Ha, ha, ha! I thought I'd finally escaped bad weather messing with my plans when I went vacationing with my man Joel to Cancun but we got rained on today! Our last day! Waaah! Oh well, got plenty of sweet stuff, pics, and memories so I'm happy and it gave me some free time to type up this first chapter for my new story, oh and sorry if I'm being lazy with the title 'cuz that's like my least favorite part of writing, thinking up titles. Bleh.

Here's hoping I can pull off a decent Azula. Her personality is so different from my own so this will be a challenge for me I'm sure.

Happy reading!

Arual-san

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Between the blue sky long lengths of clouds stretched like cotton to as far as their elasticity would reach and below laid a dry and reedy meadow with no animals to be seen for miles. A place void of steady rain and thus a poor hunting ground for birds of prey, the small Fire Nation balloon was without even that small bit of feathered traffic in its path.

With no Fire Nation army, no servants or palanquin carriers, no Mai or Ty Lee, Princess Azula was alone.

All that had broken up the silence of her solo journey was the occasional gust of wind as if to show that it was not dead as all but one of its masters were and the steady burning of the coals of the balloon's stove. Not by her own will, Azula herself randomly got caught up in a coughing fit.

"Filthy peasant," she cursed beneath her breath of Katara as she cradled her blue flame closer to her huddled body in the corner of the balloon. It was by the water peasant's doing, hers, the blind girl's, and Azula's own brother, that Azula had not even the proper outdoor attire to brave the colder the air the higher the balloon sailed. The Kyoshi Warrior uniform had not been her threads of choice but it served Azula's purpose to conceal her identity yet again, this time from her own nation.

Clothed in only her white under-robes, she wanted for the long dead Avatar's clothing now, if only not to waste extra energy on heating herself. She wanted for a blanket or extra food that she, among other things, had unfortunately under-packed in her lack of experience packing for herself.

Her will was unshakeable as it had ever been but her body needed its native element to survive, especially that the cold was only prolonging her sickness. Azula cradled that flame ever closer, almost tenderly, to that alive yet not alive thing kinder than she had ever been to a real person.

The air chilled her but even with her hotter than average flame it was no cure-all to her plight. Where ever she pulled the flame closest, other neglected areas soon became numb with the cold. It was a never-ending cycle moving that flame from place to place to keep warm but it kept her occupied in some small way when her course was dead-on straight for the next forty miles.

Somehow, though the incoming flight had been the same solo ride, in the returning flight that Azula was alone again seemed to press in on her so much more. She had come with a mission and now that that mission was completed what awaited her was a very displeased Fire Lord.

She flicked her fingers round the flame with some amount of fierceness, quickly expelling any form of tenderness. What had possessed her to do it, to stick her head out for her no-good mother? Azula had thought she'd had a good answer while caught in the tides of her fever-ridden dreams but now, in rare form, was she unsure why it was she had landed herself in this balloon when right now she could be sitting down to a tray of fresh fruits in her private chambers.

She'd deliberated over it a while true, what to over her mother's sentence, but still she had made that one pivotal turn to the loading docks rather than obey her father's orders, she had still pasted that phony, blinding bright smile on in her disguise on seeing her enemies while nursing an almost overwhelming desire to strike them down for their interference, to rain down a blast of flames onto Zuko's head once he'd been fool enough to turn his back to the so-called Kyoshi Warrior and erase the blight on their proud family tree once and for all.

There had been so many chances in that battle to take any one of them down.

She hadn't done it.

"Did I need a hug?" she scoffed quietly, though more inside her head than out.

She could almost see Ty Lee there beside her taking her up on that. It had been the "medicine" her mother had been so willing to give. Ridiculous.

But as ridiculous as it was, as frustrated as she was the situation she had inflicted upon herself both in current and what was to come, Azula threw away her flame, killing it.

She'd only desired an hour, a measly hour would have sufficed! Then Zuko could have had Mother now and forever and Azula would have been rid of these thoughts that weighed her down so! Thoughts that Zuko, Katara, and Toph had waited outside that cave with fire in their blood had tainted her reunion with her mother, made her so very bitter that it overshadowed anything else she would have considered voicing aloud. She hadn't the power over her imprisonment then, over the direction things would have gone from there. That power had lay with the rebel friends and her brother.

Zuko…he had his new traitor friends, he already had so much, why-!?

"Had so much?" Azula repeated and her lips turned wickedly at the thought. What did Zuko have? A revoked title and a mutilated face? A reservation in the deepest, foulest dungeons the Fire Nation had to offer?

She made a mental note to make him suffer the most out of them all when they were captured for making her rethink herself, even for a mere couple moments. That would do much to make up for what she had to go through at present.

Azula sailed on through the air for several minutes more, the time blurred in that there was nothing to do, that the scenery never changed. Even Mai off in one of the corners sitting with little more life than the stove Azula was manning would have been better than this.

Mai and Ty Lee…the thought of them made a flash of anger surge through Azula's senses, made her want to punish them personally for betraying her, thoughts she'd thought countless times before. A passing breeze stole her breath for a moment and she began coughing once more.

Their prison wasn't far. She had been able to disguise her less than perfect state at the fortress…

Her hand didn't even move to turn the rudder. In a way she couldn't explain Azula didn't want to see them just as much as she did. She didn't allow herself to think on that matter further but instead reflected that she couldn't visit that prison anyway, not after abandoning her post after a direct order from the Fire Lord, not after she, second only to the Fire Lord himself, disappeared. Her father would be bound to send out search parties for her to bring her back and most certainly not out of the role of a concerned parent to his remaining daughter.

Azula had a stray wonder if it had crossed any of the minds of the Avatar's group of three over how severely she would be punished when she returned home even when she came to Fire Lord Ozai with a perfectly plausible lie over her previous whereabouts. Punishment wasn't anything she couldn't handle though and handle with honor. Even a hint of her enemies' misplaced pity would have even more unbearable than her lingering sickness and the humiliation of allowing herself to get captured because of that.

Thinking of that servant's sickness, her hand wandered down to her waist where the adjoining rash had been the most severe. Her life was secured, far from the all too real danger it had been in only several days previously, the rash had lost its angry red flush but the skin there retained its bumpy texture. Her illness was dying as the Water Tribe girl had said but the cough and the heat on her forehead was going a long way to continue making her miserable.

Any other night, a night like the one she and her friends had been tracing the Avatar's path from the clumps of fur the bison left behind, there would have been someone else to man the controls, to fuel the vehicle. She would have been in a nice, warm bunker getting her beauty sleep, dreaming of taking down the world's last hope and giving the Fire Nation license to reign supreme over all as it should be. Even with the labor divided between three she'd have still gotten proper rest and recuperation.

Azula had already gone four hours flying as she did and she was sure she could go another four before she would need to land the balloon to get some sleep in.

So confident in that and underestimating the sickness she'd never before experienced, she allowed her eyes to droop. She could still see both near and far. The dark was not yet too thick.

They had always been with her, Mai and Ty Lee, that she could almost see them there with her now: Ty Lee at the front like a figurehead leaning out just as much as she could to take in all that they passed with the much different aerial view, Mai there in the corner as she had imagined before.

She wouldn't have been cold or hungry.

She wouldn't have been alone.

Hadn't she the princess been the obvious choice over her exiled brother back at the Boiling Rock? Azula had had the power, the prestige, the authority over anyone else and Mai and Ty Lee were her very closest friends and allies since birth and yet…and yet they had turned on her. They had turned on her and with such little hesitation and for Zuko, Zuko who was living the life of a traitor and a beggar.

Mai had a sharp wit and, despite her deliriously cheery attitude, Ty Lee had a brain in her as well so Azula couldn't just write it off just like that, no, thoughts of her friends plagued her without end. Why had they done it? She didn't understand; even if she had racked her mind for the reason the whole rest of her journey she couldn't see herself coming any nearer to the answer.

In the direst of times they had chosen Zuko and she could no longer place trust in them.

"I can't," she started, hardly aware that she was speaking the words, "I can't trust…anyone."

Not a second after she had thought that thought the basket had dipped altitude just low enough to scrape the tops a forest of tall trees and the jolt snapped Azula awake in a hurry. She'd only closed her eyes for a few seconds she thought when it had really been a few minutes.

With a harsh push Azula fired a blast of fire into the stove to gain height fast. The effect wasn't as immediate as she would have liked and she had to blast a number of tree tops to keep them from poking holes in her transport, namely the balloon over the basket where one poke would amount to an unavoidable crash landing. She jumped all over the balloon firing tiny, precise darts that would melt through wood just as potent as magma and branches and leaves fell from all around. All the while as the balloon rose Azula fired and although she couldn't spare it from every nick and scrape she managed to keep the balloon without a scratch and the basket from getting stuck like an overgrown bird's nest.

With her superior skills Azula hadn't been in any sort of danger but all the same the jolt had woken her from a very inopportune time to take a nap. As she'd thought previously she could've normally gone another four hours, normally if she could trade off in shifts, if she wasn't ill. This wasn't a normal time.

For so many long hours she had taken in the landscape without really taking anything thing in. She couldn't delay any longer. The next village she spotted would be her landing point.