This is a GiftFic for Tenshiyaki from Zutara Secret Santa, using the prompts:
Christmas in a cold country
Christmas in a hot country
Merry Christmas Tenshiyaki and all of my lovely readers!
Azula's Christmas Carol.
Part 1: Mother's Ghost
Azula did not like Christmas. Azula did not want a Christmas present. Azula certainly did not want to sit down to Christmas with Zuko and the Bossy Peasant, thank you very much! Azula didn't think she could stomach the sight of them feeding each other bits of meat and trying to play footsie in secret under the table.
Zuko wants her to come, for reasons so stupid that only he could possibly believe them. Azula has been in the place for more than two years. She is, according to her doctor, "stable" enough to handle a day out with her mature guardian. Zuko'd have to sign a form that said temporary release in the company of a mature guardian, but she'd be allowed out.
The fact that Zuko is her mature guardian is a bit funny in itself.
Mature Zuko is a bit of an oxymoron. Those were funny.
But he's 19 and looks all grown up now. When did that happen?
He wants her to have Christmas dinner with him. Well bollocks to that! He wanted the same thing last year and look at how that turned out! Oh no, Azula is no fool. She is not falling for this again. She's not getting her hopes up this time. Last Christmas was meant to be good, but it was awful instead. Azula has trusted him a little less since then.
He thinks it will be "good" for them, to do something "normal families" do together. Azula questions what this dinner will be like and who will be in attendance. She stops listening when he says Bossy's name (her real one – he doesn't call her Bossy). Since fucking when was the Bossy Peasant part of "their family"?
Azula doesn't want to be a "normal family" with Zuko. She doesn't want to do a normal family dinner.
Azula could tell him that he wouldn't like a normal family Christmas dinner either. She had been to a few, with Ty Lee's family (in that long, lonely period when it was just her and her father). She could tell Zuko a thing or two about normal family Christmas dinners. There is bitterness and resentment which is always aired in a dramatic fashion, normally after a few wines had been drunk and before desert. Someone would have to disgrace themselves. An elderly relative would decide it was time to be "honest" with everyone. Carrots would be thrown.
She and Zuko already did something similar most times they had dinner together. She couldn't understand why he would want more projectile vegetables thrown at his head in his life. Zuko said that according to Bossy peasant, Christmas is a time for families. Christmas is for spending time with the people you love... He gets all flustered at that. Azula gets flustered too. She dismissive of his idea, almost to the point of cruelty. Zuko leaves, saying that Christmas dinner was a stupid idea anyway and he didn't even know why he asked her in the first place.
Zuko and Azula have a secret rule; they don't say they love each other. It is better this way.
Azula does though, really. She loves him, but in a way that makes it all kinds of impossible to ever tell him. Azula used to wish that she could give him another sister. One who wasn't sick. Who didn't hurt him all the time. She wished this because she knew change wasn't an option for her. But then he went and got himself a new family – complete with replacement sister. Azula resented him for that. His ability to move on, to endure, to rebuild something from ruins.
So no, Azula did not want to sit down to Christmas dinner with Zuko, with his new shiny life and his new and better family, and spend the whole day being reminded of how he had succeeded where she had failed and that in the constant battle of their sibling rivalry, it was he who had emerged victorious.
Their childhood was a war without a name. He was the only other survivor. But he "didn't like to think on it" or he felt "it was a long time ago", or he was "trying to get past it". Sometimes Azula wanted to shake him or slap him and demand to know how he could ever forget any of it?
How do you even go about "getting past" something like that?
It would be like steering a ship around an iceberg. There's always more under the surface than you think. Try it, without examining the depth and breadth of that vast submerged mass, and you'd get a punctured hull, the ship would fill with water leaving millions to drown at sea in the icy waters.
Yet Zuko had managed it. He was past the dangerzone, surrounded by so many buoyant people to keep him afloat. He's moving forward. But Azula was floundering. It's funny to Azula because it always used to be the other way around.
Bossy Peasant comes once a fortnight to do a healing session with Azula. It is a technique that she picked up in Ba Sing Se and felt she just had to bestow upon acrimonious Azula. Azula would begrudgingly admit that it did help. She felt ...clearer, after a session with Bossy.
She often felt greatly amused after a session with Bossy. Maybe this is why the sessions help so much. Getting Bossy all up in arms and appalled over something or causing her to storm off in high dudgeon always improves Azula's mood. Like Zuko, Bossy was just so much fun to poke and pick at. Her reactions were so delightfully diverting.
Today Bossy asks her to come to Christmas as well. Well she bossily insists that Azula at least consider coming. Azula is uncooperative and argumentative. Bossy scolds. She loves getting Bossy like this. Her hands on hips, all indignant. There was pointing. Bossy frequently exclaimed really now! Until Azula derailed the conversation entirely by saying "Honestly Bossy, don't you have better things to do with your time – like fucking my brother- than bothering me about this."
Azula gets the reaction she was looking for.
She usually does.
Azula knows all about them and their "secret relationship".
Of course she does.
She's not fucking blind.
Not like the bratty Earthbender.
Who also probably knows.
Even the stupid turtleducks in the stupid pond must have cottoned on by now.
Azula can't comprehend how they have managed to keep the whole thing secret from the court, from the government officials and from the generals. She understands very well why they have to – but she can't believe they have managed it. They are both such morons.
In Azula's experience, this sort of thing, the firelord debasing himself in such a manner, would not be received well at all. Back in Firelady Pei Pei's day, Peasant Fucking was an Acceptable Hobby. But all that changed under Firelord Zoran (nobody wanted to fuck him – so he fucked everybody over). Peasant Fucking became "immoral" and was one of the biggest No-Nos ever. As Firelord - you can start one of the most interminable pointless wars ever, but you can't fuck the peasants (or the Koalasheep). They get you for that.
She wonders what on earth Zuko does in the meetings where Bossy is present. (Bossy is in involved in some sort of international group that is aimed at healing the world with tearbending and bossiness and hope. She has bored Azula senseless telling her the details). Bossy is using her medical training in the field improve the health and sanitation in impoverished areas in the firenation. She is using several "early intervention strategies" for water-borne diseases. If these strategies are successful; they and presumably Bossy, will be unleashed upon the world at large.
Anyway Bossy has to report on progress and how she is using government funds to better the lives of stinky, sludge ridden river brats– and Azula dearly wants to know what Zuko does in these meetings. Does he spend the whole time discreetly concealing a boner? Or does he think about socks, slugs and Uncle's special 5 O'clock time and other such repellent and non-sexual things?
Azula has to hand to to Zuko and Bossy – they are sneakier than she gave them credit for. They have been doing the squelchy for ages and no one in the government seems any the wiser. However Azula knows. She is not meant to know. They have never told her. They still deny it to this day. But she knows.
She just put two and two together.
It has become the trump card she keeps up her sleeve.
Whenever she wants one of them to fuck off and leave her alone, or she wants to end the conversation, or she just wants some entertainment – she mentions the fact that she is sure they are fucking each other. The ensuing reactions are always worth it. There can be:
Affirmations of "just friendship".
Suddenly realising that they are "Very Busy and Important and simply must go".
Some sort of combination of the above.
Azula knows, but she is not meant to know. She has discovered that she actually wants Zuko to just end this farce and "tell her" properly. That would be a sign of trust. But Zuko doesn't trust her. There is so much he doesn't tell her.
She has tried to prompt confessions from him in all manner of ways. The most hilarious of which was she pretended that she wanted to experiment with lesbianism with Bossy.
Azula did this whole spiel to Zuko about how Bossy was so beautiful that her beauty had slain Azula's heterosexuality stone dead. No more would Azula want the boys! No, Azula now wanted Bossy. Bossy was such a delicious, tawdry minx. Her skin was so brown, her eyes were so blue, her hair was so shiny. Bossy was finer than a July day. Azula would totally tap that.
Azula said she wanted Bossy's soft, brown hands all over her body. She wanted to touch her pert boobs, grab her fine arse and play with her bouncy, shiny, unicorn-like hair. Azula could understand why anyone would want to bang Bossy. It was an understandable urge.
Zuko's reaction had been beyond priceless.
Azula thought she's made his brain explode.
He was just so much fun to mess with. She didn't know how anyone could possibly resist. What did Uncle do? Did he feign ignorance and then mess with his beloved nephew from the sidelines? Or had Zuko trusted him enough and told him?
Well that was neither here nor there. Azula didn't care if Zuko trusted her. Not really.
Azula had been great at messing. It was one of her favourite hobbies. Her doctors were always telling her that she needed hobbies.
This summer, Zuko had got several extravagant presents (including a veritable vat of some repellent salty substance called stewed seaprunes, shipped in especially from the south pole) for his "friend" Bossy for her birthday. He wanted Azula to sign a card for precious Bossy, saying that this was "her day" and she had been so good to Azula and Azula should "make an effort".
Azula had written on the card a very rude message along the lines of please accept these gifts from my brother and I. If you wish, we can improve your birthday by giving you lots of oral sex later. Oral sex which you will not need to reciprocate, because this day is about you.
Azula thinks that Bossy was amused by this. Zuko was not. He took it so seriously, which is the same way he takes everything.
There had been a small kerfuffle with Zuko when he came to see her next. He blathered on about how he would totally accept her "lifestyle" choices, and if she were gay...that'd be okay...because hey, he'd like her anyway etc, etc. But she had to stop hitting on Bossy.
The card thing came not long after the spiel about being a lesbian for Bossy and Azula thinks he really got the wrong end of the stick there.
But it was sweet of him to say, all the same.
Azula stopped finding all the messing funny last week. Azula had liked teasing when she thought it was just a quick fling. She's always liked making Zuko feel awkward over girls. (Agni was it easy to make him feel awkward about girls).
She honestly thought that it would just be a quick passing fling, a satisfaction of curiosity and bodily urges. She honestly thought they'd get over it quickly and tire of one another's company. She didn't think that they were actually serious.
But then Azula had seen them together and all the things she had been teasing them about were confirmed in the worst possible way.
It wasn't just sex between them.
It was love, and that was a thousand times worse than Azula ever imagined.
Azula is allowed to wander the grounds now. She came across them, at the end of a hallway.
A idle Thursday. Bossy is in her doctor's scrubs, over her shoulder a bag of supplies she'd "borrowed" from the cupboards here. Zuko is on his way to see Azula. His face is tired. Then it is surprised, then delighted. Bossy is also surprised. She smiles openly at him. A happy accident. A quick glance around. Azula, just coming around the corner, darted back quickly. They thought they were alone.
There is some murmured conversation. Then Bossy placed her hand gently on Zuko's cheek. There was a soft, quick kiss, a casual meeting of lips, done so offhandedly that it must be a commonplace gesture for the both of them.
Azula did not want to see any more. She walked further back, and then started stomping loudly towards them. When she turned the corner, they had jumped apart. There was no indication of how close they were standing moments ago. Bossy leaves, Zuko comes to have dinner with her, like everything is the same. Azula is unrelentingly horrible to him for the entire visit. She feels sick to her stomach over what she witnessed.
It was the expression on Zuko's face, as he spoke to Bossy. Azula hopes to Agni she never has cause to have such a soppy and ridiculous expression on her face. It was the way he sighed as she touched him. She is so bothered by that expression and that sigh. She is so bothered by the way he looked at the Bossy Peasant.
Azula had never seen anyone touch her brother so gently, so lovingly. There was such a pure and simple affection in that little moment in the hallway. There was a feeling between them, they practically radiated it. Contentment, desire, comfort all in one. The feeling seems as sweet and beautiful as it is unexpected.
Azula suspects it is love.
It fills Azula with fear. It fills her with confusion.
She doesn't understand love. Father called it the most inconstant force in the universe, and she suspects he is right about this, if nothing else. She was always taught that it was better to be feared than loved. This was explicitly taught. This was an inbuilt lesson into everything their father did after mother left.
Love made you so vulnerable. It meant that there were so many other places where people could hurt you. Oh, there were so many different and creative ways to make people feel pain when they had someone they loved.
Love was a weakness. It made you weak.
Love only ever ended it pain. It only hurt people.
It was an inconvenient and inconstant and uncontrollable feeling. Azula already had enough uncontrollable feelings, thank you very much. She had enough to be getting on with.
Wasn't Zuko scared?
Wasn't he fucking terrified?
They'd both seen how bad this could get. This whole love business. They'd witnessed first hand the damage it wrought. Love has an incredible capacity to destroy when it turns sour. They had seen the holes it ripped in people when the person they loved was taken from them. If Azula had been him, she would not have been able to lace up her shoes and head for the hills fast enough. She would have run as far and as fast as she could from Bossy.
Instead of running from her, Zuko looked at Bossy like he thought he'd never seen anything more beautiful. He looked at her without a trace of fear, and when she reached out to touch him he didn't flinch away in the slightest. (Involuntary flinching when touched was habit for him at one point).
What were he and Bossy playing at?
They couldn't ever get married, not with their respective positions. Any match between them was completely unacceptable. Zuko could not have picked a more inconvenient person to fall in love with. It was stupid, thoughtless, and reckless falling in love with the Bossy Peasant. It would only end in tears.
It had already resulted in tears.
She'd felt angry at them. They were both smarter than this. Didn't they see how impossible it was? How it was futile? It would never work. It would never last.
Maybe she would have Christmas with them when they weren't being imbeciles, but she certainly wasn't going to be in attendance while this idiocy was still going on. The thought of them in love would put her right off her turkeyduck. She'd vomit all over the cranberry sauce in disgust at their ridiculous relationship.
Being alone on christmas was a much better alternative. All things considered.
She goes to bed, completely resolute in her decision.
She wakes to the sound of her mother humming softly. A strange enough occurrence in itself. Her mother wasn't prone to wake them up if they were sleeping. She'd always had a hard enough time getting them to bed in the first place. She'd only ever been woken deliberately by her mother once.
Mother waking her was strange because Mother was dead also.
Very plausibly dead.
Zuko had been looking for three years, with the usual determination he applied to any task. He had found nothing. Though neither of them had said anything about giving up, and Zuko assured her that he was still looking, they both knew that there was a very strong likelihood that their mother was no longer with the living.
But yet, she was still with Azula.
Azula told her to fuck off instantly. She was beyond pissed off at her mother for imposing on her in this manner. She hadn't hallucinated her mother for ages now.
She thought she was getting better.
She was improving.
That was why she got grounds privileges. That was why she was allowed out for "days out with her mature guardian". She wasn't about to let her mother come back and fuck things up for her now.
Mother took being told to fuck off, having eight pillows thrown at her and being punched in the face in stride. She was transparent so the pillows and the punching did naught.
Azula, who was not one prone to imploring, appealed to her mother's good nature. Things were getting better for Azula – so Mother had to go. She wasn't real anyway, and Azula could not be seen talking to her. Then Azula pinched herself. Despite the imploring and the pinching – Mother remained.
She was different to the other visions Azula had seen. At least they had the good manners to leave when they were unwelcome. Azula quickly put her finger on what made this Mother so different. "Why are you wearing chains?" she asks bluntly.
Her mother looks ridiculous; covered head to toe in the things. Mother smiles and shrugs good-naturedly. The chains jingle. She gives Azula a cheeky grin and just says "because they look dramatic."
Azula knows her whole family has a flair for drama – Zuko especially is ridiculously dramatic. He's more dramatic than an Ember Island Player in a death scene. And now here is her mother, haunting her and wearing giant chains like they are costume jewellery. This is taking matters a bit far. Haunting in costume! Really now! She mutters "Now I know where Zuzu gets it from." under her breath.
Mother sits next to her, and jostles her good-naturedly while she says "Just kidding darling. They are here to show you something."
Mother explains that the chains are a metaphor. It is an especially relevant metaphor for them. For this family. For the way they live their lives. Some chains weigh someone down, like a millstone or an albatross around their neck. These chains forged by ill deeds and causing the suffering of others. Azula is expecting a lecture about her ill-deeds during the war. Sometimes her mother does this – but Dr Jung says that it is really Azula's guilt and her subconscious tag-teaming on her. But no lecture is forthcoming.
These are not the chains her mother wishes to speak to her about.
Mother wishes to talk to her about the other sorts of chains. Chains that lift us up where we belong. Azula has absolutely no idea what she is talking about. Mother shakes her head quickly and apologises. "Ooh sorry darling, I'm probably confusing you. I'm meant to tell you that", Mother lowers her voice dramatically, before rasping out, "these chains are the ones I forged in life. I made them link by link." Then her face clears and she smiles brightly and says "That's the official line at least...for this sort of thing."
Mother seems to think that this will make things clearer for Azula – but mother is wrong. What sort of thing is this?
Mother's smile is gentle. Her hand cups Azula's face. She softly says "It's an intervention, my darling".
Mother has arranged for three spirits to come and visit Azula.
Azula wishes that Mother would not arrange her social life now that she is dead. It is most inconvenient to be haunted by one's mother and have her arrange play dates with spirits behind your back without a by-your-leave. And intervention is entirely unnecessary.
Azula argues. What on earth could she possible need an intervention for? What vice could she possibly pick up in this hospital. She doesn't smoke. She doesn't gamble. She is not allowed alcohol and the only drugs she takes are the ones administered to her by Dr Jung.
"It's the chains darling." Mother says suddenly. "You are so frightened of them". She is right. Azula is repulsed by them.
"But you needn't be...no, you mustn't be frightened." Mother continues.
Azula recoils as Mother gathers up some links and thrusts them into her arms. They chink together in a soft melody that sounds like bells. They are light and warm. They do not feel like cold steel chains at all.
Mother is insistent as she exclaims "These chains are good. They don't hurt me darling. They have never hurt me. I made these chains willingly. I wore them willingly. These chains bind us together."
Azula announces a desire to have the entirety of the chains melted down for scrap metal, if that is the case. If these chains are what keeps her connected to this apparition then she wishes to sever every link of the stupid things. What use is it to be chained to a dead woman? So that she can bring you down with her? Azula would never wish to be chained to anyone, least of all her mother.
"That is why you need an intervention my darling." Mother says softly.
Then she smiles sadly, and gets up to leave. The chains jangle melodiously again. But now they sound like soft music that is unlike any music Azula has heard before. Mother glances over her should just once, as she departs. She says "You should expect the first spirit when the gong tolls midnight." Her tone is comforting. Her words are ominous.
So this is the first Part of Azula's Christmas Carol. I've thrown a few Dickens lines in here - but as you can tell, I am reinventing the classic tale somewhat. Also If you were gay -that would be okay - because hey -I'd like you anyway - are lyrics from the very cheeky, and very brilliant Avenue Q.
Onwards to part 2 - the Ghost of Christmas Past.