A/N: I've committed the fanfic sin of becoming interested in my own AU. I've also committed the audreyii_fic sin of saying "This is IT, I'm not writing ANYTHING more" and then turning around and writing more.
So, yeah, more Sparrowkeet!verse. I would recommend thinking of these less as chapters and more as a collection of single-universe one-shots. There will be no consistent format, style, or length; they won't necessarily be in chronological order of the universe timeline. I swear I'm not doing it to be needlessly confusing, I'm just not sure where the hell this will go. I'll add to it whenever something occurs to me.
This particular story is a series of 100 word drabbles. I have no idea why.
A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this.
-Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Prince"
Your Princess Azula, clever and beautiful, disguised herself as the enemy and entered the Earth Kingdom Capital. In Ba Sing Se, she found her brother Zuko, and together they faced the Avatar.
And the Avatar fell.
And the Earth Kingdom fell.
Azula's agents quickly overtook the entire city. They went to Ba Sing Se's great walls and brought them down.
The armies of the Fire Nation surged through the walls and swarmed over Ba Sing Se, securing our victory.
Now the heroes have returned home.
General Iroh had laid siege to Ba Sing Se for six hundred days; Princess Azula and Prince Zuko took the Impenetrable City in a month.
They needed no invasion, only a quiet coup. The Earth Kingdom's last stronghold fell without a drop of blood - and the Avatar had been defeated in the bargain.
All in all, the glorious victory is sufficient; the Fire Lord overlooks the elusion of his brother and the loss of a warship (sunk in the harbor by an escaping prisoner).
In fact, Father even smiles - at Azula.
To Zuko he says: You may stay.
When they were little - very little - they were friends. In a way. Azula had no one but Zuko and Zuko had no one but Azula.
She recalls splashing in the ocean at Ember Island, and how Zuko would build sandcastles for her to kick over. At least she thinks that was why he built them. That's how she remembers it.
Then Azula firebent first.
She'd always known inside that she was better, best, but this proved it. Five years old and firebending.
Zuko was seven and could barely light a match.
There were no more sandcastles after that.
A week has passed since their return. Sozin's Comet is only a few months away; there is a whole war to plan. And still Zuko only mopes and stares at turtle ducks and plays with some stupid necklace.
Azula steps between her brother and the pond. Are you going to do anything except sit there and be dramatic?
Dramatic it is.
Zuko ignores her.
After all that time, after all that work to come home, you should at least try to enjoy it, dum-dum. You should be happy.
I am happy.
That doesn't even deserve a response.
She never thought he'd get banished.
The Agni Kai made perfect sense. Zuko insulted Father by speaking out of turn; it was only natural that Father would be his opponent. Zuko was stupid to expect otherwise.
And to refuse to fight - to beg on his knees! An opponent who begs deserves no mercy.
Hadn't Zuko still been of royal blood?
Azula knew the advantages of Zuko's exile. For three years she commanded respect as Crown Princess and sole heir. Not a single Fire Sage would question her right to rule.
But she had no one to tease.
She lies for him.
She's not sure why. Maybe blackmail; maybe future advantage. Maybe she just doesn't want anyone in the family to look bad, not even him.
They are brother and sister, after all.
When the time came, Zuko struck down the Avatar. He chose the Fire Nation. He is not a traitor.
Father seems to be considering her words.
Azula doesn't mention the Waterbender. Father wouldn't object to use of a prisoner - but Zuko could confess to more than that and ruin himself.
Eventually the Fire Lord says: I trust your judgment, Princess Azula.
As he should.
She killed a servant when she was six. (By accident, of course. A training session gone awry, no more.) That was when whispers started.
Lady Ilya, returned to haunt us.
(The tales of her grandmother were the sort people told around campfires. Ilya could turn from laughing friend to deadly foe in the space of a single sentence, a woman who didn't need to bend because the Fire Lord was wrapped around her finger. Azula found the comparison flattering.)
What is wrong with that child?
There was nothing wrong with her. She was simply better.
Ugh. If we talk, will you stop this?
You know. Have a heart-to-heart. Or something equally moronic.
You wouldn't understand.
I don't need to understand. You'll sit there and tell me about your issues, I'll nod and say "Mm-hmm" a lot, then you'll weep like a little girl and we can go on with our lives.
Leave me alone, Azula.
No. Do you have any idea how pathetic you look? A Royal Prince of the Fire Nation, mooning over some stupid, dirty, in-bred-
Flames in the air. Don't talk about her like that!
Well, at least he's fighting back.
Mama's Boy. Daddy's Girl.
To the outsider, it may not seem like much difference - but outsiders were fools who passed judgment on things they could not understand. When one parent is clearly superior to the other, a child is not injured by the disinterestedness of the inferior parent. In fact, a child benefits from the inattention of the weak link.
Mother was weak. Father was strong. Father had visions for the future. Mother only wanted to feed the turtle ducks. This is why Zuko is Zuko and Azula is Azula.
It is far better to be a Daddy's Girl.
During the war meeting Zuko sits at Father's right hand. Azula doesn't let this bother her. She always defeats Zuko in the end.
First, strategies for the Day of Black Sun. Azula makes mental adjustments to compensate for the foolishness of the generals. The first thing she will do as Fire Lord is banish the lot of them.
Then, Sozin's Comet. After the end of the war-
Her brother perks up. The end of the war?
Azula raises an eyebrow. When the comet arrives, we win. The only question is how we win.
Zuko volunteers to draft battle plans.
Azula is a people person. She always knows what her enemy will do, what choices he will make, what actions will result. Always.
But sometimes she misses the why.
This doesn't trouble her. After all, the why is almost always irrelevant. If an Earthbender throws a rock at you, it does not matter if he is sad or angry. The rock gets thrown.
If an enemy makes decisions based on feelings, it is only important in that it marks that enemy as weak.
Azula recognizes fear. It makes no difference that she does not see other emotions. They are pointless.
Azula corrects Zuko's plans as they're made. She ignores his dirty looks.
She has to admit (grudgingly) that they're not bad. He makes mistakes, but her brother's got a decent eye for strategy. Perhaps he'll be useful in time; when she is Fire Lord and has banished all the Sages, she'll need a general she can trust.
She doesn't get why he's throwing himself at this project, but he is.
Then he refuses to accept one of her corrections, insisting the mistake is in fact a feature of his idea.
And Azula decides to let him learn the hard way.
What was she supposed to do while her brother was gone?
No mother. No uncle. No cousin. And then no Zuko.
She trained, of course. She produced lightning at twelve years old. She studied war philosophies and battle plans alike. She spoke for the Nation. She made her father proud.
Big deal. So she ran circles around everyone else in the country. None of them were of royal blood.
Her brother was her equal by birth - defeating him meant something. And she always defeated him... but unlike with everyone else, it never got old.
Without Zuko... she was bored.
Zuko's plan for Sozin's Comet is short, simple, and ruthless.
Forget about occupying strongholds. As long as Ba Sing Se and Omashu stand, the people of the Earth Kingdom will continue to band together and rebel. We must leave them with nothing to retake.
He recommends using the Comet's power to burn the cities to ash.
In the next step that the plan falls apart, as Azula knew it would.
General Shu: And what of the Water Tribes?
Zuko: We leave them alone. They've only ever stayed in their ice fortresses. They're not a threat.
Father's smile vanishes.
Azula has always been disappointed that Zuko is unworthy of respect.
He tries, the poor thing, but he fights when he should scheme and surrenders when he should fight. With enough application to the right pressure point, he crumbles.
He's impulsive. He never thinks ahead. He lets his emotions control him, no matter whether those emotions are anger, grief, or longing. It is what makes him vulnerable... just like their mother.
No Prince of the Fire Nation should be so predictable and easy to manipulate.
It is for the good of the country, really, that Azula will be Fire Lord.
She rolls her eyes as he digs deeper.
Leaving the Water Tribes is good for us. The people of the Earth Kingdom won't fight as hard if they see we can be merciful.
Confusion. What people?
The refugees. After Ba Sing Se and Omashu are evacuated-
You want them to evacuate first?
Well... yes. The plan isn't to kill, only to scatter.
The generals begin to laugh.
Zuko turns red. We have so much to offer the other nations. We'll bring them technology, and schools, and medicine, and in time... they won't hate us anymore-
Azula groans inwardly.
She should have just roasted the Waterbender in Ba Sing Se.
She knew what Zuko wanted when he looked at the peasant, even if he didn't, so she had ordered the girl's tea doctored. They didn't need some half-blood brat running around with a claim to the throne just because her brother wasn't thinking with his upstairs head.
And Zuko - being a sentimental moron - clearly started having romantic illusions about it all.
In fact, her brother spent so much time with the Waterbender that he never even came to talk to his own sister.
Not that Azula cared.
Father orders Zuko to remain behind in the war room.
Azula waits. When her brother emerges he's white as a ghost - except, of course, for the scarlet mark across his face. He doesn't have a new one to match, though. I told you it wouldn't work.
If you'd paid attention to the histories, you'd understand. You must crush your enemy so completely that their grandchildren's grandchildren will tremble at the thought of resisting you. Fear is the key to victory.
She sighs. C'mon, dum-dum. Let's go throw rocks at turtle ducks.
Azula... I was wrong.
The only person Azula trusts implicitly is her brother.
Zuko doesn't have a deceptive bone in his body. He's the worst liar in the world. He says everything he thinks the moment he thinks it. And what he wants is always written on his sleeve.
Zuko will never stab her in the back. Even if he tried, she'd know before he reached for a knife.
It's sad, honestly. Zuko needs protecting from someone much, much smarter than himself. And as long as he doesn't stand in her way, that person will be Azula.
Zuko is just too useful to sacrifice.
He disappears two days later.
Azula is surprised that Father is surprised. Perhaps Father is not as clever as he used to be.
I should not have allowed Prince Zuko leniency. I should not have permitted his mother such freedom with him.
It is the first time Azula has heard the Fire Lord admit to a mistake.
I stand by my original assessment: Prince Zuko is not a traitor. He is just confused... and his confusion can be cured.
Father says: What do you propose?
Azula says: There is a particular Waterbender who has to die.
And Mother said: Monster.