Morality Chain


To be honest, I don't really think I can sustain this rate of updates for very long. But until I slow down, I'll just keep churning these out. I hope I write well enough for all of you.

As a note, I assume that the de facto language of the world is archaic Chinese, since that's the language that is actually used in all the writing.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.


Azula was exhausted.

Every muscle in her body burned with fatigue. Her eyes were bloodshot and felt like they were literally aflame. Her hair was stuck to her forehead and temples in messy clumps. Sweat poured down her body, soaking through her training uniform until it clung to her skin in a most unpleasant manner.

But none of that mattered.

In front of her her father, Fire Lord Ozai, nodded once. "You have done well, my daughter."

A single, brief sentence of praise, dispensed at the end of a gruelling five hour training marathon, and somehow that made everything worthwhile. All the aches and hurts faded into insignificance as she grabbed at the words like a treasure.

"I am honoured to have pleased you, my father." She replied, keeping her head low.

Ordinarily, her father would have nodded once more and then dismissed her. That was the way it had happened countless times before. But today, he merely sat, silent.

Curiosity burned within the eleven year-old girl, but she held her tongue, knowing that her father would speak up soon enough. And sure enough, after a long moment, he roused himself.

"Azula, what is our creed?"

She blinked, surprised. The creed shared between father and daughter (and, as far as she knew, no one else) was something he had drilled into her head ever since she'd actually gotten around to understanding the concept of words and numbers. It was so utterly, simple, so basic, that she'd barely given it any thought for… well, years.

Still, it was easy enough to recall those words.

"In this world, there is but a single object that truly holds any worth," she recited, focusing her mind on dredging the entirety of it from the depths of her memory. "And that is strength. Strength of body, strength of mind, strength of will. It is strength alone that has shaped our nation and allowed it reach its glorious heights. To have strength and not use it is the greatest of all sins, for in the end it is no better than genuine weakness."

As she finished her recitation, Azula wondered to herself if her father had pulled that saying out from some dusty scroll in the library, or if he had simply made it up himself. Not that it mattered that much, she supposed. It was apparent to all that her father believed entirely in those words and meaning behind them.

"That is correct." Her father nodded once more. "Consider it your task to meditate upon the meaning behind those words until the next time we meet. You are dismissed."

"Yes, father." Deepening her bow for a second, Azula pulled herself to her feet, turned, and began to walk out of the training hall.

Meditate upon the words? Ha. She could barely summon up the energy to stay awake right now. But it didn't take a genius to figure out that her father apparently believed that she had been deviating from that creed in some way.

But apparently, not enough that he would openly reprimand her for it.

At the end of the day, it amounted to a warning not to toe the line. Azula's expression reshaped itself into a frown. Just as it didn't take a genius to divine what father had meant, it also did not take a genius to realize who father had meant.

She rounded the doorway of the hall and failed to prevent her lips from curving upwards at the sight that greeted her. Zuko was sitting slumped over on one of the benches, eyes closed and breathing steadily. With a slight shake of her head, she leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder once.

He jerked awake, blinking away the sleep. "Huh? Oh, hi, Az."

"I thought I told you stop calling me that." She turned away and rolled her eyes. "I've also told you that you don't need to keep waiting for me after my training sessions with father." Especially since they always go on far longer than the scheduled time.

He offered her a sleepy smile and a shrug. "It's no big deal, sis, really."

Sis?

"Anyway, how was training?"

Azula blew out a long sigh. "I ache in places I didn't know I had." She said shortly, and left it at that.

The two siblings stood and began walking through the shadowed halls of the palace in relative silence. As they passed under one of the torches, Azula took the opportunity to sneak a quick glance at her nails – one of them had gotten broken in a previous training session and ever since then she'd been paying a lot more attention to them.

"Father's been putting me through a new set of exercises." She said in an offhand manner as the two of them entered the residential wing of the palace.

"A new set?" Zuko frowned in response. "That's odd. I thought you'd mastered all the standard katas."

"I have. That's precisely why he's pulling out all the specialized stuff." Azula blinked tiredly. "If I master this… I'm supposed to be able to generate lightning."

"The cold fire? Really?" Zuko's eyes widened.

"Uh huh. Apparently one of the most important things, as far as lightning is involved, is absolute clarity of mind." The princess shook her head, feeling weariness seep into her shoulders. Agni, she just wanted to fall onto a soft surface right now. "Trust me when I say that achieving that is not easy."

"What, something that's not easy for the great Azula?" Zuko said in mock surprise. "You'll be telling me we draw our power from the moon next!" She let it pass without comment.

Finally they were at the door to her own room. Pushing the door open, Azula stumbled forward and collapsed onto her bed. From a corner of her mind, she noted that the maids had perfumed the sheets again in preparation for her arrival. Huh. They were learning.

"Az?" Her brother questioned softly. "Shouldn't you, you know, take a bath first? Unwind a bit? Or at least change out of your training clothes?"

"Too. Tired." She mumbled into her pillow.

"…You know you're just going to make yourself feel like one of Uncle's dirty socks in the morning, don't you."

"D'n care. G'way."

After a moment, Zuko relented and closed the door to her room. Briefly, Azula realized she hadn't locked the door yet. Even more briefly, she considered just leaving it for one night, but common sense prevailed and she wearily dragged herself off the bed, stumbled over to the door, and proceeded to secure her room for the night.

That task done, she flopped once more onto her softness of her mattress and let the darkness wash over her.

(X)

Her brother had been right, Azula reflected sourly the next day. Not that it had been the first time she'd fallen into bed immediately after the conclusion of a training session, so she knew what to expect by now.

That didn't make it any less unpleasant, of course.

After taking a bath and consuming several cups of tea – helpfully supplied by her uncle; if nothing else, the man knew his tea – she was beginning to feel tolerably human again. She'd have gone for the total spa treatment if it were possible, but she had a calligraphy practice to attend that morning, and despite her overall lack of enthusiasm for the subject, she knew there'd be consequences if she skipped out on the class.

And so she was here now, attempting to write 'Fire Lord Ozai is the enlightened ruler of our glorious nation' in heavily stylized script, and for a moment, she thought she truly shared a kindred spirit with Mai and her utter ennui regarding the world.

Still, being in this class had its perks – it was one of the few areas in which there was no huge gulf of ability between Zuko and herself, meaning that he attended the same classes as her, and it afforded them some time to talk – the tutors apparently did not care if they did so as long as they turned in accurate scrolls at the end of each class.

"It's been busier than usual today, hasn't it?" She commented. At her side, Zuko didn't look up.

"Yeah. The war council being held has gotten all the officers in an uproar."

"Omashu again, I take it." There hadn't been any serious campaigns against Ba Sing Se in a while, not since uncle had failed after his siege – it was the focal point of all the refugees from the Earth Kingdom, and it had generally been accepted that leaving it to choke on all the logistical problems involved would be the best bet in ensuring a weakened capital in the long run. "The City of Golden Lilies fell last year, so there's only the one left."

"No, today's scope is supposed to be bigger." Zuko's fingers wobbled ever so slightly as he continued writing. "Supposed to concern the entirety of the war."

"Huh." A distant corner of her mind was worried – she'd thought she'd kept up with the flow of information well enough, so why had she missed that today's war council was bigger than all the other ones? She hadn't planned on sneaking in for the proceedings, but if truly was that all-encompassing…

Her current sheet was finished. Setting it aside, she carefully drew out the next piece. 'The Fire Nation seeks to extend the prosperity and power of our great country to the other downtrodden and backwards cultures'. With a slight roll of her eyes, she continued to work.

"I'm going to attend today's war council." Zuko said suddenly, and so quickly that he almost stumbled over the words. Azula snorted in response.

"Right. And I'm a platypus-bear. A platypus-bear with pink horns. And wings too, why not."

"Az…"

"Stop calling me that. Anyway, you and I know that there's no way father is going to allow us children into a war council." Not the standard way, anyway. She felt fairly certain that her father was aware of her whenever she snuck into his supposedly private meetings, but he'd never brought the issue up in front of her, and Azula didn't particularly feel like pushing it. It was easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission, and all that.

He noted the lack of expression on Zuko's face – ever since the incident three years back, Zuko's opinion of their father had cooled drastically, along with a gradual loss of enthusiasm for satisfying their father's wishes. Azula found herself unable to blame him very much. Truth be told, for a while she'd had been conflicted too, wondering if she should really keep holding her father in such high regard after what happened. Eventually she'd justified it by bifurcating her life as much as possible – she would look up to her father and strive to please him, and the rest of her life, including Zuko, could be kept separate, to be lived her own way.

Unless, of course, her father's interest in her life began extending to those areas she'd previously thought entirely her own… Azula's face darkened as she recalled her father's words the night before.

"Az? Something the matter?"

"Hm?" Looking down, she realized she had completed the second scroll. "No, nothing." The third one read 'The very act of earthbending is self-defeating. The essence of earth is steadiness, and to earthbend is to disrupt that steadiness. Thus, earthbenders are inherently inferior.'

Right. I'm sure this will make the soldiers whose heads got crushed by flying rocks feel so much better. Azula rolled her eyes again. Out loud, she said, "Back to the question – what makes you think you're going to the war council?"

"Uncle's attending, and he promised to bring me in with him as long as I didn't draw attention to myself."

"Uncle, huh…" Azula raised an eyebrow. "Why is he even attending, anyway? He hasn't been involved in the war ever since he came back from the siege. Nowadays he just sits in the gardens sipping his tea and playing Pai-Sho." And the occasional music night, of course. She was glad that her bedroom doors were reinforced to dampen sound.

"I'm not sure, but apparently he was specifically requested to come. I guess they still value his input – after all, he's spent more time campaigning in the Earth Kingdom than almost anyone else."

Azula was silent as she dipped her brush into the ink, and conversation was halted until both of them were done with their work. As they stood to leave, Zuko took a glance at the timekeeper candles out in the courtyard.

"There's still a while left until the war council."

"So there is."

"Care to join me in a round of Pai Sho?"

The princess raised an eyebrow. "What would be the point? I'll just crush you again, like always." She couldn't keep the slight tug at the side of her mouth from showing on her face.

His brother grinned at her, and for a moment, he looked younger than his 13 years. "Oh, I've been talking to uncle. He's taught me a few tricks he says should come in handy."

"Ha. He did, did he. Very well, I accept. Lead the way, brother dearest."

(X)

Azula stared blankly at the board lying on the table in front of her. "That was a fluke." She said quickly.

"Admit it, you lost." Her brother's infernal grin was still etched on his face – it was a rare occasion when he got to show her up at anything and he was apparently not going to waste any time in savouring his victory.

"By a fluke!" She insisted. "A slight miscalculation on my part, that's all!" I really shouldn't have played the Lotus tile like that… "Look, set up the board again and I'll show you some real skill."

"If you insist." One hand quickly swept away the remaining pieces from the board, and both of them were reaching for their respective tiles when Azula felt a chill of nameless dread shoot up her spine.

Glancing around, she caught the briefest glimpse of golden eyes staring at her from one of the upper story windows, and the dread intensified, twisting through her gut. Father. She blinked, and the eyes were gone.

"Az?" Her brother's voice pierced her mind, and she turned her attention back to him. "What's the matter?"

"Stop calling me that." She said out of reflex. And then, after a slight pause, she shook her head. "And no, nothing's the matter. Just… I'm more tired than I thought. I guess I haven't fully recovered from yesterday's training. Can we put the rematch on hold for another time?"

Zuko blinked, but shrugged his acquiescence. "Sure, it's no big deal. I should probably go meet Uncle now, anyway. The war council will be starting pretty soon."

Azula didn't say anything else as they departed for their respective locations, but when she remembered the eyes, she swallowed hard. Had that been a coincidence? Or was her father keeping tabs on her meetings with Zuko?

Later. She shoved the issue to the side. She could worry about that later. For now, there was a war council to attend. In secret, of course.

Shaking her head to force the more persistent doubts away, she strode purposefully through the hallways of the palace.

(X)

"Well, that was a rather unexpected conclusion to the meeting, wasn't it?" She said with more than a hint of sarcasm as she joined Zuko in the hallway.

"Wha-?" Zuko glanced up, the determined expression on his face morphing into one of surprise as he caught sight of his sister. "How did you… never mind. You're always sneaking around so much, I really should stop being surprised."

Silently, she despaired at her brother's complete lack of talent (or interest, for that matter) in backdoor intrigue. How was he going to head the court effectively in times to come if he took everything at face value? Once again, the issue was tagged away to be dealt with 'later' as she refocused on the matter at hand.

"For what it's worth though," she continued smoothly. "I agree with what you said."

"Really?"

"Yes." She nodded, her expression serious. "The general is an idiot and the plan to draw those troops out is never going to work. Veteran earthbenders have a dozen different ways to knock out a greenhorn regiment from a distance. I mean, they could just start a landslide from a mile away, and those troops are finished. You're going to need master Firebenders and people who've spent their lives fighting earthbenders to counter their long-range efforts and draw them into fighting position."

"…That wasn't really the point of my objection, Az."

"Hm? Oh, right, the whole 'sacrificing our young soldiers' thing." Azula shook her head. "You're too soft-hearted for your own good, Zuzu."

"I'm sorry for caring." He said snidely.

"Well… the point stands – the plan's a lousy one from any angle." Azula raised an eyebrow. "I wonder how a clod like Khanzo was able to keep his position for so long."

"The standards for promotion and retaining of positions have been getting lax lately." Zuko said as he raised and lowered his shoulders. "I guess they think it's going to be a moot point pretty soon."

Azula fell silent. The two of them knew what would happen in a few short years – the return of Sozin's Comet, the same celestial being that had allowed the Fire Nation to completely eradicate the Air Nomads one hundred years ago. And when it returned, well, the defences of the Earth Kingdom's fortresses might as well have been constructed from wet paper for all the good it would do them. Sheer disparity of power would conclude the Hundred Years War… or would at least break the back of the resistance so comprehensively that there would only be mop-up operations afterwards.

'Well, lax standards or not, I'm kinda surprised you'll be meeting him in an Agni Kai. Father really didn't like you talking out of turn there, did he?"

Zuko shook his head and looked away. "What's done is done. I don't regret what I said." He replied, pointedly steering the conversation away from their father.

"… Want me to take over for you?"

"What?"

"I'm the better Firebender and you know it. I bet I could wipe the floor with ten of him."

"Az, an Agni Kai is an honor duel. I can't just let someone 'take over' for me. What would the people say?"

"Right, right, I know." Azula acknowledged her brother's point and fell silent. She could feel the stirrings within her – even after three years, the promise her mother had extracted from her was fresh in her mind.

Azula, please, promise me that no matter what happens, you'll always look after Zuko, that you'll always protect your brother.

Azula pursed her lips, irritated. And now, of course, he's charging straight into a fight right before my eyes and I can't do anything about it. Not that she considered a washed-up old general much a threat – Zuko was competent enough. Nowhere near as good as her, but still able to run circles around most rank and file soldiers. Still, there was always the niggling worry in the back of her mind.

"Hey, Zuko."

"Hm?" He wasn't paying attention to her. Probably trying to get himself psyched for the duel.

"Promise me something."

"What?"

She smiled slightly and leaned back against the wall. "Promise me you're not going to lose a duel to some washed-up old general who probably hasn't Firebended seriously in a decade, okay?"

Zuko smiled and nodded once. "I promise."

(X)

Well, Azula decided as she tightened her grip on the armrests of her chair from the viewing area, she supposed that technically, Zuko would be keeping his promise to her after all.

Indeed, he was not going to lose in an Agni Kai to General Khanzo.

He was, however, almost certainly going to lose in a duel against their father, Fire Lord Ozai.

She swallowed hard as she caught sight of Zuko's face, confusion slowly giving way to shocked realization, which rapidly melted away to growing panic.

Oh, this was not good at all.

Okay. Okay. Focus. Azula frowned, subsuming her own emotional reactions to the comforting familiarity of logic. If father meant that the Agni Kai would be Zuko against him, that must mean that he considers Zuko's outburst a slight against his honour and a show of disrespect.

Zuko didn't have a prayer of defeating their father unless he held back – and giving the way he was carrying himself right now, Azula deemed that possibility 'unlikely' at best. We both know that father respects strength above everything else. But surely he doesn't expect Zuko to be at his own level in terms of Firebending. The only person in the whole palace who could even dream of that is Uncle Teatime sitting next to me. Her frown deepened. Maybe Zuko can get out of this relatively unscathed if he can pleasantly surprise father. It doesn't need to be much – just get in one good hit, maybe. Yes, if he can just land one hit-

But as she caught sight of her brother's stricken face, she realized that she might as well have wished for Agni Himself to descend from the sky and sear all the Fire Nation's foes from the face of the earth.

Abruptly, Zuko fell to his knees in a gesture of supplication. "Please, father! I only had the Fire Nation's best interests at heart! I'm sorry I spoke out of turn!"

"Stand up and fight, Prince Zuko." Her father never raised his voice, but nevertheless it filled the entire chamber by sheer force of the power and authority within. In the back of her mind, Azula realized that her father had nor referred to him as 'son'.

Oh no. Oh no.

"I meant no disrespect!"

Stand UP, Zuko! Azula bit her lip so hard she swore she could taste blood. Don't you understand? Father respects strength and nothing else! Your refusing to fight him is the worst action you could possibly take at this point! You have to show him you're at least willing to fight for what you believe in. Stand up, Zuko! Stand up and fight! She almost stood up and yelled the words her brother, but years of tradition and knowledge drilled into her head stayed her hand. An Agni Kai was sacrosanct – no one was to interrupt until the conclusion of the fighting. Or… well, what passed for fighting right now.

"You will fight for your honour, boy!" Her father's words were an indignant growl, but he might as well have roared it at the top of his lungs given Zuko's reaction – he kowtowed fully before the Fire Lord, his entire body shivering. Azula almost groaned out loud at this shameful display.

"I… I will not fight you."

There was absolute stillness in the room for a moment. And then, almost faster than Azula could follow, her father lashed out with one foot, catching Zuko in the shoulder and sending him sprawling backwards on the arena floor. Her brother's face was staring at their father's, eyes wide, as the Fire Lord drew his arm back.

"Then you will learn respect, and suffering will be your teacher."

At the moment of impact, Azula felt rather than saw, Uncle turn away, unable to watch any longer. But she herself remained staring at the scene before her in horrified fascination.

And then the agonized scream pierced her ears, seeming to vibrate through her very bones as her brother lay on his back, one arm reaching up clutch at the mass of charred flesh that had once been the left half of his face.

"ZUKO!" The horrified shout resounded through the chamber, and it took Azula a second to recognize the voice as her own. An instant later, she was on her feet, jumping towards the duelling platform. A quick wave of her hand dispersed the flames that surrounded it, and then she was rushing to her brother-

"Leave him." Her father's words, cold as ice, cut through the air, rooting Azula to the spot. Silently, she took a quick glance to her father, who was already walking away, his back towards the two of them. "A weakling like him does not deserve our attention."

At his words, Azula hesitated, torn between her obedience to her father – slammed into her by years upon years of teaching – and concern for her brother, who was now lying on the floor, failing the suppress the tiny whimpers of pain that escaped his lips every few seconds.

Finally, her father spoke up again. "As victor of the Agni Kai and Fire Lord of the realm, I hereby pronounce my sentence. For the crimes of Disrespect to One's Betters, Impropriety in the Sacred Court, and above all, Cowardice in the Face of Danger, you are to be stripped of your title of Crown Prince and exiled from the land."

"No." The words from her mouth were a whisper, so soft she could barely hear herself.

"But I am not entirely without mercy." Their father turned around, and his eyes bored towards the crumpled body on the floor. "If you, Zuko, can restore your honour and redeem yourself by capturing the Avatar, then I will withdraw my judgement, and you may return to your place in this court, and your honour will be restored."

The words were apparently spoken in all seriousness, all emotion drained out of them, but Azula knew her father better than anyone else in the room, better even than his own brother, and she could see the cruel triumph in his eyes.

What stunned her was not that such emotion was there, but that it was directed towards her.

Puzzlement took Azula for a brief moment – why was her father focused on her instead of –

And then realization struck, and as the awful finality of her father's vengeance took hold, the world wobbled around her, and Azula, Princess of the Fire Nation and now heir to the throne, had to fight the urge to throw up.

(X)

Azula sat on the bench, staring numbly at her brother who was lying in the bed. Shortly after the duel, Zuko had been hurriedly brought to the medical chambers, and was now so heavily sedated she doubted that he would so much as twitch an eyelid if someone else burned the other half of his face.

She watched from a distance as the finest medical minds in the nation worked to heal her brother, her mind a maelstrom of chaotic emotion, all of it centred around what had just transpired.

Father did this because of me. Zuko's getting banished because of me. He's going to carry a scar the rest of his life because of me he's a disgraced prince because of me he's lost his claim to the throne because of me all this is happening because of me me me ME

She clutched her head in between her two hands, at a complete loss as to what to do. It was the first time that this had happened in a very long while.

It was because of her. Father had warned her the night before – warned her not to push her luck, warned her against forming attachments to those weaker than her, warned her against becoming too close to her brother. But she had blithely ignored his words, and seeing them both relaxing over Pai Sho – that stupid, stupid game, why couldn't have just said no back then? – must have pushed to make his final decision.

He probably hadn't expected to have an opportunity fall upon his lap so quickly, of course, but her father knew how to seize chances that came his way – he had a talent for it.

And now she had failed in her promise – the one thing her mother had ever asked of her, and she had failed. And she was going to continue to fail – her brother would be leaving, and she did not delude herself into believing that her father would allow her to go with him. She would no longer be able to protect Zuko by any stretch of the word. If her mother was here now… if she could talk to Azula… what would she say?

This single moment had hurt Azula more than the other eleven years of her life combined – not even her mother's departure had hurt remotely this much. And her father had done this without lifting a single finger against her. As she sat there, fighting desperately to keep the tears that blurred her vision from spilling over her cheeks, Azula thought that, for the first time, she truly understood why her father spoke of attachments as a weakness.

And now Zuko was being sent away – forever. The lifeline of 'redeeming' himself by hunting the Avatar was little more than a cruel joke – salt upon open wounds. She would likely never see him again, they would never again be able to relax together in the lazy afternoons, she would no longer have a shoulder to lean on during harsher moments – just how her father wanted it, of course.

For a moment, a bolt of pure, black hatred shot through her.

She was dimly aware of Uncle entering the room and talking to the doctors, asking about her brother's condition, and suddenly Azula felt as if she wanted to burst and she knew that if she remained in the room for one more second she would start screaming and never be able to stop and so she pulled herself to her feet, wiping at her tears and cursing at her own weakness and lack of control. She was then dimly aware of running through the palace until suddenly she found herself back in the sanctuary of her bedchambers.

Alone, Azula collapsed onto her bed and tried her best to keep her body from shaking and her tears from spilling down her face.

(X)

It was a cold grey morning the day Zuko was scheduled to depart – a morning, Azula thought bitterly, much like the one in which their mother had been banished as well.

The two siblings stood at port, watching silently as men strode up and down the gangplank, loading the ship with supplies.

"I'd come with you if I could, you know that?" She spoke softly. "If father had allowed me to come along, I would have."

"I know, Az." He smiled reassuringly at her, although she could see the pain in his eyes. The wound was still fresh on his face, gleaming a fiery red in the pale light, giving him a strange, misshapen appearance. He had also shaved his head entirely in the time between the disastrous Agni Kai and now – apparently he felt that having a bald head would look less awkward than having hair with a huge chunk of it burned off. "And don't worry, okay? I'll be back soon, once I find the Avatar and -"

"No you won't!" Azula cut him off with a furious hiss. "Father, Grandfather, and Great-Grandfather have been searching for the Avatar with all the resources of the Fire Nation at their disposal for the past hundred years. And you know what they've found? Nothing! They're not even sure if he survived the attack on the Air Nomads or was killed and reincarnated to the Water Tribes! You have one obsolete ship, a dozen men, and Uncle!" The last word was said with a snarl as she indicated the portly old man as he stood on the ship's deck, apparently inspecting the make of the vessel. "What do you hope to accomplish with that?"

Truth be told, she was still surprised that Uncle had volunteered to accompany Zuko on the trip, citing that he was still a young man and needed teaching. Uncle had also claimed that in the event that he found the Avatar and returned to his place in court, it really wouldn't do for the Crown Prince to have missed out on several months (or years… or decades…) worth of education. Father had simply snorted impatiently and acceded to Uncle's requests with a curt nod.

"Az…" Zuko's voice snapped her back to the present, and she felt her anger flare up again.

"I'm not finished." She spoke over him easily. "Even if by some miracle, you do find the Avatar, what then? Are you going to fight him? You do know why it's called the New Imperial Palace, don't you? Avatar Roku pulverized the old one a hundred years ago, and he wasn't even trying very hard! What can you possibly do against someone like that?" She wound to a halt, panting, feeling some of her anger drain away, to be replaced by an empty sadness. "Dad wants you gone, Zuko. He doesn't intend for you to ever come back."

Zuko was silent for a moment, before straightening his back and turning to face her.

"Azula, I will find the Avatar. I will restore my honour, and I will return. That is a promise."

Azula almost opened her mouth to give another scathing retort, but found herself silent. There really wasn't anything to say, after all.

After a moment, the call came that the ship was ready to depart. Zuko took a couple of steps towards the ship, before halting in his step and turning to face her.

The silence stretched for several eternal seconds before Zuko nodded.

"See you soon."

Azula almost smiled. "Yeah… see you soon."

She remained there, silent and watching, as the order to cast off was given, and the black vessel slowly pulled out of port.

She remained, watching, until it became a mere speck, finally vanishing to the horizon.

As she turned around to depart, she caught a brief glimpse of movement to her side. Even in that single glance, she could tell that her father had been watching.

Keeping her face carefully neutral, she left the port and returned to face a life without joy.


Chapter End


I'm kinda worried that I made Azula a little too 'nice' in this chapter, but most of the interactions in her was between her and Zuko, and, well, the point of this story is that Zuko and Azula are nice to each other. If all goes according to plan, Azula should be getting a chance to flex her muscles pretty soon.

In any case, thanks for reading, and please review.