Azula is three when her new bed lights up in orange flames—she had only been recently switched to it from a crib. Her main caretaker screams, prompting a stream of guards to stumble into her room. The first one with a little bit of common sense expertly extinguishes the flames, leaving charred cotton and a particular cause in its wake—a strangely quiet toddler who is smiling.
Azula had been dreaming. She dreamt of a blue dragon on an island, a dragon that became her friend. The next thing she knew, she was awake, surrounded by flames, but she will not forget the dragon.
Prince Ozai and Princess Ursa sweep into the room moments later. The Prince is composed as ever while the Princess rushes forward, uncaring of the burnt furniture nor the small cinders on the bed. Her hands touch Azula everywhere, checking for injuries from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet.
Azula’s smile dims. Her dream was so much fun, but everyone now looks scared. She does not understand.
”Princess, if I may.” A man steps up to them—it’s the Royal Physician.
Azula’s caretaker steps forward and gathers her charge in her arms then sits her on a nearby chair. Her parents and the physician crowd around her as the others stand by near the door and watch.
The physician takes her temperature and checks every inch of her little body. With the smile long gone, Azula answers his questions to the best of her abilities and does everything he wants her to, knowing her parents are watching. When he is satisfied, he steps away and murmurs everything is fine to the royal parents.
The servants and guards gathered breath out sighs of relief—a comical chorus really. There’s a chance the Prince won’t fire them all by tomorrow. They trickle silently and stealthily out of the door, out of sight but still within reach if needed.
Ursa takes little Azula in her arms and kisses her softly on the forehead, hugging her tightly. Ozai steps close, placing a hand on the girl’s head. Azula is warm.
“Am in trouble?” Azula asks. She still can’t pronounce her R's properly. It comes out sounding like ‘twoble’.
Ursa smiles. “No, you’re not Azula. You’re a firebender.”
Ozai bends down and smiles, leveling Azula with a warm stare. “In fact, the most wonderful thing happened. If I remember correctly, you’re the youngest Royal in memory to firebend at your age. Your brother can’t even firebend.”
Ursa frowns at her husband over Azula’s head.
The words and their meanings don't really register to Azula as she merely blinks at him, wide-eyed, and Ozai laughs.
Ursa sighs, and her hands clutch Azula’s little body closer.
Azula is four, and she’s watching her cousin firebend in the gardens one morning. She’s sitting on a pillow on the ground, awed by Lu Ten’s power and strength and fire.
He punches and kicks and jumps, and Azula promises herself she would be as good as him one day. She tries her best to follow the fast movement with her eyes.
When he finishes his katas, he comes to sit next to her, and they both drink jasmine tea when the servants offer it to them. Azula sticks her tongue out a little at the aftertaste; tea is so different than milk.
She hears a laugh then turns to see her cousin looking at her with amusement. “What?”
Lu Ten’s smile just gets bigger. “Nothing.”
Azula just blinks at him before saying, “I want to be you.”
Her words are better than the year before, and she can string sentences far better than anyone her age. She stands up then mirrors his earlier actions albeit without the flames. It’s hard. She stumbles over some katas but picks herself up and giggles about it.
Lu Ten grins—it’s comforting and big; Azula knows she likes her cousin’s smile. “I think one day you’ll be even better than me.”
Running toward him, Azula squeals then slows to sit next to him.
“Show me your flame,” Lu Ten says, patting her hands.
Azula opens a palm and focuses like her father taught her to do. A small, bright flame bursts in the middle and she holds it with ease. She likes the feeling of it in her palm; it makes her feel warm.
Lu Ten hums, clearly impressed. “Can you make it bigger?”
She can. The flame is the size of a ball in her palm now, and it burns brighter than before. She lets it stay as it is, counting to ten as her father taught her to. When she reaches ten, she extinguishes it with control.
“You’re so good, Azula. That was very impressive.”
“Cousin, what’s impwes—impressi—that word?”
Lu Ten smiles once again. “Impressive. It means what you did was very, very good.”
“Oh!” She beams. “Because daddy makes me practice. A lot!”
Lu Ten’s expression is soft now as his hand comes up to squeeze her shoulder. “You’re so young, cousin. You don’t have to practice so much.”
Azula doesn’t really understand him. She likes spending time with her father; she also likes fire.
He sighs, patting her shoulder. It’s so similar to what Uncle would do, Azula thinks. “Just remember to take some rest, Zula, and don’t forget to play!” He grins conspiratorially at her, and picking up on his mood, Azula giggles at him, nodding. “Hey Zula, look who’s here,” he says, glancing behind her.
She turns around and finds her older brother, half-hiding behind a pillar. Azula waves him over, and they both wait as Zuko trots closer.
“Do you want to join us?” Lu Ten asks.
Zuko’s face crumples, and he looks so sad. Lu Ten cringes at the sight.
“I can’t firebend,” Zuko explains, voice cracking in the middle of the sentence.
“We know, silly,” Azula says simply. Did Zuko think they would forget? “You can still practice the katas.”
Zuko’s face changes and Azula directs her brother to the middle of the garden, positioning his arms and pushes his legs to open into a low stance.
Lu Ten is amused and watches as Azula shows her brother the motions as best as she can. Zuko follows with hesitation, but Azula encourages him, showering him with compliments Zuko doesn’t really absorb nor acknowledge, engrossed as he is with the motions.
Lu Ten stands up to join his family.
Azula is five, and her caretaker sings for her to wake. She blearily opens her eyes and lets the woman take her clothes off and put her into training garb. Barely awake, she allows the woman to put her arms and legs through the holes in the clothes.
Azula’s caretaker, Akahi, holds her hand as she walks her to the pavilion where her father meets her every day without fail.
The sky is dark, streaked with her favorite colors, and she breathes in the cool air. She waves to Akahi—who always sits by the railing—and waits for her father. Dressed in training clothes similar to hers, he appears not a minute later, striding tall and eyes sharp.
Training starts without a hitch. They sit in lotus positions facing east, breathing in sync. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Just like her father taught her.
They sit still for a long time, meditating, which Azula privately hates. Father had been angry that one time she complained about it. She is starting to fidget when her father says they’re ready to practice the katas.
He teaches her stances and implores proper breathing. Her flames burn bright—a vivid orange.
She continues, pushing and pulling her hands, waving her arms and kicking with straight legs. When she gets tired and her concentration slips, he tells her off, his voice booming, and Azula brushes off the urge to cry. She has learned her lessons.
Afterward, he sits her down on the hot stone tiles when the sun is bright and the sky a clear blue.
“You tripped over a kata.”
Azula’s lower lip trembles. She clutches absentmindedly at the tiles beneath her hands. “I’m sorry daddy. I’ll do better!”
He smiles then pats her shoulder. “Why do we practice?”
“So I can be strong and perfect,” Azula parrots his usual words back to him. Strong and perfect are good, her father had said, and her father is always right.
“One day, Azula, you’ll be the heir, and you’ll be the best firebender that has ever lived, and it will all be thanks to me.”
She doesn’t understand him sometimes. How can she be the heir? Lu Ten is the heir. But she likes the idea of being the best firebender that has ever lived. The goal becomes ingrained in her mind.
Azula is six when they attend a play of Love Amongst the Dragons at Ember Island. Mother holds her and Zuko’s hands as their father leads ahead to their destination: the royal box where they’ll sit for the night.
She and Zuko sit beside each other, and they are both rapt with attention when the play starts. This is their favorite ever, their favorite of all time. They have their favorite characters, and they both try to mouth the words along with the actors.
It’s so much fun. Zuko has everything memorized to Azula’s awe. Mother has to shush them when they get too loud with reciting the lines. Azula only catches her father’s smile, and she goes back to smiling herself.
Intermission comes which means food. She and Zuko beg to go to the concession stand. Their parents consent to it, and minutes later, they’re flanked by Imperial Firebenders as they make their way downstairs.
“Ah it’s the little prince and princess!” the vendor says, and he offers for them to get anything they want for free. Some curious commoners watch them, but they never come close due to the presence of the firebenders.
Azula gets some fire flakes while Zuko opts for fruit pies.
“Thank you,” they say in chorus to the vendor.
He beams and says, “It is an honor, your highnesses!”
They return to their seats and share the treats between each other. Zuko’s chewing is so loud as he also mumbles the lines that Azula shushes him before their parents can.
After the play, they’re walking to their summer house, and they’re holding hands as their parents walk in front of them. The Imperial Firebenders lead the way and also make up the rear.
“That was good,” Azula says while looking down, trying to keep pace with her brother’s longer legs.
“Good? What do you mean good?” Zuko exclaims, turning wide eyes on her.
Azula shrugs. “I thought it was fine.”
Zuko stops walking, making her stop too. His hands start waving in the air. “It wasn’t fine! They completely butchered it! They didn’t get the sadness of the Dragon Emperor right! And the love between him and the Dragon Empress was very rushed! The actors were also horrible!”
The Imperial Firebenders behind them gently push them forward, and Azula tugs at her brother’s hand and starts walking. She replies, “I still think it was good.”
Zuko frowns but doesn’t say anything more.
When they’re both in bed later that night, Zuko whispers to her over the space between their beds, “Do you think there could still be alive dragons?”
“It’s living dragons,” she corrects.
Zuko sits up in his bed and looks at her. The moonlight hits his face perfectly so Azula can see her brother is annoyed. “What?”
“It sounds wrong. You said ‘alive dragons’. Living dragons sound better.”
Zuko huffs in frustration. “You know what I mean!”
“I was just trying to help, Zuzu.” His face contorts at the relatively new nickname. Azula shifts to look at her brother. “Uncle killed them, remember? But I would have loved to see them.”
Zuko sighs, a wistful look now on his face. “Me too. I want a red dragon.”
Zuko looks at her as if she is the dum-dum. “Because red is my favorite color.”
Azula giggles and counters, “Red is everyone’s favorite color.”
Zuko sticks his tongue out at her and says, “Well what about you?”
“I want a blue dragon,” she says before lying back down on her bed.
Zuko’s mouth twists. “Blue? Well okay. Our dragons will be brother and sister, just like us.” He looks happy with the idea.
It’s a sweet thought, but Azula doesn’t think a blue dragon and a red dragon go together. They don’t match. She’s about to say so but refrains at a big yawn from Zuko. “Sleep well, big brother.”
Time passes, and she looks to the side to see Zuko asleep. Azula absently gazes at the ceiling and is quiet as she waits for sleep to come.
Azula is seven when Zuko finally bends. It is a very late age for the Crown Prince to do so. Father takes his time with him—sometimes not meeting Azula for morning training to her continued annoyance. Firebending is their thing—a father and daughter activity, like art and dramas are Zuko and mother’s things.
She finishes early one morning with a private trainer and skips over to the next pavilion where she knows her brother trains.
She hides behind a pillar, close enough to hear her father and brother. Father shows him a set of katas that Zuko follows although his form is very poor.
When Zuko does bend, his flame is weak and a dull color—almost a dark red. Azula wonders why.
Ozai watches Zuko with the critical eye he always sports during her training sessions. Azula glances between her brother and father, feeling something in the air. Her father’s face gets angrier the longer Zuko goes on.
Ozai walks closer to her brother and orders him to stop before Zuko even finishes the firebending set.
“We have been over this for a week. Your form is poor. You’re too tense in your shoulders. Your stance is weak,” Ozai lists off, now directly in front of Zuko. His voice gets louder with every word that passes his lips.
Zuko’s whole body is stiff.
It feels like time has slowed. Azula’s eyes widen as their father raises a hand and strikes Zuko firmly across the face—both her father and brother’s cheeks quickly turn red for different reasons. The sound of the slap echoes in Azula’s mind.
“Why am I wasting time on you? Why can’t you be more like your sister?!” Ozai’s voice is thunderous as he looms over her brother. “Azula!”
Cringing, she runs to them then Ozai orders, “Show him!”
Azula goes through Zuko’s current set—something she already mastered before. Her breath is even, and her posture is impeccable. She is strong. She is perfect.
When she finishes, she bows to her father. She has done so ever since the first day of training.
Ozai merely says, “Very good.” He scowls at Zuko then marches away without another look back.
When he’s gone, Zuko cries, crumpling to the ground. Azula runs to him and puts a hand on his shoulder.
He flinches at the contact and glares at her. “Did you enjoy the show?!”
Azula frowns. “Are you okay Zuzu?”
“I’m not okay, and that’s not my name! Stop that!” He pushes her hand away and storms off, leaving Azula in the middle of the pavilion.
Incensed, she yells, “Father was right! You were horrible!”
Azula is eight when she first brings her new friends to the palace.
They met at school. They were the only ones brave enough to talk to her, and Azula values that. Mai is quiet and smart while Ty Lee is talkative and active. Azula thinks she likes both of them equally.
Mai is great at target practice; she’s even better than Azula. Ty Lee is amazing at gymnastics. Azula has never seen anyone else contort their body like her, but the other girl says it runs in their family.
Azula shows them her fire of course. It’s a source of pride for her—being the youngest firebender in the palace and the youngest Royal to bend in history.
“Dad says I’m gonna be the best firebender in the world, the best firebender to live,” Azula comments, as she passes a fireball back and forth between her hands.
“Of course, Princess! There’s no one like you,” Ty Lee says, grinning. Azula likes her a lot.
Azula glances at Mai, but as usual, she’s quiet. “Don’t you ever want to be firebenders?”
There’s now a pout on Ty Lee’s face, and the corner of Mai’s lips curl down. The latter is the first to answer.
Mai says, “I used to want to be one. It would be nice to just sprout fire from my hands.”
“Me too! But you get used to the idea of being a non-bender.”
Mai adds, “It makes you tougher.”
Azula ignores the slight she feels as she considers their point. There is some truth to it, and non-benders probably do other things to protect themselves and such.
“Maybe you’re right. We should learn how to fight. I think it’s a helpful skill to learn,” she finally says.
Mai and Ty Lee glance at each other before they shrug back at her.
She lets the fireball in her hands grow until it’s the size of her face and releases it into the air above. It wheels for a moment, producing pretty sparks especially when the sunlight hits it before it disperses.
“We can start next week.” She stands up, beckoning them. “Come on. I can show you some of the passages I’ve found then we’ll find Zuzu.” She smirks.
Azula is nine and wakes up late to a dreadfully quiet palace. Taking her time, she slips on new clothes and shoes. She knows something is wrong.
No one ever lets her sleep in; Azula has always been woken up before the crack of dawn.
As she starts down a hallway, Akahi materializes before her, and the woman tries to hold her hand. Azula lets her succeed for a moment before Azula pushes her away. She is too grown for that now.
Raised voices determine her path. With swift steps, she and Akahi find her father and brother arguing in the gardens at her mother’s favorite place besides the water fountain.
Akahi stands back near the hallway pillars as Azula strides to her family.
“Bring her back!” Zuko yells with clenched fists.
Ozai is quiet, almost frozen in place and seemingly content to watch the fountain water flow from the top.
“Where is mother?”
Zuko turns abruptly at her voice and yells, “It’s your fault! She left in the middle of the night!”
Why? Azula feels her stomach drop, and her heart thuds heavily in her chest. The urge to cry is strong, but she brushes it off. She has to be strong. She is strong. She retorts, “It’s not my fault! It’s your fault for being weak!”
Zuko’s face is awash with an anger Azula has never seen before. “You always ruin everything! Ever since you were born!”
That hurt, and so she would hurt him back. “No, you do! She would be here if you weren’t such a failure!”
Zuko is speechless for a beat before he marches toward her, yelling, “Take that back! Take that back!”
“Prince Zuko,” Ozai says sharply, cutting the retort forming on her tongue.
Eyes flashing, Zuko storms off.
Ozai turns to her, beckoning her closer. He grips her shoulder with his large hand and says, “Your mother is a traitor, and she is not worthy of your thoughts nor time. Things will be changing, Azula. You should be ready.”
Azula frowns, but before she can ask, her father is already striding away, leaving her alone in the garden.
When Azula goes back to her rooms to get ready for a late training session, Akahi falls into step with her and wordlessly takes her hand. Azula lets her and holds on tightly to a hand she has known since infancy.
“I don’t understand,” Azula says to her caretaker as they near her rooms. She feels better after the admission but hates how her voice wobbles. It’s a lot to admit, even to someone she fully trusts. “Do you think she’ll come back?”
The question is stupid, Azula knows. Father would not say what he said if he thought otherwise.
Akahi’s only response is to stop their walk and break Azula’s recently devised rules by hugging her. Her mind briefly whispers you’re too old for this, but she ignores it. The pain is too much.
Later, when Azula is in her bed silently crying, she lights a flame in her hand, needing to feel the warmth it brings. It sparks and fizzles, and she realizes how deep the connection is between her emotions and her fire. Father has always said there was a connection, but she had not realized.
Her breathing picks up as she remembers. Her mother leaving her. Her mother not saying goodbye. Her mother always lying and only loving Zuko. Her mother never understanding her. Her mother saying she's a monster.
It overflows. She pours all her grief and sorrow into the small flame in her hand. Her eyes are now blurry with tears.
Abruptly, her whimpers stop when she sees a flash of blue in her hands. Was that real? Her eyes widen in bewilderment as she attempts to turn it blue. It doesn’t happen again that night.
Azula is ten when her flames are fully blue. Her father gasped in shock the first time she showed him the flames—apparently, it is a feat not seen for centuries.
Azula had been thrilled at his reaction, at the opportunities her talent would bring, at what the color means.
Strong and perfect.
The heir her father had told her she would be.
She has progressed so much since the time her mother has gone, and she proudly wields the blue flames in her hands like it is all she has ever known.
Her life now goes like this: she is up and about at dawn, meditates, before a trainer comes around the palace, and they practice. Her father, now Fire Lord, is too busy to train with her every day.
Azula watches, observes, learns as they teach her anything and everything they can, and she practices harder than before and mirrors their forms perfectly. It’s not too long before she is learning material adults have a hard time with.
Her favorite part of practice is when she spars with her trainers. There’s no better teacher than when she pretends she’s fighting an enemy. Usually, her enemy is the fabled Avatar—the one whom people say will undo everything the Fire Nation has built and accomplished.
She’s clever and tenacious, and that shows when she spars. It is easy to beat her trainers, and they sometimes leave the training grounds with bruised egos.
One morning while her father and, surprisingly, her uncle watch her train, she accidentally burns her trainer’s arm while fighting him—something that has never happened before. She berates herself privately for her lack of control especially with the Fire Lord watching. If she had not messed up… if she had not shown weakness…
She opens her mouth to apologize but doesn’t when her father comes and stands next to her. Her face must show something because he puts a heavy hand on her shoulder and says, “There is nothing to apologize for, Princess Azula.”
“My control—his arm—” Azula shuts up at the look he throws her. She should know better—there is no arguing with her father.
“There is nothing to apologize for, Princess Azula,” Ozai repeats, voice deepening.
Her trainer lowers his head and murmurs his agreement to the Fire Lord, ignoring the red, broken skin on his forearm. Azula catches her teacher’s poorly hidden wince though.
Morbidly curious, she is about to ask about the pain when her father steers her away, randomly talking about agricultural advancements in the nation. She spots Uncle Iroh coming toward them, but her father is swift and leads her onto another path; she does not look back.
The next day, her training continues. The days pass, and her control becomes better and better. The goal of becoming the best firebender to ever live and to be a worthy heir is hers to grasp.
As seldom as it happens, there is little guilt when her control does slip. There is nothing to apologize for, her father had said. Her father often reiterates the importance and advantage of strength, and her blows only embody her strength.
The only thing that matters is the path to become Fire Lord.
Azula is eleven when her brother gets invited to a war meeting through their uncle.
Peeved, she wants to go too but doesn’t dare ask her father. It doesn’t matter anyway. She knows more of the palace than anyone else. It’ll be easy to slip into a passage and watch from the shadows as the meeting gets underway.
And so she does. Her eyes peer into the gap on the wall, and she watches her brother. He’s obviously nervous.
Father is talking, and she listens attentively, looking around at the various men assembled. War Minister Qin looks like he’s almost asleep. War Minister Lao is subtly picking his nose. War Minister Xin is sporting a serious expression on his face. Uncle is being fat, the opposite of what he used to be.
They discuss a war plan further, and her eyes dart to Zuko’s face. From his expression, she knows he’s gonna say something stupid.
Zuko opens his mouth in the war meeting and unwittingly ruins all of their lives forever.
There is anger, hatred, glee and a sliver of pity—Azula masks everything, sporting an innocent expression when told about the… predicament.
An Agni Kai is set up—she is giddy. She has only read about it scrolls before, but now she gets to see one. What would mother think? But all Azula knows is their mother isn’t here, hasn’t been here for a long time now. She is not important.
The moment comes, and it turns out Zuko is fighting their father to Azula’s own surprise. Quickly getting over it, she realizes this is a thing her father would do. She hears their uncle take a sharp breath behind her and feels him tremble.
She came here to see a fight and hopes she won’t be disappointed. Yet, Zuko is crying and pleading—it’s a pathetic sight. Meanwhile, their father looms over him, strong and sure. She sends a whisper to Agni to make Zuko fight. There is no love lost between them, but this is just sad, a horrible outing for the Crown Prince. There is nothing their father hates more than cowardice and weakness—Zuko should know that.
Zuko’s refusal is his sentence. Everyone cheers when their father’s flames appear.
The arena is soon filled with her brother’s blood-curdling screams and the smell of burning flesh that makes her want to retch—it is absolutely horrid. The crowd crows at the display of power and strength from their Fire Lord.
It is both everything and nothing like she has imagined. Zuko’s bloody flesh and her father’s exuberant face are seared in her memory forever.
"You know better than that, don't you?" Akahi exclaims as they watch the servants and Uncle Iroh take Zuko away to be cared for.
"Of course, I do," she replies haughtily.
That night, his screams replay over and over again in her mind as she’s trying to sleep. Disturbed, she wonders if her father would actually do the same to her if she messed up, but she comprehends her prodigious talent and intellect will be her savior from such a fate. She will continue to be strong and perfect.
Zuko’s lesson has not only taught him but her as well.
Azula is twelve, and it’s a normal day.
She gets up early as Akahi goes over her responsibilities. Ever since Zuko has been sent away, her days are mostly lessons and meetings; there’s no one to tease and annoy any more. There is rarely time for recreation, but she does make it a point to see Mai and Ty Lee at school when she goes.
Settling into the training pavilion, she starts on meditation—only for it to be broken an hour later when her firebending teacher shows up.
Her clothes absorb her sweat, and she basks in the coolness of the breeze against her damp skin, at the good feeling when she stretches and the feeling of accomplishment.
It’s a normal day until it isn’t.
An hour into her training, the Fire Lord shows up, immediately taking over from her teacher. She discerns that this is important as the teacher bows and hurries out of the pavilion with nary a glance back.
Azula is inwardly nervous but doesn’t let it show, adopting the stoic expression she has seen her father use daily, the one that is now in front of her. The image of her father looming over Zuko in the Agni Kai flashes unexpectedly in her mind. Then her mind whirls over any recent event or anything she did that might have caused him to have negative feelings toward her; she really can’t think of any.
“Training has been good, I take it?”
Azula nods, subconsciously mirroring her father’s posture. “I’ve been learning everything they can teach me, father.”
“Good. Very good, but there is more to learn. You are the Crown Princess and a firebending prodigy, Princess Azula. Remember the goal—to be the greatest firebender to have lived. As such, you will learn the ways of lightning, like your grandfather did—like I have.”
Her breath seizes in her throat. Azula feels pride and anxiety course through her at his words. She only knows two people now that wields lightning, and she’ll be the youngest to do so. Zuko won’t be able to master this.
Ozai explains the mechanics of lightning generation—he says a blank state of mind is needed as he points out where the lightning will come from, where it will flow and where it will materialize.
“Watch, Princess Azula.”
Lightning crackles in the air as he sweeps swiftly through the forms. It's beautiful.
Azula feels a flash of shock and freezes in place when she sees him aim his hands toward her.
This is where she and Zuko differ—she knows her father. So she doesn't move—she takes it because it is what her father likely wants, and it’s too fast anyway. It enters the center of her abdomen with a crack, and she feels more pain than she had imagined at the split-second onslaught of energy.
How can something so beautiful be this painful?
Shrieking, she drops to the ground, twitching with leftover energy. Her hazy vision slides to him as he towers over her.
“Do not worry, daughter. The lightning was not at full-strength. Now, you know what it feels like. One day you will master it as I have, and you’ll know how much power to use. You’ll know what your enemy will feel.” Ozai crouches beside her. “Experience will be your teacher just as it taught me.”
That afternoon, her body takes three more lightning strikes. In between, she wonders how much more she could take, but she does because that’s what her father wants, what is expected of her. And it must mean something—how she mastered blue fire after her mother left, how she will master this after Zuko left. She doesn’t need them. There is only the Fire Lord and the Fire Nation.
Afterward, Akahi holds her hand as she and other servants carry her to the Royal infirmary. It’s not the first nor the last time they do.
Azula is thirteen the first time she goes to Capital City Prison. Father has tasked her with an important job, and she will deliver great results. As Crown Princess, she is required to meet and surpass expectations.
To be strong and perfect.
With Imperial Firebenders flanking her, she climbs the stairs to the topmost floor where an important prisoner is caged. Her feet feel heavy as she climbs, and she knows it’s not due to her boots.
She strides to his cell and enters, watching him in the darkness. The prisoner is an Earth Kingdom general turned rebel. Her posture straightens, and she lets her nerves settle.
“A child?! You people have lost it!”
Azula lets a flash of annoyance appear on her face, but her voice is steady—just like her father’s—when she says, “I am Crown Princess Azula of the Fire Nation, daughter of Fire Lord Ozai, heir to the throne. You will speak to me with the respect I deserve. Tell me, where have you been hiding the whole time? Where are the other rebels?”
His brows furrow as he spits near her boots.
Taking a step back, she rolls her eyes. “It is in your best interest to cooperate and speak true or else I’ll have to use other methods as I see fit.”
“You can’t hurt me!”
Azula lights up a fire dagger, holding it up in the darkness. The warmth in her hand is comforting even though the blue of her flames lends an eerie glow to their surroundings. The general takes a sharp intake of breath at the sight of it.
“I can if I have to. If you have any common sense left, you know that blue flames are the hottest. It incinerates everything in sight, even flesh and bone, and they leave no ashes behind.” She brings the dagger close to the bars, letting it grow in her hand.
In her opinion, the secret to interrogation is the symbolism and well-placed threats. Most of her work is always done upon the sight of blue in her hands and thinly-veiled words, and she never has to do more than that since they always confess because of fright and the evident danger. She starts counting in her head and doesn’t even make it to ten when the general speaks.
“Alright!” He puts his arms up. “I’ll talk! I’ll tell you all you want to know.” His shoulders slump. He is a far cry from a proud general. “Just put the fire away.”
Azula extinguishes the dagger without another thought. She leans on the bars as the general tells her everything she needs to know. His voice quivers which she takes in with relish.
When it’s done, she merely tells him, “If I find you have given me false information, there will be severe consequences for you.”
The general vigorously shakes his head. “I promise on my own life! I told you the truth!”
“A pleasure.” Azula nods at him and walks away.
Azula is fourteen when she goes to Omashu to recruit Mai. Father has tasked her with another important job, and she will not fail.
Ty Lee walks beside the palanquin as they approach the governor and his family. It’s warm in the city, and Azula is thankful for the shade of the cloth on top.
Mai looks the same as ever with sharp yet bored eyes and the most disinterested tone in her voice. Azula finds out Tom-Tom has been missing, and there will be an exchange happening. Her interest is piqued. Azula won’t miss such an event.
The group that has Tom-Tom is completely unexpected. Azula expected thugs and nasty people, but they’re literally children.
The bald boy looks even younger than any of them, and they don’t seem the types to hurt Tom-Tom. Azula makes a gamble even with the displeasure Mai tries to hide.
The bald boy is foolish and reveals his secret. He is the Avatar.
She leaves Mai and Ty Lee to deal with the Water Tribe savages, and she follows the Avatar, legs pumping. This is what she has been training for all of her life. The chase is exhilarating, and he is more of an enemy than any she has encountered before.
Azula closes in on him. She sends blast after blast after him, but he proves too agile and too fast—a true airbender. If he isn’t her enemy, she would have been impressed.
She jumps and ducks. He manages to evade everything she throws at him. Eventually, he destroys the cart she has been standing on, and she slows to a stop, watching him getting away.
She promises herself this won't be the last time she sees him, promises to bring him before her father, to succeed where Zuko, unsurprisingly, has continued to fail.
Later that night, she finds out her gamble earlier that day has worked and Tom-Tom is returned.
Things will work out; they often do.
Azula has just turned fifteen and has banished everyone including her childhood caretaker Akahi. It is no matter. Nothing else matters for she is about to be crowned Fire Lord. She has never thought this day would actually come. Even though she has been the heir now, it is still surreal. At first, it had never been possible with Lu Ten then Zuko, but she is here, and she thinks this is what she wants.
Someone arrives, and it turns out to be Zuko—the traitor—followed by the water witch.
Azula is too disturbed and too imbalanced to see that she plays right into her brother’s hands. Had she been feeling any better, she would have put a stop to this idiocy.
It starts, and they fight to the death.
Azula is more exhilarated than she has ever been. The power of the comet is unmatched, giving her immense power, a complete rush. Through her rage, she doesn’t notice how Zuko has improved, how his forms have changed. All she notices is that he’s matching her move for move—something she thought wasn’t possible before. She has to end this soon.
Her brother taunts her, and she reacts. She sees her opportunity and bends lightning, channeling her rage and anger. It’s a miracle lightning even forms with her tumultuous emotions. She knows he will redirect it, and so her target shifts. She knows how to hurt him—it will be revenge for hurting her.
Foolish, foolish Zuko takes the hit to save the water witch as she predicted. Azula has won.
The feeling is short-lived as the water witch fights and comes after her. Azula recognizes grudgingly that she is a worthy adversary. Their elements are opposites; each throw of fire is met by a wall of water. The girl has grown in skill since the last time they met.
Desperation doesn’t suit Azula—she knows that. She fights and fights but doesn’t bother to think, doesn’t come up with a plan. She gets tired, and when she’s tired, she knows she will mess up.
It is too late.
The water witch chains her to the grate, and she suffers her most humiliating defeat. Rage consumes her as she breathes blue fire everywhere. Her defeat settles into her core. Where is the strong and perfect heir now?
How did everything go wrong?
Zuko has another friend, another advantage over her. Zuko stole Mai and Ty Lee. Zuko stole their mother. It is so unfair. He has everything, and still, he keeps taking from her.
Eventually tiring out, she lies on the ground, curling into herself. Something gleams in the distance on the ground, and the shape is distinct enough for her to know that it is the Fire Lord headpiece. She knows because she had gazed at it obsessively for the past weeks. When the ghosts proved too much, she had kept the headpiece in her hand and sought comfort from it. She thought she would never be alone if she had the nation to rule.
Zuko has taken that too.
Azula is still fifteen but is now a patient in an asylum. Zuko pities her and shows her more mercy than she would have if the roles were reversed.
She hates the asylum and doesn’t think it’s necessary. Her physicians and caretakers are too nice, too friendly—they all agitate her further. Everything they make her do is nonsense. Nothing will change the fact that she failed. Her failure is an ever-present cloud above her head, casting its dark shadow on her.
Where is the strong and perfect heir now?
The anger toward Zuko and even her father is there; it doesn’t really abate. Her nights are spent going over what she could have done to prevent the present; she knows it all to be useless, but the thoughts comfort her.
As the months pass, she becomes withdrawn and loses herself in the monotony of time. No morning meditation. No training. No reading. No talking. Nothing.
She is only aware that time passes by when the doctors and caretakers visit her to talk and care for her. They bathe her, feed her and make her drink medications.
She passively follows whatever they want her to do. There is that feeling of wanting to die after such a failure, but the only way to die is to die honorably for the Fire Nation. She may be a failure, but she is not a coward looking for an easy way out.
The months continue to pass, and one day, she realizes she has not felt warm in a long time. She reaches for her flames, opens her hand, but there is nothing. She tries again and again and again. Her limbs are numb. She doesn’t realize she’s screaming until the caretakers flood into her room and hold her down.
The development is devastating, yet it’s the thing to pull her out from the prison of her own mind, and she rages and rages.
All she knows is that she doesn’t want to stay here so she does what she knows best—she plans.
Azula is sixteen, a fugitive and still powerless. She is always dirty, always hungry and always thirsty. There is an advantage to extensively learning the terrain of her nation even though her goal in the past had been to use it for war. Now, she uses that knowledge to hide in the mountains and forests of the Fire Nation, never staying in one place for too long.
At first, she had been mindless, trying to help herself by using her station. The people had laughed silly. But, she learns, as habitual. She scavenges for food, and when in towns, she relies on the kindness and hospitality of others, adopting a mask of a witless, harmless girl. It is humiliating, but she is too weary to be angry or to force them to her will. It is practical and always works.
Out here, everything is very different than what she is used to.
But she continues to learn—it’s reminiscent of her childhood. She learns how to fish, how to hunt and how to cook. She fights some idiots who think they can take her. She improves in martial arts and physical sparring. She is spurned by an almost fatal attack from an undomesticated mongoose dragon.
Her father had never allowed her to have a pet. She ponders over this as her hand comes up to brush her new companion’s back. She names it Fifi, and Fifi is hers now.
She and Fifi travel all over her nation. She sees more than what she has in the past. The commoners are happy under Zuko’s rule. It angers her to no end.
Her new life wandering about subsequently changes her. She is thinner than before—her body currently has very little fat and is made up of hard angles. Calluses develop on her hands, and her skin tans under the constant light of the sun. Her hair is short—an acknowledgment of her defeat and a passable disguise. She is always dressed in dirty rags.
It is unbecoming of a Crown Princess.
She wants to go home but can’t—not when her failure is still at the forefront of her mind and not when she can’t firebend. A self-imposed exile for her failure is what she deserves.
Sometimes, she wonders how her father is doing, if he’s still alive. But, she doesn’t want to think about him for long because it hurts her. She imagines cutting words from his mouth, and it adds to her pain.
Where is the strong and perfect princess now?
She also thinks about her mother. Her mother doesn’t haunt her anymore, but she imagines randomly meeting her one day in her travels. She thinks about what she wants to say to her but is always at a loss.
She thinks of her brother and how he’s likely trying to find her. There is rage when he pops up in her thoughts; if only she had her fire—she would take him out. Yet, she also remembers the time after her defeat, how gentle and foreign he had been, how he wanted to help her. Her feelings toward him are muddled. The anger and the desire for revenge are still there, but mostly, she doesn’t want anything to do with him.
Azula is seventeen, still powerless and on the verge of another change. The solitude of the last year proved to be too much for her, and she sold her mongoose dragon for money—she will miss Fifi.
A ship is recruiting in town, and she shows up and gets a job on the same day. The ship sells goods and will travel all throughout the Fire Nation. Even though she has done a lot of traveling in the past year, It’s still an attractive thought.
Her job on the ship is easy but takes time to get used to. At first, she is at the bottom of rank and so her job is to clean everything from muddy floors to dirty toilets. It’s terrible, humiliating and a smelly experience, but she interacts with people, learns, and is constantly in a better mood from it. She also doesn’t have to worry about food, water, and shelter now.
The rocking of the ship also takes time to get used to. It is different to live on a ship with no end in sight. On her first few days, Azula vomits over the ship railing to shipmates’ amusement, but she does eventually develop her sea legs.
Her intelligence and knowledge shine through—someone calls her a know-it-all as if that’s an insult—and soon enough, she’s helping navigate the ship.
Life isn’t so bad on the ship, she realizes, and she gains friends even though half of the time they’re disgusting and unclean. Sometimes, she wakes up sweaty from her nightmares in her bunk, and they’re fast asleep. Sometimes, they shake her awake and tell her she had been screaming. Often, they offer to talk about it, but the pain is still there, and frankly, Azula doesn’t know where to start. So they all keep quiet and move on, and it’s exactly what she needs.
Sometimes she still thinks of her family. All the feelings—anger, hate, sadness—are still there but they are dormant in lieu of her present. It’s easy to forget in her new life.
There is no strong nor perfect on the ship, and that’s fine. The days blend together against a backdrop of blue water, but it’s also all right. Every new day takes away a little of the pain and makes her forget.
Azula is eighteen when she discovers the strangest thing. While the map shows a vast, blank sea north of the Fire Nation, there are islands up ahead of the ship. Using the spyglass, she double-checks the discovery.
Azula relays the peculiarity to the captain, and eager as they are for discovery, they make the decision to land onshore, but before they can get any closer, hot, real fire rains upon them seemingly out of nowhere.
Her eyes sting.
The ship burns, and everyone is now overboard. Smoke and haze surround her. Tears are clouding her vision. If only she can firebend! If only she can firebend!
She calls out to her friends, receiving no reply in return. Ila! Ilesh! Zhang! Kota!
She swims and swims, but the waves are large and powerful, and the sun is too hot and unforgiving.
Tiring herself, she blacks out on a slab of wood.
An interminable amount of time later, she wakes up with her clothes changed, lying on a cot. She’s warm and dry, and it takes her a moment to remember what had happened.
A man in exotic clothing comes to get her, and there is no choice but to follow. She meets a group of people that are unlike anyone she has ever seen or met. There is something unnerving about them like they are mythical.
She asks after the burning ship, and they voice their ignorance of it. No one but her washed up on the shores of the island. Her mood is subsequently somber, and once again, tears gather in her eyes. The feeling of wanting to heave is present, and she does. If only she had been useful, if she had not been weak—the distaste is bitter in her mouth.
She remembers the start of the fire, the way it appeared out of nowhere, the way it grew in haste—it was unnatural. She shivers at the memory. Murmuring words, she asks Agni to guide her friends home.
It is a full moon that night, and the group takes her to some old ruins of a temple, saying she has been chosen.
For what, she doesn’t know. Her annoyance must show for they laugh.
Her escape plan is almost complete when she hears roars and sees fire.
Azula is nineteen. To her immense joy, she can firebend again—thanks to the dragons. Her flames are a vivid blue, brighter and stronger than they had been before. They change colors too to her constant awe and disbelief. She can do green and purple and white. Yet, blue is the color she often uses—it is a reminder and a warning at the same time.
Most importantly, the fire makes her feel warm again.
The faces of her friends on the ship flashed in her mind the moment she could firebend again. The guilt has steadily eased. She hopes she is worthy of her fire, hopes she is worthy to be chosen.
She lives on the island with the Sun Warriors. They have helped her and supported her and taught her. She feels welcome and at home, more so than she did in the palace. She is one of them. It’s a new feeling.
Ran and Shaw—those dragons that day—are old and dying. Azula had been angry at them for her friends’ deaths at first, but they had only been protecting their home.
They gift Azula with three dragon eggs. The eggs are sizable and bigger than her head; they, too, are warm.
They make her promise to take care of their offspring. They tell her they will hatch when she is ready; as to when she doesn’t understand nor know.
The days pass, and life goes on.
When they hatch, it is when she is also bathed in fire—a training accident more than anything really. They all emerge from the fire, naked as the first humans. The dragons are young and beautiful—the real definition of strong and perfect.
The blue one is Seiryu. The red one—the one Zuko had wanted as a child—is Suzaku. The black one is Genbu.
Azula can now go home. She can firebend and has dragons. She can free her father and bend her brother to her will. She can take her revenge.
Though, as she watches the Sun Warriors take to the dragons like moths to a flame, she makes a choice. She will stay. This is her home now. She remembers her friends. She remembers her promises to Ran and Shaw. She will watch her dragons grow, and she will teach and love and protect them.
Zuko and her father and the royal court and being strong and perfect are all a world away. Her life will start anew on this island, where she is safe and where she can continue forgetting them.
The world will see the return of the dragons but in time.
Azula is twenty, and the only living dragons are under her care.
It takes time for them to learn to fly, and Azula is there the first time they do. They are wingless and seem fragile but are unflappable in the air. The Sun Warriors gather around her, and they watch the new milestone of the dragons. She wishes she could fly like them.
They grow rapidly, and they are almost as tall as her now; their bodies fill out. They growl and snap. They hunt and always leave her half of the kill which is shared by everyone on the island.
She takes care of them, and they take care of her. When it is cool and the sky is clear, she sleeps curled in between them at the top of the temple. She talks to them about the stars, and their curious eyes are amusing. Their personalities are different from one another, and they interact and fight like children. It reminds her of a time long past.
She does not know how, but she easily communicates with them wordlessly; she knows what they’re feeling, when they’re hungry or cold or sad.
Through them, she learns to love. She gives a part of herself to them with every touch and every smile. The Sun Warriors say theirs is a relationship as old as time.
The days pass, and Azula forgets her difficult past entirely. There is no need to ponder bygone experiences.
A woman her age kisses her beside a campfire one night—the firepit flares blue for a moment as surprise takes over Azula. It is cliche yet eye-opening. It never develops more than that, but Azula has now fallen in love with the softness of women’s lips.
Azula is content and happy with the simplicity of her life, and here, she never feels lonely.
Azula is twenty-one, and her dragons are large, intimidating and are serpentine-like in appearance. Their scales are rough, and their color darkens from the light shades of their youth, making them appear sinister even.
It doesn’t matter to her nor the Sun Warriors. In their eyes, the dragons are still children.
They now hunt off-island, going to places Azula can only guess as to where. She yearns to fly with them, and her wish is granted sooner than she expected.
The blue dragon is hers in a way. One late afternoon, Seiryu is fresh off a hunt when he makes his way toward her where she’s sitting underneath the shade of a palm tree. Unexpectedly, he bows. The action spurs her to move, and so she stands, bowing in return. He stays in position and allows her to climb the back of his body. There is nothing but anticipation in her gut, and her mind flashes to her childhood dreams. This has been a long time coming.
“Fly,” she whispers, stroking the scales in front of her. Seiryu gains momentum toward the water, and they lift to the sky.
Azula’s stomach bottoms out of her as she feels the rush of cold air. It is exhilarating. Her hands clench around the scales, trying to better her grip. Seiryu flies her through the vast expanse of dark blue sky, and Azula can see the clouds and scattered stars and the curve of the world—it is beautiful.
She whispers a prayer to Agni before she's feeling too much and yells with glee. Seiryu roars in return, their joy filling the sky.
Azula is twenty-two when she dreams of the color red every day for a month. When she closes her eyes, all she sees is a wall of red. Red is home. Red is symbolic and revered in the Fire Nation. Red is the color of life and love, and it is also the color of blood and war and death—all essential to the Fire Nation. Azula takes the dream as a warning, and every day, her stomach churns at the thought of anything going wrong.
Her dragons are gone when she takes breakfast with the Sun Warriors one morning; it is not uncommon for the young creatures to disappear to hunt.
Azula helps around the village, and she also teaches the children how to read and write. There is no formal education on the island, and she does what she can.
The children are unruly but also a delight. They are excitable, and they love the dragons though Azula teaches them that while the dragons are their friends, they are also very, very dangerous creatures that must be treated with respect.
It is late afternoon, and classes have ended. Her stomach clenches at having not seen any of dragons the whole day. She is only anxious, she tells herself.
She is resting on the topmost level of the ziggurat ruins when a shadow falls over her.
Expecting to see one of her dragons, she looks up to see a pigment in the sky coming toward her. She frowns at the sight; it is too spherical and bulky to be the form of a dragon.
Fear, anticipation and anger surge through her as she realizes. What is he doing here?
The sky bison lands in front of her with a heavy thud, and the Avatar leaps high to stand in front of her. She opens her mouth to say something but doesn’t—the grim look on his face cuts her off.
He looks like his world has shattered.
Azula remembers red, and her stomach rolls. The feeling abruptly stops when she feels the presence of her dragons. They are coming.
The sky bison starts growling, and the Avatar’s face shifts into shock as three fully-grown dragons land behind Azula, snarling ferociously. She calms them down in her mind though not before savoring the fear and disbelief in the Avatar’s eyes.
“Why are you here?” she asks calmly.
He explains quickly and, and each word that comes out of his mouth shatters her peace. She feels her heart break.
“... you have to come back.”
Azula’s breaths come in heavy pants. “I don’t want anything to do with you.”
“That’s okay, you don't have to, but the people need you. Please, come back.”
Her people. That does it.
They ride for the capital, and she finds the usurper—the former general who has killed her brother and betrayed her father through poison. Everyone there is awed at the sight of her and of dragons.
Not wasting time, she challenges him to an Agni Kai, and prideful as he is, he agrees on the condition that upon his victory, the dragons will be his.
She agrees, smirking at him.
The Agni Kai does not even last a minute. Azula gives him a clean, sure and swift death by twisting his neck. The crowd watching is deathly quiet as she crouches near his head.
“The dragons are beings of their own, and you will not take this throne from my family.”
Her dragons sing in victory, and everyone bows to her—she who has been chosen by Agni.
The dragons have returned.
All who had a hand in her family’s deaths are apprehended and executed in the following days. Azula thinks it is a much more enjoyable activity than the days that would follow.
When the day comes, her carefully practiced neutral expression is in place, never betraying the turmoil she feels. The sight before her feels rather utopian. Zuko and Ozai are in their best Fire Lord robes. They are so, so still, just lying there as though sleeping, but their pallor and rigidity give it away. In her time away, they were long forgotten, buried in the deepest recesses of her mind. She had never thought she’d be doing a different burial for them in real life.
The Avatar and his friends are openly crying. Mai is in a black-as-ink mourning gown with her face completely hidden by a dark veil; she is clutching a crying Ty Lee. Iroh is sobbing loudly. The sadness comes off all of them in waves, but she is stone-faced as her dragons light up her brother and father’s bodies in separate pyres—the highest compliment she could give to the two people she had loved the most.
When they are reduced to nothing, she mutters a prayer to Agni to guide them home.
When she is crowned Fire Lord, it is hastily done to prevent any more usurpers. Akahi, the fire sages, a handful of Imperial Firebenders and her dragons are the only ones present. The headpiece has to be pinned onto her hair since her hair isn’t long enough for a topknot. It feels heavy as she stands in her old, recently-altered robes, looking over the relatively empty plaza.
She already hates it here and longs for the island, and the Sun Warriors, her family, her home—she realizes it’s a stark contrast to her younger self. The dragons must realize how she feels for they start to roar—sing, really—and, they breathe fire continuously into the air. The colors are beautiful, and Azula relishes the gasps of wonder coming from the human audience.
This is a step above her previous coronation, she muses.
Azula is twenty-three. It is the anniversary of her brother and father’s deaths. The whole week is for mourning as well as celebration. The throne room is bathed in orange light—a personal tribute to them.
Azula has been quick to establish control and power in the royal court for the past year, and it has worked as dissenters hardly publicize themselves.
She has a pavilion built large enough to accommodate her dragons, and she tends to them like they are back on the island, and she is only their mother and guardian, not the Fire Lord. She longs to go with them when they fly far, to find homes for newly-produced dragon eggs. Her dragons will have families, and their lineage will propagate. She will correct the damage her ancestors committed.
Uncle Iroh is home for the anniversary, and the afternoon he arrives, a servant tells her that the old general is in the dragon pavilion, trying to touch one of the dragons.
“Their bite could go through your body, uncle, even if you are fat. In fact, they would love it,” she deadpans to him when she arrives at the pavilion.
“Then it was the right venture to try and be their friend, Azula,” he says in his unassuming way. Azula ignores the urge to command him to use her title. She exhales a deep breath as he attempts to touch Seiryu again.
“I’ve never thanked you.”
He turns to her, his hand in the air pausing its reach for Seiryu. “For what?”
She scoffs. “What do you think? For not killing Ran and Shaw, of course.”
His eyes twinkle, and he lets out a belly-rumbling laugh. “It was the right thing to do.”
Azula steps up and soothes Seiryu. When he is calm, she gingerly guides her uncle’s hand to her dragon. The touch happens without a hitch.
Iroh lets out a happy, unsteady laugh before murmuring, “Thank you… I’m sorry. I was wrong about you, Azula. I should have done better for you.” He stops petting the dragon, giving her an inquisitive look.
Azula ignores the feeling of relief in her. “Oh?”
Uncle shakes his head. “I just didn’t understand you before. I thought you were too much your father’s daughter.”
"I was so young. We both were."
Her uncle was now a little teary. "I know," Iroh replied sadly.
“Sometimes I am though—my father’s daughter.” She shrugs at him. It has been a long-accepted truth for her.
Uncle touches her shoulder. “But you aren’t wholly your father’s daughter.”
“No, I am not.”
They leave it at that, and Azula spends the afternoon talking about her dragons. It is the most she has ever talked to her uncle.
Tourists have also steadily visited the capital over the last year, hoping to glimpse her dragons. Azula rides a few times a month to let them see the power and majesty of such beautiful creatures.
The palace is maddeningly quiet and lonely often, and the only things keeping her afloat are her dragons and her sense of duty to serve her people. Daily, she dreams of the island and her family.
She throws herself into her work, and it’s a great distraction. Zuko has done a good job ever since he took the throne, she finds, but there is always something to improve. She finds her brother’s plans for a utopian city in the colonies. The plans are complex and detailed, and she sends a letter to Avatar Aang to verify the plans. She sends letters to the nobles at home and in the Earth Kingdom, hoping they would be interested in funding the city.
Her loneliness here doesn’t matter, not when there is more to do.
Azula is twenty-four when her chief adviser, Mai, barges into her office with a scroll in her hands. She hands it to her, and Azula notices it’s already open.
“You couldn’t wait, Mai?” she says, amused.
In a soft tone, Mai replies, “Just open it, Azula.”
The reply spurs her to action. Not a minute later, she drops the scroll, and tears are streaming down her face. Mai comes over and hesitantly drapes her arms around her.
A week passes, and the day finally comes.
Azula’s heart is hammering in her chest as she waits for her mother in the palace courtyard. Mai, Ty Lee, and Iroh are behind her; their presence is comforting. When her mother arrives accompanied by a man and a girl, Azula is feeling uncomfortably numb.
Her mother gasps when she sees Azula and runs to her. The Imperial Firebenders tense around her, but Azula does a subtle hand motion to ease them.
Her mother squeezes her tight, and Azula feels the sobs wracking her mother’s body. Azula is the first to pull away, and she realizes there are tears in her eyes. She has so many questions for her mother and so many childhood feelings rush toward the surface.
Ursa gazes at her, searching her face. “Your brother…” is the first thing she says to Azula.
Azula squashes the petty thoughts that spring in her mind and the jealousy she feels. Zuko is dead.
Azula shakes her head, and just like that, her mother’s face changes from happiness to sorrow. She clutches her mother to her as her knees buckle, and her sobs echo throughout the courtyard.
She takes her mother to the Royal Gallery to view Zuko’s portrait which is mostly colored of reds, yellows, and oranges. Red and blue dragons—the one they had talked about as children—wind through his portrait, and his arms are splayed out, denoting peace.
Her mother gasps. “His scar…”
“Father burned him when he was thirteen,” she remarks, voice void of emotion.
The scar looks so much better on the portrait than it did in real life. It makes Zuko look dangerous and dashing in away Azula never thought he was.
Her own portrait is next to his—hers has a lot of different shades of blue, a first among the line of portraits. Her three dragons are depicted, ferocious and almost life-like. Her hands are open with blue flames lit which branch off into lightning rods at the end. It is not strength and perfection. She likes to think her portrait represents the return of dragons, of righting wrongs.
Later, she meets her half-sister and her step-father. It’s a bittersweet meeting, but Azula sees Zuko and herself in Kiyi, but Zuko mostly, and so she smiles.
She’s feeling less lonely these days.
Azula is twenty-five, and she’s in the dragon pavilion, enjoying the heat of the sun as she waits for the dragons to come back. She is taking a break from work—a rare occasion. Her Fire Lord headpiece sitting on the ground, she leans on her hands to take in the sky.
Laughter tinkles in the air and she turns to find the source, only to see Mai and Ty Lee walking together, completely unaware of her presence.
She watches them for a moment and notes there is something different about them. Her suspicions are confirmed when Ty Lee giggles and draws in Mai’s face close. Mai returns the kiss. It is chaste and sweet.
Azula feels warm and like she’s intruding, but she yells, “When you get married, I will minister the wedding!”
The two spring apart comically, frantically looking around for her. Azula can’t help the laughter bubbling up. When they finally spot her, they approach with blushing, worried faces.
“We were gonna tell you,” Ty Lee starts. “We were just waiting for the right time.”
Mai is looking cooly at Azula and keeps quiet.
Standing up, Azula makes eye contact with both of them then genially says, “I’m happy for both of you. And Mai, Zuko would want you to be happy as you can be.”
It’s the right thing to say as Mai nods at her, actually grinning.
Ty Lee squeals in delight and gathers them for a group hug. Mai affectionately sighs contentedly into Azula’s shoulder to Azula’s surprise.
Azula has learned by now to just let the hugs happen. She is never lonely nowadays, not with her family, Mai, Ty Lee, Akahi, and her dragons always around. As she pulls away, she can’t help but ask, “So Ty Lee, is this really why you betrayed me at the Boiling Rock?”
Azula has just turned twenty-six, and she is on Air Temple Island in Republic City.
Aang and a non-bender named Meng are getting married. Aang is handsome in formal air nomad clothing while Meng is prettily dressed in formal green robes. She is obviously giddy, and Azula has learned her energy could rival Aang’s. Privately, she thinks two hyperactive people marrying is a horrible idea.
They stand against the backdrop of a late afternoon sky. Their vows are succinct—Aang’s is very heartfelt while Meng’s is rambling and funny. Their affection is so obvious and genuine that it has Azula smiling all throughout the vows. Someone named Aunt Wu is crying loudly, but it doesn’t deter from the ceremony.
At the wedding party, Sokka is alternately crying and making quips to everyone about the newlyweds while Suki makes her rounds with everyone. Toph, clean and well-dressed, is eating her way through the food. Uncle Iroh is drinking with some men in a corner. Mai and Ty Lee are slow dancing to the side, which is unexpected; Mai had never been one to dance.
The newlyweds are having a ridiculous dance-off in the middle of the dance floor. Azula can’t say she has ever been to a wedding like this.
Later, Azula finds herself sitting on the wooden dock of Avatar Island, gazing at the massive statue of her brother on the mainland. They had extra funds when the city had finished construction, and Azula had appealed to investors for a tribute to the city’s founders. Aang has his own statue near Air Temple Island to his constant mortification.
Republic City is young, but it’s in good hands especially with Aang, Sokka, and Toph living here and contributing to the city.
She mentally calls out to her dragons, hoping they would heed her and provide companionship. She often misses her time on the island where she spent all her hours with them and the Sun Warriors. The dragons have been absent more and more from the capital, and Azula suspects some dragon eggs have hatched. She will have to take some time off to visit the younglings soon to make sure they are safe.
Footsteps near her, and she turns, expecting to see her best friends or even Toph or Aang. To her surprise, it’s Katara who is clearly drunk, swaying as she is.
Azula peers around her slight figure, hoping to see Sokka, but Katara is alone. She waits for the waterbender, and Katara sits near her on the dock.
“What are you doing out here?” Katara says, squinting at Azula.
“Nothing.” Her answer visibly irritates the other woman, making her sigh loudly.
“Do you have a problem with me?” Katara asks, crossing her arms in front of her. The starry sky frames her face, and for a moment, Azula thinks she is looking at a painting.
“No. I’m just here—minding my own business.”
Katara scoots closer to Azula’s irritation. Does being drunk make someone lose their concept of personal boundaries? “You don’t like me. You never talk to me when we see each other. You’re good friends with Aang, Toph, and Sokka. Raava, you even talk to Suki, and you placed her in prison!”
Azula is at a loss on what to say. “I don’t hate you if that is what you are asking—I just—well we can talk now. Why does it matter anyway?”
"It just does," Katara says vexingly.
Katara jerks a nod. “So what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at the party?”
“I can ask the same of you,” Azula counters, making Katara frown. Feeling another tirade coming, Azula adds, “Do you wish you were marrying Aang?”
Katara scoffs, staring at Azula like she just asked a dumb question, which Azula concedes she might have. “So many years have passed. It’s been a long time since I thought of him in that way. Aang and Meng are happier than Aang and I could have ever been, and we’re better off as friends.”
Azula nods, unsure of what to say next. Her eyes find her brother’s statue again. “You asked me why I’m here. I was looking at Zuko’s statue… he should be here.”
Katara shifts her gaze as well to the statue in the distance. “He should be.”
There is silence after that, but it is peaceful and comfortable.
“Sometimes, I think he should be here instead of me,” Azula confesses to both of their surprise. Azula comforts herself with the knowledge that Katara is drunk, and there’s a good chance she will forget all of this tomorrow.
Katara’s face softens, and she hesitantly reaches out to grip her hand. Azula lets her; her skin is pleasantly soft. “I think he is happy wherever he is.”
Azula pulls her hand away after a moment and faces the other woman. “I don’t talk to you because I’m—I’m scared of you… wait, that’s not the right word… ”
Katara’s eyebrows draw together. “What do you mean?”
Azula meets her eyes. “Sometimes, when I see you, I remember sending lightning to Zuko. I remember being chained to the grate and my failure”—Katara opened her mouth as if to protest—“but I know! It is not your fault. I still have problems with letting go. It doesn’t happen often anymore, but now and then… ”
Katara appears to be in deep thought. Her gaze is steady when she meets Azula’s eyes. “Well, I’ll just have to change your mind then.”
Azula lets out a noncommittal sound at the vague answer.
A dragon roar reverberates in the air, and they both turn to see Seiryu flying toward them in the darkness. The dark clouds unravel, revealing Suzaku and Genbu on their brother’s tail.
“You have to stand,” Azula says, her voice firm.
Katara looks at her with wide eyes. “What?”
“You have to stand,” she repeated. “Dragons are revered, and they are all here. You have to show respect.”
“You’re not standing.”
Azula shrugs. “I am their mother.”
Katara looks very skeptical. “Or else what?”
“I’m not sure. They make their own decisions.”
Grumbling, Katara stands as swiftly as she can. She sways, and Azula places a hand on her hip to steady her. Azula watches Katara’s face closely as Seiryu lands on the sand in front of them. Her faux brave face is very impressive, Azula has to admit.
The dragons come close, and they fight as to who should nuzzle their head at Azula’s legs—they barely look in Katara’s direction. Azula pets the dragons on their heads, avoiding looking in Katara’s direction lest she gives it away.
“So I did it right?”
Azula can’t hold in her laughter anymore so she laughs. Katara looks very surprised before her face shifts again into confusion.
“What? Why are you laughing?”
Azula lets her chuckles subside. “You didn’t have to stand,” she wheezes as laughter takes over again.
In a flash, Katara looks absolutely murderous, and she splashes water into Azula’s face, abruptly ending her merriment. The dragons growl in chorus as Azula gasps, feeling the remnants of freezing water on her skin.
Katara laughs then runs away. Azula stands up and runs after her, leaving the dragons to rest on the sand.
Aang almost stops them from getting into a tussle in the middle of the dancefloor but refrains at Toph’s cackles.
“I call Princess Lightning!” Toph yells to Aang and Sokka.
“My sister is the worst! She’s gonna win!” Sokka yells back.
“This doesn’t look safe,” Aang says as he watches water wrap around Azula’s ankle.
“Who cares?!” Toph answers back before cheering the fight on.
Suki heaves an exasperated sigh.
“That is your niece—the Fire Lord of the Fire Nation,” Chief Hakoda comments dryly to Iroh.
Iroh hums in agreement, taking a sip of his drink. “She is a very spirited young lady, like your daughter.”
“You do have a point,” Hakoda replies.
“You should teach Azula how to make friends,” Mai tells Ty Lee in another corner as they watch the two women go at it.
Ty Lee gives her a wide grin. “I think she’s doing fine!”
Azula is still twenty-six, and she’s walking toward her apartments in the Royal Palace. It has been a long day, and all she wants to do is eat dinner and sleep.
Though, she really can’t complain. Time flies as she thrives in her position. The economy is doing well with new trade agreements and new sea routes between the Fire Nation and the Water Tribes. Previously closed factories have been reopened with new upgrades made to machinery, and more workers have been hired. Export to the Earth Kingdom is also at an all-time high.
She is thinking over replacing Finance Minister Jun when she is stopped on her walk. “Fire Lord Azula,” one of the Imperial Firebenders stationed outside the main doors of her apartments says. “You have a visitor—“
Azula waves a hand in the air. “I’ll see them tomorrow.”
“But, my lord—“
“That is an order,” Azula says sharply. That shuts up the Imperial Firebender, and he returns to his station without fuss.
She steps into the apartments and crosses the dark living area when she hears footsteps behind her. No one is allowed in her apartments unless she says so, and she has been clear that servants are not welcome to wander around unless asked for. Coming to a conclusion, Azula summons a fireball and fires to the source of the sound.
“Azula!” Her friend yells as water meets fire, turning it to steam.
Azula groans at the figure. “And what exactly are you doing here? I could have killed you!”
“It wouldn’t be the first time you tried,” Katara quips then laughs.
Azula backs to a couch and flops down on it, still fully dressed in Fire Lord regalia. “What are you doing here?” Her top knot is making her head ache. She motions with her right hand, and Akahi appears and starts undoing the knots.
“You’re so spoiled,” Katara comments, her chin raised.
Azula turns an eye on her newest friend as she feels her hair being gently tugged free. “It’s part of being royalty.” She grins, making Katara scoff. “You should try it sometime. You are also royalty after all, are you not?”
Katara is miffed. “No, I’m not! I’m a water peasant like you said.”
Akahi tuts, and Azula almost laughs but doesn’t at Katara’s angry face. “I said that almost ten years ago, and I have apologized, repeatedly may I add, and I haven’t used the word even before you made swear not to. What are you doing here early anyway?”
“Visiting my newest friend, of course.”
“I got that, thank you,” Azula deadpans. “Wonderful, a whole week for you to bother me.”
“You like having me here,” Katara accuses.
“What gave you that idea?”
Azula has never dropped a smile so fast. Katara snickers, obviously validated.
Akahi finishes undoing her top knot as they continue to bicker. A few moments later, servants appear and set up a dinner between Azula and Katara as they continue to converse.
Years later, they say it was their first date.
Azula is twenty-seven, and she is in Republic City for a trade meeting. She could have sent Mai in her stead or any one of their foreign relations representatives, but Mai had vetoed the idea, saying the Fire Lord being present would be more genuine, and well, Azula agreed with the notion. She has also been feeling cooped up in the palace, and this would allow her over a week of travel and a little fun.
“The mighty Fire Lord! It is lovely to see you as always!” Sokka quips when she enters the expansive room for the meetings. Sokka is on the council for the city, and he has been doing a fine job so far to Azula’s non-surprise especially since Sokka is a formidable opponent in Pai Sho.
“Representative,” Azula formally greets. This is an official meeting, and her actions from hereon are dictated as such.
Sokka chuckles as he walks closer. The Imperial Firebenders part for him, letting him pat her shoulder. “We’re gonna be family soon; there’s no need for that!”
Azula deadpans, “Right because Katara and I are getting married tomorrow.”
He beams at her, ignoring her sarcasm. “Marriage, am I right? If you need any help, I’m right here! I could tell you everything you need to do and know before you marry my sister.”
Azula is truly touched at his acceptance and sends him a grateful look. She will have to take him up on it someday. “I doubt Katara will want to get married anytime soon but I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you, representative.”
Sokka chuckles. “Trust me, my sister wants to marry you, and ugh, so formal! I really should start calling you ‘sis’ at this point.”
“I advise you not to do that unless you want a visit from Seiryu.”
Sokka’s face twists before he chuckles nervously to her amusement. “Katara wouldn’t let you do that.”
“Sadly, you’re right.”
The other representatives enter the room, and Sokka goes to sit across from her in his designated chair.
When there’s a lull in the meeting, he writes Katara’s name on some paper and subtly flashes it to Azula across the room. He then makes some kissy faces to Azula’s horror.
She shakes her head at his antics, motioning for him to pay attention. He is far, far different from how her own brother had been.
Later, she and Sokka are outside talking on the steps of the Council Hall when arms snake around her. Azula lets it happen as her captor’s scent betrays her identity.
“Oof!” Azula exclaims as Katara hugs the life out of her. Aware that they are in public, she pulls Katara away. They simply need more privacy.
“Get a room!” Sokka yells to Azula’s dismay as the crowd milling about look to their direction. There’s no doubt the nobles back home will gleefully misconstruct the comment by tomorrow.
They come to a relatively deserted area where Azula returns the hug; the Imperial Firebenders turn away for privacy, standing guard between them and the hallway.
“Hello.” She smiles at her lover, supremely pleased to see her.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming here! I found out through Toph!” Katara exclaims, blue eyes bright and a smile curving her lips. “I was just upstairs.”
“It was a last-minute thing. I wanted to find you after the meeting, but you beat me to it.” She runs her fingers down the side of Katara’s neck, enjoying the shiver it elicits.
A soft look crosses Katara’s face. “Consider me surprised.”
“I told you I would see you soon.”
She can’t help but draw closer to Katara. “I missed you,” Azula murmurs for Katara’s ears only.
“I missed you too.” Katara leans in and Azula acquiesces. They can’t do anything more than share a soft kiss in plain view of people. She thinks she will never tire of Katara’s soft lips.
“How long will you be here for?” Katara asks when they pull away but still within arm's reach of each other.
“I just have a few meetings the next two days then my schedule is pretty light.” Azula had run some documents and problems over with Mai before she left so everything would be in good hands.
“So you’ll be all mine?” Katara’s eyes glint in the light.
Fire Nation Royal protocol and propriety be damned, Azula shifts her hands to interlock her fingers behind Katara’s waist, pulling her close. “I am all yours.”
“Good.” Katara leans in again, and Azula can’t do anything else but lean in as well.
Azula is twenty-eight, and she’s dressed in her formal, heavy robes. It’s blood-red in color but it still complements the hazy, beautiful colors in the sky. The headpiece in her topknot is always heavy, and all she wants to do is throw it away and soak in the sunset with family and friends.
It’s a small affair with Mai and Ty Lee only inviting the people closest to them. Mai’s parents are present with a very tall and dapper Tom-Tom. Ty Lee’s parents are here with her sisters in varying shades of pinks and reds. Team Avatar is here as well.
She spies Ursa and Ikem in the corner with Uncle Iroh. She hides a smirk, seeing Kyi by the refreshments—she hopes the catering service is ready.
Azula has done her rounds with all of them, and now she’s in front standing on the raised platform as she waits for her oldest friends to appear. They had each asked her input on dresses months ago, and she has no doubt they will look beautiful.
Katara sidles up beside her, her hair braided down her back, and she’s wearing gorgeous purple robes. She reaches out to hold Azula’s clasped hands behind her back. “Hi.”
The corners of Azula’s lips curl up. “Hi. You look very beautiful.”
“You already told me that,” Katara replies, her lips stretching into a smile.
Azula shrugs quickly. “I must have forgotten.”
Katara sends her such a soft look that she forgets to breathe for a moment. “Are you nervous?”
Azula shakes her head. “No. I’m excited, but I also want to get this over with. These robes are too hot.”
Katara nods to the water. “We should swim later then.”
“I’ll beat you later.”
“No, you won’t.”
To Katara’s incessant displeasure, Azula is the stronger and faster swimmer of the both of them. It is expected since Azula has been training all her life, but the irony is too funny, and Azula loves their little swimming competitions.
“It’s fine if you lose anyway since you like seeing me wet,” Azula comments nonchalantly.
Katara laughs, pink tinting her cheeks. “That I do. I win in a sense.”
Azula sends a smile Katara’s way, and her good mood continues as she sees Ty Lee’s sisters taking their seats meaning Mai and Ty Lee will be here any moment.
“Would you want to get married here too?”
The question gives Azula whiplash. It is so surprising but also very welcome. She has always hoped that marriage would be her future with Katara—her mother has been relentless about it—but they have never gotten around to talking about it. Her eyes meet Katara’s. “It is tradition for the Fire Lord to marry in the Royal Palace. It is a very public and long event with dignitaries and noble families invited as well… is that something that appeals to you?”
Katara scrunches up her nose—it’s adorable. “Not really, but if we have to”—Azula swallows—“then I want to marry in the South Pole too.”
She can’t help but grin. “I completely understand. Anything you want.”
Katara laughs again. “Glad to hear that.”
The four-piece orchestra hired for the event starts playing, and Katara pulls away to sit in her chair but not before Azula gives her hand a soft squeeze.
Mai is up first, and she’s wearing a black dress with red trimming that shows off her shoulders but the rest of it is traditional. It is fitting—it is very Mai. It crosses her mind the sight before her would have been Zuko’s had he lived. She shakes the somber thought away.
The orchestra shifts into another piece, and Ty Lee is here dressed in contemporary light pink robes that hugs her figure. If Azula could see auras, she thinks Ty Lee’s would be a bright, shining pink.
When they are both before her, Azula compliments them in whispers then the ceremony starts.
It is not customary, but Azula is feeling sentimental so a speech makes it to her lips. “Mai and Ty Lee have been my friends since childhood, and I have seen their love blossom and change over the years. They have a connection and a camaraderie that I was not privy to even as children. When I found out about their romantic connection, it was surprising to me at first, but it is very easy to see how perfect they are for one another. Their love is simultaneously expected and unexpected. Today, we celebrate a new milestone in their lives.”
Mai smiles at her and Ty Lee has tears in her eyes. They both shine when together.
Azula catches Katara’s bright, blue eyes as she continues to speak. There is a brief moment when she remembers how lonely she had been as a child and as a young adult, but that has changed, and all she can see now is eternal companionship, love, and warmth in Katara’s eyes.
Azula is twenty-nine when she first visits the South Pole. She is stepping off the ship when she spies Katara, Chief Hakoda and an elder couple that stands with them. They are at the forefront of an assembly of people in the sizable settlement.
There are deafening roars, making the crowd gasp, and Azula herds the dragons on the ice. The dragons are obviously curious, adjusting to their new environment. She wonders what it must be like for them. She gets an answer later when they roll and wriggle on the ice, apparently enjoying the freezing ground; she can’t suppress a smirk at the sight.
Katara reaches out for her first in plain view of everyone and hugs her tightly. Briefly glancing apologetically at Chief Hakoda, Azula sighs at the breach of protocol but doesn’t complain—it comes with Katara, and she is far away from stuffy elders in the Fire Nation. Katara’s gloved hands reach for the back of her neck, and she pulls her in for a deep kiss. Azula sighs happily into it, ignoring the titter of the crowd.
Chief Hakoda coughs, making her flush as she pulls away.
“Chief Hakoda,” Azula greets, bowing to him. Katara rolls her eyes, smirking at her. “It is wonderful to see you again.”
Chief Hakoda pats her shoulder, smiling. “I’m glad you’re finally here, Fire Lord Azula.”
Azula and Hakoda smile at each other, clearly amused by the formality. Katara rolls her eyes at their little inside joke.
Touching the elderly woman beside her, Katara says, “Gran-gran, this is Azula, my love. Azula, this is my grandmother, Kanna.”
Azula's face is bright red from being called love, but she steps forward and bows smoothly. “It is an honor to meet you, Lady Kanna.”
Katara reaches out and tugs her ear. “Always so formal,” she whispers. Azula can hear the fondness in her voice which she smirks at.
“I did not expect such a polite young woman,” Kanna comments, making Katara abruptly guffaw while Azula glares at her. “Call me Gran-Gran.”
“Lady—“ Kanna’s glare is almost identical to Katara’s so Azula hurriedly tests the term of endearment, “Gran-Gran.”
Katara smirks and brings her close to her side. “You better get used to it.”
“Katara has the right idea,” Kanna says, making Azula feel another blush coming on to her horror. Fortunately, Kanna lets the amusing sight slide and continues with, “Your dragons are beautiful. They are a rare sight.”
“Thank you, Gran-gran. This is their first time in the arctic region. I was worried they would not like it, but they look like they’re enjoying themselves.”
“They will love it here,” Kanna says knowingly. Azula nods politely in response. “This is my husband, Pakku.” She gestures to the long-haired man beside her.
Azula bows once again. “It is an honor to meet you, Master Pakku.”
The man stares at her long and hard before his gaze shifts to Katara’s stern face then to the direction of her dragons. He smiles after a beat. “It is an honor as well, Azula.”
“Come, child,” Gran-gran says. Azula bites back a retort of being almost thirty and being the Fire Lord and having dragons when Gran-gran holds out her hand to Azula, and she immediately acquiesces. She shoots Katara a long look as her grandmother starts introducing Azula to everyone.
Sokka was not kidding when he told her she would meet everyone.
By the time Azula is acquainted with all of them and has done her rounds thrice, Katara is pulling her away.
“Isn’t it rude for me to leave your family?” Azula asks, frowning. They hear the dragons’ distinct sound for whining.
Katara rolls her eyes, scoffing. “Would you rather be with them?”
“Of course not.”
They smile at each other. The packed snow is crisp, crunching an inch beneath their feet.
It doesn’t take long for Azula to observe her surroundings as was habitual. “Your home is very structured.” Azula’s eyes scan the area. “The layout of your village is convenient. The water passages we used makes it very easy for the ships to sail here, and I reckon suppliers from the North also have no problem traversing the waters since essentially, water is your turf.”
“That’s all true.”
Azula points out a large building, asking, “What’s that?”
“That’s the recreation center. We’re having some classes for kids there right now since the new school building is still being built. We got stone from the south of the Fire Nation by the way.”
Azula nods. “They have some of the finest workmanship.”
Katara points out a fortified stone igloo a few steps away. “That’s mine. We used to have seal skin tents, but now we have more refined and larger igloos as the population grows. Better protection from the winds and warmer too. Thanks to the war ending, we could trade with you and the Earth Kingdom easily.”
“That’s great to hear. What about the food? Since the population is growing, do you still hunt everything or do you also trade?” she asks as they cross the threshold of Katara’s home.
Katara explains everything she knows and answers more of Azula’s inquiries.
The interior is warm with a crackling fire in the middle of the home, and little trinkets and souvenirs from Katara’s travels are displayed in various places. Surprisingly, and to her delight, there are some Fire Nation silks out for decoration.
Katara leads her to what Azula assumes is her bedroom, and her lover pushes her to the furs that constitute her bed.
“You know what I noticed? The architecture of this igloo is ingenious. The framing reminds of earthbending, interestingly. The strongest part of the igloo seems to be the core where the pillar is made of stone. Nice touch by the way to have a firepit below it.”
Azula relaxes on the makeshift bed as Katara just hums in reply, fiddling with the collar of her fur jacket. She clutches at the furs beneath her, touching them with care. “I assume these furs are real but do you have limits or hunting bans to prevent certain species from dying out? It would be terrible if the—“
“It would be terrible if you don’t shut up,” Katara exclaims, stripping her outer jacket.
The action cuts off any further reply, and Azula doesn’t really talk for the rest of the night.
Azula is thirty, and today is the most important day of her life… so far.
The sky is clear and bright in the South Pole. In a week, they will be on an airship back to the Fire Nation. She looks forward to being home. Agni knows Mai has been writing her letters nonstop.
But that will have to wait. There is a warm feeling in her chest as she fingers the ring in her pocket. She has been carrying it for months, afraid to let it off her person.
She pulls it out, observing for marks and dust. Nothing. If there has to be anything perfect in her life, it has to be the ring.
She had asked Sokka’s opinion and had found the perfect solution to her dilemma. Proposing with a ring instead of a necklace had been a hard choice. She wanted to be traditional and to follow the tribe's customs, but this way, Katara would get to keep Kanna’s necklace since it’s very important to her lover, and Azula wouldn’t want it any other way.
There is an exaggerated cough behind her and she turns, already knowing who it is. “Chief Hakoda.”
He smiles. “You’re already family. I won’t mind at all if you call me ‘dad’.”
The word reminds her of Ozai before everything became a mess. Now, calling Hakoda dad would be an honor, but she’s getting ahead of herself. “Not yet. There’s a chance Katara would say no.”
He chuckles. “You’re family in all but papers, Azula. And I am very certain my daughter will say yes. She looks at you like you hung the moon.”
There is no denying her whole face is red at the moment. “Thank you, Chief. Your support means a lot to me.”
“You’re welcome. Remember what I told you though. Mess up, and you’ll have all of us coming after you.”
She chuckles. “I wouldn’t dream of it. Katara would be the first one to come for me if I did.”
He shakes his head, clearly amused. “Do you have the ring on you?”
She opens her fist, lifting it up to him.
“You picked well, Azula. Katara will love it.”
The jewel is blue set on an off white ring that shined. It reminds her or the Southern Water Tribe, of the blue, crystalline water and of the luminous snow. She hopes it would bring comfort for Katara, reminding her of home.
She had nervously asked for blessings from Hakoda, Gran-Gran and Master Pakku, and it was given. Ursa, on the other hand, had all but pushed her toward proposing over the years and had cried when Azula made her intentions known.
The place is almost ready when the sun dips well below the horizon. She hung small oil lanterns that she would light with her own fire. There are furs and pillows spread out on the snow with a small campfire and a table for dinner. It’s a cold evening, but she is counting on that as Katara often says she is very warm to touch.
Azula has never thought herself a romantic, but she thinks she has done well.
Sokka appears, sliding down the snowy slope that gave the place privacy. “Hurry, she’s coming!”
Azula sets to work, and now there’s a warm glow to the place.
“Good luck!” Sokka runs, disappearing around a snowy corner.
“Azula?” Katara gracefully skates down the slope, using her waterbending. “What’s all this?”
“A surprise,” she says. She holds out a hand which her lover takes. They share a soft kiss, and Azula feels more than sees the smile Katara is wearing. They sit on the comfortable makeshift bed, folding their legs beneath them.
The dinner is simple but enjoyable. Steamed rice and some whale flesh. Azula grills it by the fire and uses her own firebending to evenly cook the pre-seasoned meat.
Now they lie side by side gazing at the stars, shoulders pressed together and fingers linked.
“I never could have imagined something like this,” Katara comments. “It’s a little surreal.”
“Well you wouldn’t have imagined this while dating the Avatar,” Azula says dryly.
Katara laughs as she tightens her grip on Azula’s fingers. “Say that again, and I’ll have water down your back this instant.”
Azula merely smirks at the suggestion.
It is time, she figures.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a while,” Azula starts. She breaks the handhold as she gets on both knees, relaxing on the soles of her feet.
There is a gasp as the ring is brandished.
“Katara,” she starts softly.
The woman’s eyes are wide, unblinking at the ring. Katara gets up herself and kneels as well, mirroring her position.
She opens her mouth, but before she can say anything, Katara has launched herself at her and has her in a bone-crushing hug.
Azula’s hands clutch the waterbender closer. “But I haven’t said anything yet.”
Katara’s hands settle on her shoulders when the waterbender pulls away, her expression is soft, thrilled, amused. “The answer is still yes.”
“Humor me?” Azula will not let her efforts go to waste, and Katara only deserves her all. Katara nods, smiling. Azula clears her throat, gripping Azula’s waist. “I never imagined this would be my future. It is far different from the one I imagined, but this is more than anything I could have imagined,” she paused, feeling tears already swelling behind her eyes. She blinks her eyes clear. “These years with you have been the happiest I’ve been. Your love and your support have been unparalleled. I am thankful and awed every day that you are in my life, that you chose me. You make me feel like I deserve my present.” She swallows at the appearance of tears in Katara’s eyes. “I love you. My love is imperfect, I know, but it is yours. If I make you happy and feel loved, I only wish to continue to do so for the rest of my life. Katara, will you marry me?”
Katara has started nodding before she even asked, and her lover shakily breathes out, “Yes.”
The fluttering feeling in Azula’s stomach lessens. She exhales a breath she didn’t realize she was holding. Her fingers are trembling when she slides the ring onto Katara’s finger, just like how people back home did it.
Not a second later, Katara pulls her in for a long and deep kiss. She tastes salt from their tears, but she also tastes what she knows to be uniquely Katara, and she is home.
Azula is thirty-one, and she’s with a few of the most important beings to her in the world. Seiryu glides left, turning slightly in the air, prompting her to clamp her legs tighter on the dragon pillion, and her grip tightens on the leather. Suzaku and Genbu are up ahead, flying gracefully.
The air is freezing at this altitude, but Azula has gotten used to such temperatures by now, and they are dragons.
Seiryu’s movement in the air is also second nature to her by now, and it’s easy to predict his next dive.
All too soon, they land on the beach of an island, dragon feet digging into the sand. They are far north of the Fire Nation, and Azula isn’t even sure if this piece of land still belongs to the Fire Nation. The dragons trot forward into the wilderness and Azula follows.
The greenery scratches and tickles against her skin, but she pays it no mind. The humid temperature is a welcome feeling from the cold of the sky. Her ears prickle when she hears rustling, becoming excited. Her three dragons speed up, and they come upon a clearing.
The young dragons roar upon seeing their family. Azula’s chest clenches; she won’t ever tire of the sight and the sound of her ancestors.
One by one, the miniature dragons greet Azula, nipping at her fingers; she chuckles when they start using her as a child would a tree. One perches on her head with perfect balance.
Her heart suddenly swells with affection and love at the majestic beings surrounding her. Seiryu must feel what she’s feeling because the azure dragon leans down to nudge lightly at Azula’s head.
She stays with them for only a few days. Her time there is so reminiscent of her time with the Sun Warriors, of those years regaining herself. Here on this island, she hunts with them and sleeps among them beneath a canopy of stars.
When the time comes, Seiryu accompanies her home.
In the courtyard, Katara is there waiting with Sokka and Suki. Azula is jittery at the sight. There could only be one reason they are here, and she tries to keep her expectations low. They haven’t talked about that in months, and the last time they did, Suki was vehemently against the idea.
Seiryu bows his head low, and Katara is there with open arms for her when she hops down. There is an unreadable expression on Suki’s face while Sokka looks anxious.
“Come here,” Katara says, pulling her toward the other couple with an unusually damp hand. “Suki and Sokka have made their decision.”
Azula’s expression cools, but other than that, she is quiet, expectant.
Sokka looks at his wife with a wide, nervous smile.
Suki nods, eyebrows raised at Azula and Katara. “You both look so… grave. Cheer up, you’re getting a baby.”
Katata squeals, arms immediately pulling Sokka and Suki into a hug. Azula is still as a statue at the news before Katara pulls her in for the group hug.
As she leans her temple onto Katara’s hair, her mind whirls. She would relay the news to the Fire Sages and the council tomorrow; they would be pleased. After all, she is the oldest Fire Lord in record with no heir yet. The plan would have to be explained to prove the legitimacy of any future offspring. She will have to carry the child.
It all feels so sudden; she hoped but truly did not expect this plan to come to pass. Truthfully, she feels she is not cut out for this; adopting Mai or Ty Lee’s child as heir had crossed her mind, but this… this is unexpected. There is so much to do, so much to learn, to know.
“Azula?” Katara says, noticing her expression. Her wife’s knowing smile is blinding, all white teeth in a straight line. “It’ll be okay. We can do this.”
Azula’s worries begin to fade, quelled by Katara’s infectious joy.
Azula is thirty-two when she awakens in the middle of the night to a hand shoving her out of the bed.
“It’s your turn,” Katara sleepily murmurs before she turns in the bed, facing the opposite direction.
When Azula crosses the threshold to the adjoining room, her sleepiness gives way, and she becomes aware of her wife’s little breaths, signaling her descent into a deep sleep.
Their firstborn, Kya, is sitting up in her crib with tears down her cheeks and a twisted mouth, her nightclothes in disarray. Azula smiles at the sight and takes Kya into her arms, settling her on her hip. Her daughter sniffles adorably, golden eyes firmly on Azula’s face.
With her daughter curling into her, Azula steps out onto the hallway leading up to the veranda of the Royal House on Ember Island. Passing through the hallway, her steps slow at the oil painting of the previous Fire Nation Royal Family, a relic from the old storage room in the house, a reminder of the past.
Her mind wanders. If she or Zuko had gotten their hands on it that night so long ago, it would have burned along with the rest of them, reduced to nothing.
Her eyes flit to the portrait of her family, and the difference is evident. It’s a new painting, done only a month ago. She and Katara look happy, their arms wrapped around little Kya who was propped between them. The contrast to the previous Royal family fills her both with pride and sadness. Some time ago, she realized her old family never had a shot at genuine happiness.
Not long after finding herself in front of the paintings, she feels movement and turns to find one of Kya’s nursemaids making her way silently to the pair. She bows, saying, “My lord. I can take the princess.”
Azula waves a hand. Katara has been adamant with being diligent with Kya, and Azula does her best when she can.
The nursemaid quietly vanishes to the shadows.
She moves on through the hallways, nodding at two Imperial Guards standing guard at the balcony, and they disappear at her silent command.
Sitting in her favorite wooden chair, she shifts Kya in her arms until she is supine in her arms. The walk to the balcony has done her a favor as Kya is now asleep.
Ember Island is quiet apart from the sound of the sea. The sound of the gentle waves are hypnotic, and they lull her, coaxing her to relax. The water outside gleams underneath the moonlight. The view is dreamlike, and all of it reminds her of Katara.
It is surreal to be here with her family. Her younger self would have never pictured out something like this, as she had told Katara. She is thankful though, more than she can put into words.
When light footsteps sound behind her, she stills before she identifies Katara’s scent. Her wife caresses her shoulders before her arms wrap around them.
“She looks so peaceful,” Katara whispers, gaze on their babe.
The warm feeling in her chest starts spreading outwards until her fingers and toes tingle. It’s been a long time since Azula has felt lonely, and she’s happy she won’t have to feel that way anytime soon.
Azula is thirty-three, and it’s Avatar Day.
Aang is here to celebrate in the Fire Nation with Meng and their three children; their eldest is six years of age followed by four and two.
Mai and Ty Lee are also present with their set of three-year-old twin girls. Those two got on so well with Aang’s children that Azula already feels sorry for the servants that would later clean the inevitable mess they will make in the palace. They have proven to be a rambunctious bunch in the past.
Toph is also present, being annoying as always. The earthbender likes to hang around and make fun of everything including Azula and Katara. Azula doesn’t mind because she can dish out as much as she can get, but her wife is another story.
The rest of Katara’s family is also here along with Azula’s own.
Her mother is holding Kya in her arms, making cooing noises at the girl, as Ikem and Hakoda converse to the side.
“It’s a good day!” Kiyi exclaims, slinging an arm around Azula’s shoulder. Kiyi is a couple of inches shorter than Azula so the action makes Azula hunch to accommodate her sister. She has half a mind to shrug her sister’s arm off, but Kiyi squeezes her shoulder and tightens her grip.
Azula sighs. “It is a good day, Kiyi.” Her awkward posture is beginning to hurt her side.
“Kya is so cute,” Kiyi observes. “Good genes really do run in the family.”
Azula abruptly laughs. “They do.”
Kya is growing into her looks. When before she was just a puff-cheeked baby with a buzz of short hair, now she has short, thick silky brown hair that Ursa says is a perfect mixture of Azula and Katara’s hair. Her skin tone is a shade of bronze lighter than Katara’s, but her eyes are all Azula’s.
Ursa shuffles over and slowly hands Kya to Kiyi who is waiting with open arms. Little Kya is staring at Azula curiously, and Azula smiles at the look.
“Be careful,” Ursa says sternly to her second daughter.
Kya just nods, eyes still on the baby. “Hey look at me,” Kiyi says to Kya. The little girl is not having any of it and instead holds out her hands to Azula and gurgles. “Come on Kya! Please look at me!”
Azula just chuckles as Kya squirms and babbles some more in Kiyi’s hold, her little hands reaching for Azula.
“Go on then,” Kiyi exclaims, pouting as she settles Kya in Azula’s arms. “Little br—”
Azula’s glare is very effective even with family.
“I’m kidding sis,” Kiyi says archly, her shoulder bumping against Azula’s. “Kya is the best niece in the world!”
Looking between them, Kya quietens in her mother’s arms and smiles. “Mama.”
Ursa and Kiyi gasp, crowding around the two of them, both talking in delighted tones. Kya is looking bemused at their excited gestures, and Azula would have laughed had she had her wits about her. Azula is truly gobsmacked, watching her daughter in wonder.
The commotion seems to have attracted people’s attention as they curiously peer at their little group. Azula spies the form of her wife in her periphery.
“What happened?” Katara asks anxiously, settling her hand on Azula’s arm and the other on Kya’s head.
Azula snaps out of her thoughts and starts laughing raucously. The three women watch her for a moment, stunned.
When her laughter subsides, she smirks at Katara and says, “Remember our bet months ago? Well, it looks like you have to pay up.”
Azula is thirty-four, and Kya is sitting before her on the stone ground of the Palace gardens. Her daughter is an early riser like Azula, has been since a babe—as proven by the many sleepless nights Azula and Katara have had tending to their daughter.
Kya yawns, mouth open wide. So, her daughter may be an early riser albeit without the alertness and fondness Azula has for the habit.
Azula glances to the side. There is a nursemaid sitting under the shade of a tree, waiting patiently.
“Now, follow me. We inhale through the nose like this”—Azula inhales—“then out through the mouth.” Azula exhales.
Kya wakens a little, does an exaggerated version of the breathing exercise and blows a raspberry, spittle flying from her lips.
Azula laughs, loud and bright, drawing the gazes of the guards and the servants. Azula doesn’t care. “That was very good, Kya.”
Kya blinks then coos, clapping her hands together.
Azula is unsure if Kya understands what she had said, but it doesn’t matter, not when Kya’s face has lit up like the sun. Kya shifts, standing to come closer to Azula. It hits her then how different this is. Even when she had been the favorite, Ozai never did any of this with her. He always maintained an air of superiority over her and Zuko that Azula would try to emulate in later years.
Her daughter would never know the burden of being strong and perfect, and Azula thinks that’s for the better.
“No matter how many times you do this with her, she’s not going to be a firebender,” Katara declares brazenly, walking toward the pair of them. The sun casts its light on her thick hair, illuminating her beautifully.
“They’re only breathing exercises; they’re essential for all elements.” Azula smirks as Katara sits beside them, arms automatically reaching out toward their daughter. Her smirk turns into a full-blown smile when Katara greets Kya with: “Hello, my little love.”
Azula leans on her palms, watching her loved ones and relaxing under the gentle rays of the early morning sun. “But still, I think she’ll be a firebender. Want to bet on it?”
Katara rolls her eyes, smiling. “Fine. You’re on.”
Azula is thirty-five, standing on a dais overlooking a rowdy, massive crowd in the Royal Plaza. Katara, some family and friends, her subordinates and a handful of nobility stand to the side as she addresses the crowd. The wind is cool on her face as she straightens her posture just a bit more, lowers her shoulders and raises her chin. The headpiece on her head is almost weightless as she has grown used to it. She’s about to address the crowd with a personally-written speech about the Day of Agni. Though, she doesn’t really need it as the words are engraved in her brain.
She raises a hand, and a hush falls over the crowd. She starts, and they listen with rapt attention. She modulates her voice, never screaming and always a picture of poise—the picture of a powerful Fire Lord. Her eyes rove over the crowd as she speaks, making sure to catch her people’s eyes even with the distance.
In some of them, she sees happiness, admiration, wonder. In a select few, she sees fear, skepticism, dislike. It’s par for the course in this nation.
“... we come together to celebrate this day, to remember that we come from a higher being. This nation’s power and prestige come from Agni, and it is our honor to remember and thank him for such generosity and grace.”
The crowd cheers as she raises her voice. They chant her title and name similar to the way the crowd would do it for her father. Azula allows the similarity in her thoughts for a moment. If charm is one of the things she had gotten from her father then it’s a welcome trait.
When she reaches the end of her speech, the cheers are deafening. Stepping off the dais, she heads toward Katara who kisses her cheek. The crowd’s noise doubles at the gesture. The corner of Azula’s lips lift; the Fire Nation people had been lukewarm toward Katara at the start of their courtship—it’s quite different now. Catching Katara’s gaze, she sees pride and love in those bright, blue eyes.
It warms Azula more than any flame she could make. It’s not surprising nor new; she’s gotten used to the thought.
Toph is there, punching Azula’s arm when she reaches the blind woman. Azula makes a joke about rolling her eyes, and Toph cackles like it’s the funniest thing she has ever heard.
Aang is also there with his firstborn Bumi, and they bow respectfully to Azula which she replicates in return.
“You did okay,” Mai snarks while Ty Lee beams widely at her.
Moving on, she exchanges pleasantries with the others gathered whom are bowing toward her. She exchanges long words with nobility, their words flowery and a tad exaggerated.
The reverberating sound of a gong hits the air, signaling tradition, and Azula steps before the large metal cauldrons on the balcony of the Royal Plaza.
A step in place later, she sheds her outer robe and gets into a horse stance. When before it was loud, now it’s deathly quiet.
She breathes, feels the chi in her belly, and moves. Punching forward, blue blooms from the cauldron high into the air. It is met with cheers once again.
Azula suppresses her smile at first, but nevertheless, it shows when the dragons appear in the sky, roaring, and all see the Fire Nation’s ancestors.
Azula is in the middle of her thirty-sixth year. Her stomach is full again with life, but this time, the pregnancy feels irritating, and Azula is often in mood swings. Most of the ministers barely look her in the eye now, and surprisingly, Mai has become the mediator for all things related to work.
One night after her pregnancy hits the fifth month, Katara lays her hands on the round swell; Azula closes her eyes at the gentle touch and opens them again when her wife gasps. Katara's parted lips and wide eyes immediately have Azula on high alert.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, her heart beating heavily in her chest.
Katara seems to snap out of her daze and grins. The grin is wide and blinding. She whispers reverently, “Twins, Azula. We are having twins.”
It is Azula’s turn to gape. “But how? Neither of our families have twins! This is impossible!”
Katara nods understandingly, now holding Azula’s hands. “It is a gift.”
It doesn’t matter that they’ll be having two more. The nursery is big enough to accommodate them, and they’ll have another nursemaid.
“You’re right.” Azula pulls Katara closer. “Yes, a gift.”
“You don’t sound convinced of it.” Katara pulls away to stare inquisitively at Azula.
“I’ve never… these are twins. I’ve never thought of giving birth to twins.”
Katara once again nods. “It will be alright. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
“What if I… this is actually very daunting.”
It is hard for Azula to admit a fear aloud, even after all these years, but Katara is the exception to the trait. Katara replies, “I know, and it is all right to feel that way. You are only human, and this is a new, surprising experience. But I am here with you, to support you, and I will always do. You will be safe with me and all the midwives and physicians, I promise.”
Her wife has a way with words. Azula sends a grateful smile to her wife, feeling warm and comforted, the dread abiding.
When she does give birth, it’s to a girl first then to a boy not too long after. They have talked countless names for a girl, but they finally pick ‘Azumi’ for her, a traditional Fire Nation name, an homage to Azula’s lineage—to reclaim tradition for good.
Katara coos the new name to the baby in her arms. When the other midwife places the boy on Azula’s bosom, Azula already knows what to name him when she peers into sleepy golden eyes with that tuft of brown hair.
“Zuko. His name is Zuko.”
Katara smiles as if she had been expecting the name all along. Her fingers brush the damp hair from Azula’s forehead, tucking it beside Azula’s ears. “Azumi and Zuko sound perfect.”
Azula is thirty-seven. It is late afternoon after a tiring day of paperwork, and she is sitting beside Kya under their favorite tree next to the turtle duck pond. Kya is feeding the turtle ducks with bread she helped swiped from the kitchen.
It’s peaceful and breezy, and it almost soothes Azula to sleep after the long day she had. Yet, her ears perk as the wind rustles, and she smiles.
“We have a visitor,” she says to her daughter who looks up curiously.
When the blue dragon lands in the garden, Kya squeals so loud that Seiryu actually growls.
“It’s Seriyu Ma!” Kya turns briefly to catch her eyes, hair braid swinging in the air. Ma is Azula while mama is Katara.
Azula stifles a chuckle. “I know.”
Seiryu stretches and shakes in place, and Azula is once again reminded how normal dragons can be. Fearlessly, Kya bounds up to the dragon, jumping with hands in the air.
“Seiryu…” Kya coos when the dragon lies on the floor, allowing her to pet him in a gentle manner. “Ma, I want to see all of the dragons.”
This time, the demand forces out a chuckle from Azula as she kneels and bows her head toward Seiryu. The dragon huffs out a breath of air; the resulting smell makes Azula wrinkle her nose. “In a couple of years and with your mama’s permission, Kya. I’ll take you to their home where you’ll meet all the living dragons.” Alive dragons, Zuko had one said; the memory transports her fleetingly to her childhood, and the nostalgia washes over her.
Kya’s mouth parts, lips forming a grin. “Ma… thank you.” Kya jumps up and puts her arms around Azula’s shoulders.
Azula chuckles. She had been a polite kid herself out of necessity and her station but never genuinely. She is sure Katara had also never been as polite as their daughter.
Her daughter, who has taken to her siblings like Uncle Iroh to tea, who treats everyone with respect even at such a young age, who always asks for permission before doing anything new, who plays with Mai and Ty Lee’s daughters in the hidden confines of the palace, who loves her grandparents with all her little heart, who always listens to stories about past family, who doesn’t hesitate when climbing atop dragons.
“So I get to see them when I’m big and brave and strong and smart and”—her forehead creases in concentration—“adult like you and mama?”
Azula chuckles, hand reaching out to clutch her daughter’s. Assurance. “Yes, you will be all of those things.” And less scarred and less fearful, Azula doesn’t say.
Her daughter is growing up free in a peaceful world; her siblings will too. They have made sure of that.
Kya’s forehead creases again, and she asks, “Can we bring mama and Azumi and Zuko too? What about grandma and grandpa and granddad and uncle Iroh and aunt Kiyi and aunt Ty Lee and aunt Mai? Or uncle Sokka and aunt Suki? Or how about...”
And more talkative, Azula thinks, smiling.
Azula is thirty-eight when she wakes up to the cries of Azumi and Zuko in the next room. Azula quietly grabs a robe and moves to the adjacent room.
Azumi and Zuko are crying and whimpering, their discomfort overt. Azula’s ears perk and her back tenses. Something is wrong.
Not a minute later, Katara also enters the room, having slipped on a robe and clasped it at the waist.
Azula’s teeth are on edge when she sees the unease she feels reflected on Katara’s face.
“Kya,” Azula breathes out, almost choking on the word.
Katara nods and sets off to exit their apartments, calling for the Imperial Guards to guard the Fire Lord and the twins. Azula wants to go, but the twins need protection, and neither she nor Katara really trust anyone but themselves to do the job.
A handful of guards stream into the room, surveying the interiors and exteriors. Five tense minutes later, a shout sets off a commotion outside.
She mutters a prayer to Agni. She will not lose her family tonight or any moment soon.
Fearful, Azula moves toward the windows, peaking into the night. There is a figure dressed in black running towards the nearest Eastern wall—a shadow. They’re fast, obviously fit and trained. But a second later, they’re immobile, frozen to the spot. Confusion clouds her mind when it all clicks as Katara comes into view behind the masked figure.
Azula can’t help but stare—she has never seen this before. She knows, of course, of her wife’s power, but Katara has been adamant of not using it, and there has never been a reason to use this particular subset of waterbending until now.
The Imperial Firebenders behind Katara are stiff behind her whether from fear, shock or awe Azula doesn’t know.
She goes outside to the scene when the twins’ personal nursemaids arrive. There’s a sheen of sweat on Katara’s forehead reflected by the moonlight as the Imperial Firebenders take the masked figure away. Azula would question them personally herself but only later, not when Katara looks so pale.
“Are you alright?” Azula asks quietly. Her fingers touch the inside of Katara’s wrist, the touch as light as a feather.
Katara nods, but Azula feels her tremble and gathers her in her arms before guiding her inside back to their apartments, heatbending to provide warmth for her wife. There is a line of Imperial Firebenders on guard to their rooms. Kya is there to their relief with the twins.
They will talk later. She knows the children’s presence is what they both need now.
Waving off the nursemaids, she sets Katara on a lounge chair before Azula takes the twins. To her relief, the color has returned a bit to Katara’s cheeks when she makes her drink water.
Azula is surprised to see Kya grinning as she hops into the space between them.
“Didn’t I help mama?” Kya asks Katara. Azula and Katara’s laps are filled with one sleepy twin each.
Katara nods, a smile making its way on her face, her trembling momentarily subsiding. “You did. Show your ma,” she says proudly, tilting her head toward Azula.
Azula merely lifts a brow. A beat later, cold water is splashed onto her face and she lets out an undignified yelp.
“Pay up,” Katara says, eyes currently full of mirth, no trace of the fear and anxiety from before.
Azula prefers the look and has never been happier for her child to be a waterbender.
Azula is thirty-nine, and she’s back on Ember Island—for business.
The house is almost ready. It’s surrounded by trees—a perfect and relaxing environment. It’s sizable and equipped with new, simple furniture. It presents a clean, sleek interior, and the exterior is just as beautiful, a sturdy mix of wood and stone. There’s a veranda overlooking the beach, just like the official home of the Royal Family.
A servant comes forward, bearing documents in hand. “My lord,” he says, presenting her the title of the property. She reads over it, and soon after, she signs it. Her royal seal is added to the document as well.
It is official, and the house is now ready.
A carriage arrives in the afternoon, and the servants help Akahi out of the carriage. Her grown son is with her. She’s older than the last time Azula has seen her, her hair now streaked with more silvers. Accompanied by her son, her old caretaker slowly makes her way to Azula’s post just in front of the house.
“Leave us,” Azula says to the other servants in their proximity. The Imperial Guards walk further away.
“Fire Lord Azula,” Akahi says, bowing to the best she can. Her son soon follows.
Azula shakes her head but bows in return, a prelude to a warmer welcome.
“Lee,” Azula greets afterward.
“It is good to see you in good health, Fire Lord Azula,” Lee offers.
Azula nods, smirking. “Both of you as well.”
Akahi laughs, much more used Azula’s subtle meanings in her words. “Now why are we here? You’re not trying to get me back in the palace, are you?”
“You’re too old for that now.”
Akahi laughs while her son looks on, a little uncomfortable with the exchange. Not many people understand her relationship with Akahi. It has evolved throughout the years.
“Right. You are here for this,” Azula gestures to the house.
Akahi and Lee stare at her, both sporting confused expressions.
“It’s yours,” Azula says simply to Akahi.
Her old caretaker catches on, and there are now tears in her eyes. On the other hand, Lee’s eyebrows have disappeared into his hair.
“I can’t take it,” Akahi exclaims, shaking her head.
Azula pulls the title of the property from her robes and presents it to Akahi. “This actually was a little late. The restructuring was a nightmare, but it’s done now.” Pressing the parchment to Akahi’s frail hands, she continues, “You were part-mother and part-friend to me as a child. I think my childhood would have been more terrible without you in it. Akahi, and that's saying something. This is the least I can do. I hope to provide you the comfort you provided me. Please, it’s yours.”
Akahi and Lee are now openly crying, and Azula might have too if she wasn’t so happy.
“Azula—thank you.” Akahi shakes her head, smiling. “A Fire Lord saying please? Your father would have had a fit!”
Azula is turning forty today. With the little light streaming in through the drapes, she awakens to Katara’s blue eyes peering at her. The glee in them is so obvious that Azula can’t help but smile.
When Azula looks at Katara now, nothing but love fills her chest. It is a far cry from all those years ago when she had looked upon her wife with hate and contempt first, then fear and grief then anxiety and discomfort.
There are still times when she thinks she does not deserve this, but those times have lessened with every new day, and so, today is not that day.
Katara being in her life is a miracle in itself, one which Azula has thanked Agni for every day in the form of a private prayer upon waking. Quickly, she does so, her thoughts fleeting as well over each member of their large family including the dragons.
“Azula?” Katara murmurs, resting her chin atop Azula’s chest. Her breath is a steady presence on Azula’s chest.
It’s a distracting sight and feeling, but her hands automatically comb through Katara’s thick hair. “Hello.”
“Happy birthday. I love you,” Katara leans in; in the proximity, Azula can see the little specks of green in Katara’s blue eyes.
“I love you too,” Azula replies before their lips meet.
When they part, Katara lies back down on her chest, hands now tracing maddening patterns on her waist. “Do you remember that question I asked you years ago, during our courtship? If we’ll make it?”
“I do. I was skeptical.”
Katara’s eyes are on hers again, more keen than before. “I stand by my answer. I think we’ll make it.”
Azula grins. “And now I’m changing my answer. Maybe you’re right—maybe we can.”
When Katara passes at the ripe old age of ninety-seven, Azula naturally follows a week later, reduced to nothing but legacies and memories by dragon fire.