a shadow of his former self, since his son, their cousin died.
Azula doesn't miss Lu Ten either.
He goes to see a mind doctor every week because he misses his son and because he is weak and Azula isn't weak like him. Also because their father wants the mind doctor to tell everyone at court that their uncle has lost his marbles so everyone at court will stop looking at uncle Iroh to make decisions. Dad says Iroh should just tell everyone that he is a good firelord, but Iroh doesn't because Iroh is a liar and liars have to got to mind doctors. Azula always lies but she's never been to a mind doctor ever. She is oddly touched that Zuko worries about her but she ends up telling him that not everybody is an honest dum dum like him and he makes a face at her and they both sneak out of the villa and back to the palace, which has been their new home ever since Mother left.
Their old house, their mother's room and Lu Ten's room are all left exactly as they were. Mother's room and Lu ten's room sometimes give Azula the creeps when she is in them for too long. People are always doing that in books. Leaving a dead relative's room untouched. Azula never really understood. Those rooms could have a purpose. You could clear them out and use it a room for all you weapons, or your books if you were the type to read books. But now she thinks she understands a little better. It is almost like the rooms are waiting for their former occupants to return. Sometimes, when she stands at her mother's door, she gets the mad urge to go and just start smashing things. But she doesn't because she can't. She can't because the room is waiting and you can't just go in there and start fucking everything up.
She doesn't know quite when or how the stealing starts. It starts sometime after Zuko is sent away for the royal academy for boys. They used to go to the imperial caldera school together, but Zuko is too old for it now and now he is only back on the weekends. Azula doesn't miss him either.
See, this whole not missing people thing does get easier.
She just starts seeing things and wanting things and the voice that sounds like her mother in her head that says that stealing is wrong has gone quiet. So she starts to take things. Just little things at first. Mostly from her mother's room. The flagon of perfume. The wine dark lipstick. The pearl necklace. It's well made. Every little pearl has a knot between it. That way if the necklace snaps you'll only lose one bead and not the whole thing. Azula wonders what it would be like to have a life like that, all tied up and neat and perfect and well made- so if something broke the whole thing didn't come apart.
She tries it on in her mirror. Wears the lipstick and the perfume and the pearls and pretends to be her mother. Zuko is home from school early because he's been feeling really sick. (he is feeling really sick because Azula snuck some ellerbore root into his soup on sunday. Her father asked her too. Just to see what would happen. Just to see if he suspects. Azula doesn't question what her father wants any more) Being sick makes Zuko cranky and when he sees her with the pearls and the all of the other things she's pinched from their mother's room, he gets a little cross.
What are you doing with those? He asks, surprised and angry.
They're mum's Azula says breezily, as if they belong to her now.
I know they're mums, what are you doing with them? Zuko says. Always questions with Zuko. Where is she? What did you do to her? Couldn't he just let it go.
Wearing them dum dum, what does it look like. Azula snaps back at him. She doesn't like the look in his eye or the tone in his voice.
Well you shouldn't. He says firmly.
why not! It's not like she's ever coming back for them! Azula shouts at him, losing her composure, because she's angry. He's made her angry and now she's lost her temper when she's meant to be cool, calm and collected all the time. She takes a deep breath and turns back to the mirror and admires the pearls again. They look good on me. She says with a valiant attempt at her usual airiness.
Believe me, they don't. Zuko says and leaves.
This is exactly why Azula doesn't miss him.
At dinner that night her father notices the pearls too. He says take that filthy thing off this instant without looking up from his dinner. Azula feels crushed and she doesn't know why. For an instant she is frozen and in that instant her dad loses patience with her. He moves, faster than a leopard-dog and rips the necklace from her throat and throws it on the floor. She is shocked by the suddenly violence but then again, not really surprised. Their dad has a temper. They both know this. He hasn't actually hurt her, he just broke her necklace (her mother's necklace) and that didn't physically hurt her. Azula doesn't think he would actually hurt her. He'd probably hurt Zuko in a heartbeat if he thought he could get away with it, but sometimes Azula likes to think that their dad actually really does like her. He just doesn't like her to wear her mother's necklace and Azula understands that. Mother was weak after all.
Zuko is giving her sympathetic looks across the table but Azula ignores him. Dinner continues in silence and when she gets up to leave, she makes sure to step on the pearls in her Father's line of sight. He nods, almost imperceptibly, in approval. All night Azula resists the urge to run back and collect the pearls and hide them away. She tells herself it would be pointless to go back and look for them. The servants will have swept them up and thrown them away by now. And they are just stupid pearls after all.
Azula wakes before dawn and sneaks back into the dining room. The pearls are gone.
Azula hasn't cried in a long time, but to her own surprise, she comes close at that moment.
Azula is getting in some morning training when Zuko leaves to go back to school. She doesn't say goodbye to him. But when she returns to her room to get ready for the Imperial Caldera School day, she finds a small package on the bed and a little note in Zuko's handwriting. Just one line.
She would have wanted you to have them.
Azula picks up the pearls, all still together except for one missing bead from where the cord snapped. The bead is also in the box. Azula buries the pearls deep in her closest. In that place where nobody will ever find them. She'll never wear them again, never look at them again, but she in oddly comforted by their presence.
The shoplifting starts in earnest that winter. Azula wants so much, but her father wont buy any of it for her because it is inappropriate. Azula says that it should be hers, anything she wants should be hers. Mine, mine mine! Is that all you ever say? You are the princess of mine! Her father says tauntingly, after she has asked for eyeliner one too many times. Azula takes the eyeliner (but she never wears it around her father) and the Azula takes a few other things and then suddenly Azula can't stop the habit. Azula is good at it. She likes the thrill, that moment of terrible anticipation when she is not sure if she is going to get away with it and the incredible rush that comes when she does. But she is never caught. Anything she wants, she finds a way to take. Azula knows all the tricks and she looks innocent enough that people tend to trust her.
Inexplicably, the first 'big' thing she steals in another flagon of her mother's perfume. It is an odd choice, because she hates the smell of vanilla and cinnamon now. Still she cannot help but take another bottle the next week. She slips it into her pocket quicker than lightning and buys a cheap lip balm from the cosmetics lady. Azula is oh-so-lovely-and-polite-to-her. She uses her look at how cute and innocent I am face. The cosmetic lady falls for it and says Azula is just the most charming girl and gives her a sneaky lolly. Azula thanks the woman effusively and leaves, perfume in pocket.
She steals things for her friends Mai and Ty Lee. Anything they want - Azula gets them, because they are her friends and she cannot show affection like a normal person, but she can get them what ever they want and that counts for something. Mai is a bit too scared to go with her on her shoplifting outings and makes sarcastic comments about Azula having everything and still needing to steal and more hushed and fear questions about what will happen to Azula if she gets caught. Mai is always scared about what people, especially her parents will think. But Azula brings her fancy black eyeliner and eyeshadow and leaves them on Mai bed while Mai's face is turned. Mai never comments on Azula presents but just acts like they are appearing like magic.
Ty Lee is more braver and comes with Azula and starts taking things too. Ty Lee is always so easily led, but Azula likes it when she comes along. Together they steal a vast horde of lacy underthings. Ty Lee likes them and they are easy to steal, you just put them on under your clothes and nobody ever suspects a thing! The both burst into giggles the first time they do it and get away with it. They wear the lacy underthings to school and nobody has any idea about how wonderful and brilliant and perfect their underwear is under the boring school uniform. Soon Azula and Tylee have many different coloured pairs and a different one every day for two weeks. After one particular day, when she and Ty Lee have been very bold and managed to take a nice silk dress for Ty Lee (her cousin is getting married and she wants a nice dress that her sisters wont have. She wants to stand out and look different.) Ty Lee and Azula go back to her house. It is full noise and of other girls who look exactly like Ty Lee and sometimes Azula hates it and sometimes she loves it.
Today she loves it because Ty Lee tries on the dress and she poses in the mirror and looks really beautiful and happy and Azula did that. Azula made someone happy. Ty Lee and her laugh some more and Ty Lee hugs her and tells her that she is her best friend and Azula feels a warm feeling in her chest. It is strange and alarming but lovely. If this feeling were available in any shop, Azula would steal it everyday, but it is not. She hugs Ty Lee back.
Zuko catches on to the stealing pretty quickly. He is very clever sometimes but he's just not smart. He takes her aside and says he's worried because if she doesn't stop, she's going to get caught one day and when that happens their dad is going to blow a gasket. Dad's been so crazy lately and everyone's been treading on eggshells around him and Azula should too. Azula laughs because Zuko is lecturing her on their dad. Azula knows their father better that Zuko could ever hope to. Azula knows how far that man will go and what he will stoop to, what he is really capable of, while Zuko is still trying to convince himself that deep down, their father is a good man. He's older than her, but he's much more naïve. It's sad really.
Azula gets bolder and takes bigger things. Because she's good at this, because she can, because the thrill of taking smaller things is gone. Ty Lee wont come with her any more, because stealing the big things scares her and also because they are worth a lot of money and what about the shopkeepers. Azula doesn't care about the shopkeepers and she doesn't care that Ty Lee wont come with her. It's okay really. Azula is much more of a lone operator really.
Zuko is back for spring holidays and Azula is feeling a rare moment of fondness for him. She thinks that he deserves something for being a good brother and not ratting her out to their dad. He deserves something for the pearls. He deserves something for just being so Zuko about everything. Azula can't explain it. She knows she is meant to hate him because their father does and because he is weak, but sometimes she cannot. She finds him sprawled out near the turtle duck pond at their old villa. Their mother's favourite spot. He still misses her, but eventually even he learned to stop asking questions about her.
Azula flops down next to him and he's momentarily alarmed and he scoots back from her. She smiles at him. A smile that says relax, I'm not here to hurt you. Previously Azula will admit that she has deliberately done terrible things to hurt him. Often when her father asked her too, but sometimes just to see if she could get away with it. She doesn't blame him for flinching from her, not really. It is a smart thing to do and Zuko's never been that smart (clever, but not smart) and so she should be proud that he's learning. But the second her big brother flinches away from her, she feels a twang on a rarely played string. And there is a hole in her, it feels like it is right in her stomach, that all her stolen goods couldn't fill.
Tell me something you want, she begins innocently enough. Yeah right, Zuko says with a raised eyebrow and he turns back to his book. No really, Azula persists, anything in the world you want. Anything. Azula would get it for him, whatever he said, but instead he says Is this a trick? And Azula gets cross instead. What the hell do you mean is this a trick. Can't a sister do something nice for her brother. Zuko gives her an odd look and says that she's Azula so she's more than just a regular sister. Azula doesn't know if this is a compliment or not. Sometimes with Zuko, it's hard to tell. They are silent for a while and then Zuko says quietly dao blades, twin swords like Lu Ten used to have. Bloody hell! Dao blades are really big, they would be really hard to steal, the hardest thing Azula's ever tried to steal yet. Who does he think she is? Some kind of magical stealing avatar?
Zuko gets a worried look in his eye and said he thought she was just asking hypothetically and he didn't think she was going to try and steal them and she shouldn't try and steal them because she could get into really big trouble. And he doesn't need them anyway.
He does really. Azula understands exactly why he asked for them. He's good with those swords in a way he's not good at anything else, except driving her and their dad crazy. Azula has seen him training with them. It was mum's birthday and Azula is not saying that she missed their weak mum or stupid dum dum Zuko, but that night a strange urge had come over her and she'd snuck out and all the way to the royal academy for boys because it wasn't far and she'd just wanted to see him. Then she'd gotten there and lost her nerve and didn't go in and say hello. But she saw him training through one of the windows and had been..impressed.
He was good at something and she had found it surprising. Dad was always going about how crap Zuko was at everything and seeing him excel had been weird. He is good at swords, but dad wont let him have them because swords are useless when you are a bender and Zuko should be concentrating on his bending (which is woefully below standard and he makes dad ashamed of him every day and why can't he be more like Azula – Azula likes hearing that part the best). He's using the school swords now and has so far kept his training a secret. Azula could ruin it all for him a heart beat and tell dad what she saw. He'd be furious and Zuko'd be in trouble. But Azula doesn't do this.
It is unnecessary.
Dad is already constantly mad at Zuko and sometimes this delights Azula and sometimes it worries her. Most she likes it because it is so easy to deflect blame for every little thing on to Zuko. It is so easy, dad always believes her, because she's the good kid. She's not a fuck up. She needs Zuko around to take the fall for her and he does unknowingly, time and time again. Sometimes she worries when dad gets really mad. When Dad gets really mad at somebody (it is happening more frequently) that person disappears. He could make Zuko go away, make him disappear just like mother and then who would take the blame for Azula? Azula wouldn't miss him, she tells herself. She doesn't miss mother after all. But she would be inconvenienced, to say the least. Zuko doesn't know it, but he's already on thin ice with dad.
Azula walks into the weapons store on an idle Wednesday afternoon. She is alone again. She has gone all the way to harbour city because she was too well known in all the weapons stores in the caldera and could never get away with what she plans to do there. She is wearing her simplest dress. Trying to look the part of an ordinary firenation girl. This theft is so much effort already and she hopes Zuko will appreciate it when she gives him those stupid swords he wants so badly.
She told Mai and Ty Lee her plan and Mai sighed in the way that is infuriating Azula lately and she said in the voice that she uses to sound more grown up than she actually is, that Azula should grow out of her childish habit. Mai she thinks she is oh-so-mature and worldly and cynical and it drives Azula crazy. Ty Lee wouldn't come because it's too risky and Azula should really stop. She had money, she could just buy the swords.
It's not about having the money, or not having the money. Ty Lee doesn't understand.
She thought about it for a while. What Zuko asked for. It was impossible. But she decided to get them for him anyway on the weekend, after Dad blew a gasket at him again. Dad had found him and Uncle Iroh playing Pai Sho on sunday afternoon(uncle was trying to teach him) and had gone insane. Dad hates uncle Iroh (with the passion of a thousand burning suns, he tells Azula), Dad hates Zuko now (his eyes are maddeningly like your weak mother's. They are liar eyes Azula, so don't trust him, only trust me) and Dad really really hates Pai Sho (what on earth is the point of that terrible tedious game) and so finding all three things he hated the most, all together and laughing over tea, was always a recipe for disaster.
Zuko took his scolding with forbearance, he always does. But his face afterwards was so sad and for a second he looked just like their mother, the last time Azula saw her and Azula wants to slap him and tell him to stop looking like that and reminding her of mother! She hates how he always reminds her of mother.
If Azula can make him happy the same way she made Ty Lee happy with the dress, then his face will be happy and he wont remind her of mother and everything will be okay. Maybe she will feel that warm afternoon feeling she felt that day, when Ty Lee hugged her and said she was her best friend again. She liked that feeling.
There was only one thing in the world that Zuko wanted and Azula would get it for him. She says hello to the shop ladies because if you are rude and don't say hello, they watch you more closely. The ladies say hello back and return to their conversation at the counter. Good, they aren't paying attention to her. Azula wanders around until she sees the perfect pair. Just the right length, perfect balance, styled to look antique. She glances back quickly at the shop ladies and they are still preoccupied. How to do this. They were far to big and long to hide under her shirt or between her legs. The shop is too quiet to cause a commotion and then take them in the fracas. She will have to just be subtle and take them and walk out of here calmly. If you walk with confidence and look like you know what you are doing people rarely, if ever, question you. She would just walk out with the swords while the ladies conversed. She could hold them on one side of her body and walk in such a way that the ladies at the counter wont see that she has the swords until it is too late.
Azula does exactly this. She reaches fro the swords, she holds them next to her and walks. Her heart is hammering. Will she really get away with this? She makes it out into the sunshine and breathes a deep sigh of relief. Her nerves are all jumpy and jangly. That was really scary but it had been fun! Feeling pleased with herself, she starts walking back towards the Kimodo rhino cart stop. She had ridden the kimodo rhino cart like a filthy peasant for these stupid swords. She hopes Zuko will appreciate it.
Suddenly swift running footsteps come up behind her. Azula turns around, it is one of the women from the shop. Azula stifles the urge to run away. Oi, you, little girl, the woman shouts, so undignified, you can tell she's lower class. Azula could probably outrun her, but that was stupid, that was something Zuko would do. She never be able to come to harbour city again without that woman recognising her face. Instead she hides the swords behind her back and turns around and pulls out all stops on her charming act. Yes ma'am, she said oh-so-polite. Oh don't give me those innocent goo-goo eyes, the woman huffs, I've raised three daughters I'll have you know. The face doesn't work on me. She leans over Azula and sees the sword behind her back and grabs Azula's arms sharpley in a way that nobody has since her mother. Come on, we are going back inside young miss. And the woman marches her back towards the shop. Azula is terrified, but she never lets on.
the woman sits Azula down on a chair behind the counter and whacks the dao swords on the counter and calls out to the other woman Well Kala, I have caught our sneak thief in a loud voice. Kala appears over the counter and says good for you Zali and frowns at Azula. Zali! Like the Love Amongst the Dragons character. Mother used to love that book.
The one called Kala looks at her and mouths at Zali she is over young, aint she? But to Azula she says what on earth did you think you were doing? Stealing some dao swords? Where on earth are you parents, I have half a mind to send them a messenger hawk right now and tell them what you've been up to. Her tone is scolding, but her eyes are worried. Azula sees something she can use, in that quick flicker of concern.
I don't have no parents, she mumbles sadly, in a good attempt at a harbour city accent. They was killed in the war when I was only a kid. I live with my older brother, you can send him a hawk but he'd still be a work at the factory. They women both look a little taken aback and have a conversation with their eyes. Then they both turn to Azula and look at her almost kindly. Well Zali, what are we going to do with our young miss sneak thief if she aint got no parents we can send a hawk too? Kala drawls in her common, lower class accent. Zali pretends to think for a second and says well We could always have her thrown in the boiling rock prison for naughty girls....Azula's heart stops with horror....or we could give her a mango juice. Zali asked if Azula would like a mango juice, I sure do, Azula says, trying to copy their speech and intonation.
What's your name little one, Zali asks as she hands over a juice and and Azula looks up at her and says Zanna quickly. Oh my darling Zanna had been one mother's favourite songs and she used to sing it all the time to us. When Zuko and Azula were really really young, like tiny young and on holidays and Dad wasn't around, all three of them would all dance round the living room together and sing it loud and proud. Azula feels suddenly taken aback by the sudden memory. She doesn't even know why it popped into her head, why on earth should she be thinking of such things, missing her terrible weak mother in this situation. Mother never loved her and thought she was a monster after all. But mother's overly sentimental taste in music has given Azula the fake name she needed.
Zanna, that's a lovely name, Zali says. My brother says our mam named me after the song, Azula offers with fake shyness. And suddenly to her surprise Zali knows the song and she and Kala sing a few bars. Zali says you mean:
oh my darling Zanna,
where you been so long?
Cause I've been missing you Zanna
and I've loved you all along?
Mum used to spread out the high note of along so it sounded like AAALL Aalooooooooong. Zali and Kala don't do this and the song doesn't sound the same. But Azula doesn't tell them this. She drinks her juice and tries to stay quiet because she figures its the smartest thing to do. Kala and Zali talk a little above her head and suddenly Kala leans over and asks So you live with your brother do you? Like she's really interested.
Azula, still all-politely nods and says yes ma'am. His name is Zuko and he takes real good care of me. She hadn't been able to think up a fake name for Zuko, he's just such a Zuko that another name doesn't suit. But she did have time to work on a pitiful story, in case they asked her about her imaginary Zanna self. Azula knew that if they bought her story they'd probably let her clean off the hook. So she told Zali and Kala all about her sad, poor, imaginary life.
He had to quit school to support us and now he works at the factory and now they want to conscript him for the war. But if he can get some Dao swords they'll allow him into the home guard instead and then it'll be better pay for us and he wont have to go so far away and I wont have to go to a children's home.
All of it happened sometimes, the only remaining parent got conscripted and the children had to go to temporary homes. People who could buy/produce their own weapons got the easier home guard positions. Kids had to quit school and work in factories. All of it did happen, but probably not to the same person. This girl Azula made up, this Zanna, she was something else, she was plucky and she was brave. People would like her and want to help her out, from the looks of Zali and Kala's face, they liked her and wanted to help her out too. Hell, even Azula liked her. She let her story hang in the air for a while, let Kala and Zali feel sorry for her, good and proper, and then pulled out her peice-de-resistance; the sincere apology. I'm real sorry I took them and I wont do it again. I just thought it would solve all our problems. Azula says and then she starts crying big fat iguanadile tears. Kala and Zali both come over and start to hug her.
It startles her because no one had hugged Azula in so long. Not since Ty Lee did that afternoon ages ago. But the two ladies are warm and soft and Azula soon, despite herself leans into the hug. One of them, Azula cannot tell which, smells like cinnamon and vanilla and Azula always thought she hated that smell but she really doesn't. Oh how she's missed it. Cinnamon and vanilla and I've loved you all along. Azula misses her mother powerfully in that moment, even if she'll only admit it to herself. One of the women is soothing her hair and saying there there now little one, everything will be alright and then Azula really begins to haul off. It's not iguanadile tears anymore. But big fat tears from her dry heart. Tears that she didn't even know were there. Where is all this water coming from? she's been holding back her tears so long, maybe this is the last three years worth in one go.
She shouldn't be hugging peasants like this. Father would be furious if he knew! What would mother say. But mother was gone and Zanna didn't have a father worry about. Zanna only had her brother and it was just the two of them against the world.
Eventually Azula stops crying and one of the women offers her a hanky. She blows her nose and wipes her eyes repeatedly but the tears haven't stopped entirely. They just fall silently. Zali and Kala take a second and look at each other and have a quiet conversation. Zali gets the proper sheath for the swords from the wall (Azula had been afraid to take that too- in case she got caught). She slides the swords back in and hands them to Azula in their nice leather sheath. Azula is dumbfounded, she had just being trying to get out of trouble, but now she's out of trouble and the woman has just given her swords and she doesn't quite know what is going on. She is speechless.
Tell ya what miss Zanna, how bout we give you these swords for your brother and you tell him he's doing well to try and bring you up on his own, and you can wish him best of luck for getting into the home guard from us Zali says with a smile at Azula. it warms Azula's heart in a place she didn't even know was cold. Kala rubs her shoulder gently and says and watch your sneak thieving ways little one, you're getting lucky this time, but not everybody is like me and Zali here.
Azula wipes her eyes again and says quietly I don't understand why you're both being so nice to me. Because she really doesn't. No one had been this nice to Azula in her whole life, she is sure of it. She suddenly has the mad (terrible, disloyal, ridiculous) urge to just stay here in this shop with these two kind women who smell like vanilla and cinnamon and know the words to Oh my darling Zanna and sing to her and hug her. She wants to go live with them and to never go home again. But she doesn't say any of this. She lets them hug her again (because she is getting teary again) and she thanks them and it is a sincere thank you. The sincerity of the thank you surprises Azula. The ladies fuss over her a bit more and then Zali straps the swords on her back properly and walks her out to the kimodorhino cart stop and waits with her while the cart comes. She helps Azula up even though Azula can do it perfectly fine on her own. You take care now Zanna, Zali says as she waves the bus off and Azula waves back until Zali turns around and goes back inside. Azula feels all light and happy like she hasn't felt in ages.
Azula hides the swords in their mother's old bedroom. She can't bring something like dao swords into the palace in case her dad or one of the servants find them, then she'd be busted. Azula is too smart to be busted like that, she knows how to cover her tracks. No one goes into their mother's room except her and Zuko, so it is the perfect place.
That weekend when he comes back, Azula is all excited to give him his present. Saturday night after dinner, she says she has a surprise for him. He edges away from her and says he never likes her surprises. True, most of her surprises are cruel, but Azula is trying to be a good sister for once and she went though hell (well really just to harbour city) to get these swords and she's not going to let Zuko's (probably justified) skittishness around her get in the way of her surprise. She grabbed him and pulls him after her to their old house and to their mothers room. They haven't been here together in ages.
He is full of questions, he always is. What's gotten into you? What is going on? Really now? But Azula tells him to be quiet and stop being such a dummy. Did he want to get caught sneaking into mum's room. Technically speaking neither Zuko or Azula are allowed in, but this is one rule that they both freely ignore. Azula tells him to look under the bed and he raises an eyebrow at her. This better not be one of your sick jokes Azula, Zuko says with a cross expression on his face, but he does what she says and bends and looks under and gasps. He takes out the dao swords and looks at her with wide disbelieving eyes. Their mother's eyes. Liar eyes. No, just Zuko eyes. They're for you. Azula says softly. I want you to have them.
Zuko looks at her a little strangely. He's not used to kind words or getting presents, especially from Azula. Eventually he says how did you even get these? And for a minute Azula thinks about telling him all about Wednesday afternoon and Kala and Zali, but she decides against it. He would think she was going soft and she can't have that. Instead Azula says you don't want to know dum dum, just enjoy them and don't be all Zuko and worry about where they came from. Zuko mouths be all zuko? with some confusion but then he shakes it off and looks back at the swords and takes them out of the sheath and smiles and says well these are perfect. He waves them about experimentally. Of course they are, I picked them. Azula says indulgently. When will Zuko ever learn that everything about Azula, including everything she steals, is perfect. He'll never catch up, never be as perfect as she is and that is how it should be. She's the golden child and he's the kid who fucks up.
Zuko lowers the swords and says thanks Azula, really. And Azula says you're welcome. I hope you appreciate all I had to go through to get those stupid swords for you dum dum. Zuko says how can he appreciate that when she wont tell him how she got them. But he comes over and gives her a very quick one armed hug. Neither of them are very good at being demonstratively affectionate and so a quick, one armed hug is a big deal for the two of them.
Zuko says quietly that he doesn't ever say it, but sometimes he is really glad she is his sister. Azula feels that warm wonderful glow again sometimes she thinks she steals all these things just to feel this warm glowing feeling. She can't say anything equally as nice back, even if she secretly loves the nice things that Zuko and Ty Lee sometimes (oh so rarely) say. Just like when Ty Lee told her she was her best friend and Azula brushed it off. She can't say anything nice back, in these situations. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't. Something stops her and she can't. But she can give presents. She can give things people really want and need and isn't that enough? She shrugs Zuko off affectionately and says she wishes she could say the same, but he is such a dum dum of a brother.
But Zuko still smiles at her and holds one of the swords to her, handle out. En garde he says cheekily. Azula pauses, she doesn't know how to use a dao sword, Lu ten never taught her because she was a girl and it was inappropriate. She is worried she will look foolish if she tries. She is worried she will look less than perfect. I don't know how, she says quietly, hating herself for having to make the admission. Swords is the one thing Zuko is better at than her and now he is going to be disgustingly smug about it. She expects some smugness but instead Zuko offers her the handle again and said That's why I'm going to teach you.
At first not much teaching goes on and they have what is, in fact, a very childish play fight. It is a very childish playfight with very sharp implements. Most of their play fights have always had a dangerous edge to them. Azula knows somewhere deep down, that one day they will fight for real. There will be no play about it. She will probably win, their father is always saying how much better she is than Zuko at everything. Zuko is too much like their mother and she is too much like their father and who is the parent who ends up missing and possibly dead and gone? Azula will win, she is sure of it. The thought should make her happy, but it doesn't right at this moment.
She asks Zuko to teach her something real because she doesn't feel like fighting right then. He helps her with her grip, he shows her how to hold the two swords properly. Lu Ten used to say that dual swords were two halves of the same whole he says and puts the swords together and then apart to demonstrate. They look totally separate, but they aren't, they are always connected, Zuko explains. And Azula wants more than anything to understand.
On monday evening, after Zuko has gone back to the academy and Azula is alone, she writes a messy quick note to Zali and Kala, that simply says thanks again. Her brother got into the home guard and she will always be grateful to Kala and Zali. Azula wants to prolong the fantasy of Zanna for just a little bit longer. But she also wants to say thank you properly again. She disguises her handwriting and leaves off the return address. She won't be getting any return mail from the kind ladies.
She wants to go back to the shop, but she knows she never will. She has gotten too much goodwill and kindness from these ladies. She has used them all up. She had used them all up and now she can't have them again. Dad said once (when he was angry and frustrated and maybe he didn't mean it) that Azula sucks all the good bits out of people and eventually they get sick of her or they have nothing left to give and that is why people (like her mother) would always leave her in the end. Maybe dad is right about her. She sees anything and thinks Mine! And does what she can to get it. Mine mine mine! That's all it is with Azula.
But then dad should know all about that. Shouldn't he.
He is the king of Mine. The firelord of mine!
Where does he think Azula learns everything she knows?
long rambly authors note:
I had kind of wanted to do a piece on Azula's POV of her and ozai's very twisted relationship and I guess this would be it. This fic can be considered a companion piece to notes on a daughter. It will also fit in with my Stalking universe too. It takes place in the first few months after Ursa's departure and highlights Azula's relationship primarily with Zuko and with Ozai and to a lesser extent her friendship with Mai and Ty Lee.
so this random fic has just poured out of me. I took a break after posting the last not stalking chapter and I read a book of short stories (little altars everywhere- it is fabulous!) and there was a short story about a girl who goes totally kelpto because she has all these feelings that she can't express and while I was reading it is just made me think of Azula and... I dunno this story came about.
I wanted to take the idea of Azula as a klepto girl and run with it. Really, being a kelpto is something I can see her doing. Zuko had a bit of kleptomania during his time as the Blue spirt and I think this may be one of the few traits that they would have in common. Zuko pinches a lot of stuff for Uncle Iroh that he thinks his uncle will like, and I sort of saw it as his messed up way of showing affection and saying thanks for sticking with me. Azula also pinches stuff to show affection.
Azula has a big sense of entitlement and she is the princess, doesn't she just a have a right to everything she wants? Right? Wrong, in this fic, Azula can get most tangible objects that she desires, but the real thing she is after, intangible love, remains hard to hold onto. I think she steals partly for the thrill of it and the adrenaline rush she gets when she thinks she might be caught, partly to show affection in her messed up Azula way, but more importantly she steals to fill a void in her life that was created by her mother's departure. She is completely unable to deal with her feelings regarding this and in many ways she is in a worse position that Zuko because she's got Ozai breathing in her ear about weakness etc. she cannot show or deal with her emotions regarding her mother and tries to convince herself that she doesn't care or miss her. But she still has all these feelings and they have to go somewhere, so Azula acts out through stealing. People who know her and care about her (Zuko, Ty Lee and to some extent Mai) can see there is something not right with her and try to get her to stop the self destructive behaviour, (unsuccessfully.)
Azula and zuko's relationship is characterised by a deep antagonism, but I don't think it was like that 100% all the time. I think they must have had a few sweet moments together and this night with the dao sword practise would be one of those. I often write that Zuko probably learned to not express his feelings properly from being around Azula and ozai. I think when he expressed wants or desires, one of them would have found a way to make sure he didn't get it. I still think this is largely the case (hence his disbelief and is this a trick, when Azula asks him what he wants) but I wanted to invert the idea and see what would happen if Azula ever did give him something that he wanted. They bond. If I take this fic any further, Azula will end up being caught stealing and it will all go fruit shaped and there will be drama. But for the moment, they have a nice bonding session. I think that when Azula is put on the spot to make up an imagianry person in Zanna, she almost creates her ideal fantasy for herself re: family. No mother who thinks she is a monster, no crazy father who makes her do terrible things. Just her and Zuko. She can not express her feelings for Zuko (probably because a lot of those feelings are bound up in resentment, because she thinks their mum loved Zuko better) but I think on her good days, when she is listening to her better angels, she does quite like him and want to make him happy. (Azula's better angels do advise her to go shoplifting, so they are not good angels perse, but they are better than the other lot)
With Azula and Mai and Ty Lee, I think that Ty Lee was always a bit more willing to follow Azula down the rabbit hole. She is more easy to sway after all. Mai is quite self composed even at a young age and can tell this is all going to end in tears. She also is playing the role of perfect daughter for her parents and hasn't been friends with Azula as long in this fic, and thus she is less likely to follow her lead. Azula hasn't gotten to the point where she wants to completely dominate them both and have absolute control over them, so Mai's refusal to sholift isn't met with Azula rage, but more Azula indifference. This is helped by the fact that Mai loves the stuff Azula gets her and so Azula thinks she wants to come, she's just to scared to.
So Azula tries to actively make two people (Ty Lee and Zuko) happy in this fic, which I imagine in itself is a bit unusual and rebellious for her. She feels a great feeling when they return her sincere gifts with affection, because it is the affection that Azula wants more than anything and she's suppressed her desire for it to the point where her desire for affection has gotten all twisted up with the kleptomania and its all a bit crazy. She also gets to have a brief moment where she acknowledges to herself that she really does miss her mother.
This fic also shows the very crazy father-daughter bond that Azula and Ozai have going there. Azula is starting to completely internalise Ozai and his crazy and his cruel world view. She believes him over most things he says (your mother didn't love you, she was weak, she thought you were a monster etc). I think Ozai wouldn't have liked Azula holding people he thought of as weak (Ursa, Iroh, Zuko) in any regard at all and so he tries to slowly deconstruct her affection for them and it is working. It's getting to the point that she will do bad stuff with little or no prompting from him and she doesn't question his more crazy requests. But every now and then, she'll have a moment of clarity and she realises that their relationship is not quite the normal father/daughter bond. I think Azula is more obedient than Zuko and more placating of their father, precisely because she knows how dark and messed up he really is and what he is actually capable of, but she has also resigned herself to turning out the exact same way. Azula really believes that she is going to end up like Ozai, even if, every now and then, very infrequently, she wishes not to.