The Princess’s eyes darted around the room - cell - her face blank, but her legs shaking. She was sitting on the furs which she slept on, with her back against the brick wall and hands chained together. There was a small barred window, but it let in more wind than sun. The best position to take was the corner diagonal from the thick glass door that was lined with rubber. You were out of the draft, but also had a good view of the room.
The space was mostly empty, white animal furs lined Azula’s preferred corner and a small basin filled with water was opposite. A table with writing materials and a red cushion sat beside Azula's ‘bed’. Beside the door there was a pit with a box in it, where Azula released herself. A hatch in the door delivered her food and daily basin of water.
They had made the room as fire-retardant as possible, as secure as possible. Azula knew if she really wanted, she could still break out. The guard outside the door was a lumpy Earthbender, who judging from his posture and sleep schedule would be taken down in seconds. His alternate, another earthbender was more proficient. He practiced his forms while Azula watched, and she could admit that he possessed skill. Still, even without her bending he was no match for her.
Since her imprisonment she had only seen three people regularly. In the beginning she started to see a doctor who attempted to pull her back into sanity- but he quickly gave up on an impossible job. A slew of others like him followed and when the final professional had been scared away, dear Zuzu came for a chat. It had been maddening to see him, his bratty, spoilt face sneering at her. The self righteous traitor.
He was wearing the Fire Lord garb. He looked pathetic, like a boy in his father's clothes. With him came a quartet of fire bending guards, as if they could do anything with flame to challenge her. She simply laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation. Zuko was trying to speak with her but she was not in control of her own body. He came close to her and she sent out her arm, intending to burn him. To make his face match. Nothing came and nothing would come for a long time. Zuko could not meet her eyes, he was still afraid.
After Zuko’s first visit, he knew to come armed with a much more dangerous weapon the next time. The water peasant. Azula wanted to tear the girl to shreds, she had humiliated her, she had beaten her. The girl was nothing, a Southern Water tribe commoner. She spent her days tending to children and being ordered around by men . However, she was a master bender. She wielded water with the same control as Azula did fire. Thinking of that power was enticing, no matter the package it came in.
Now though, Azula knew that she had no fire. She was defenceless to this girl, this water girl. It quickly became apparent that Zuko had not brought the girl to finish her off though. She was to be Azula’s new healer. The girl who destroyed her pride and stole her dignity would have access to her at will. Azula saw red, and once again prepared to summon up flames to teach her brother a lesson. All that came was a wall of water in front of Zuko, and an empty basin. Her reactions were quick and movements seamless. Azula was nervous of her.
After that visit, Zuko ceased physical contact with her. He wrote her letters which were delivered through the hatch in the door, and she wrote back to him religiously, there was nothing else to do. In the beginning she mostly wrote about her hatred for him, Iroh and Ursa, she would leave phlegm in between the pages for him to get his hands on and would threaten to murder Mai when she saw her next. Zuko ignored all of the messages she wrote to him, and responded as though she had asked dull questions about his duties as Fire Lord, or his relationship with Mai or how all of his ‘friends’ were doing.
Of course, Azula probably knew more of the water peasant that Zuko. She saw her every day. Many of those days were spent in silence with the peasant simply manipulating water in front of Azula’s eyes. At first Azula found this threatening, but soon found comfort in the fluidity and graceful movements the peasant was making with her hands. She could sit for hours, watching shapes form and change in one smooth motion. The only sound she would hear was the breathing of the water girl. Sometimes Azula would watch the water girl, her eyes were softly shut with a look of blissful calm on her face. It was in such contrast to the wild and constant eruption of emotion Azula felt. She wanted to reach out with her now short nails and rip the steadiness away from the girl for herself. It was unfair that the feature which had defined Azula -apathy- had abandoned her. It was hard to feel nothing with the constant reminder of her failures. Weakness.
Occasionally these feelings of jealousy took over, and rather than sitting and watching the girl with her tricks Azula would scream at her. She would throw every insult she knew at the girl, begging for a reaction. Begging for a slip in the facade, but there was none. The peasant sat in tranquility, despite the torrents of abuse that was being thrown at her. The lumpy guard would open the door, and ask if the peasant needed help keeping Azula quiet. This was the only time a frown would appear on the water girls face. She would dismiss the guard and allow Azula to continue her ranting and raving, and at the end she would bend away the tears that had formed on Azula’s face. Then she would use the droplets to massage Azula’s temples, causing relaxation to flow.
On very rare days, Azula would receive the girl with open arms, almost returning to the charming and powerful person she had formerly been. She and the girl would have pleasant conversations about politics and trade, for which they had differing views. Both were expressed eloquently and with valuable points though, so it was a rewarding conversation to have. These debates were where Azula learnt the girl wasn’t a moron, she was in fact intelligent. These meetings ended with the girl cleaning Azula’s body and hair with water. There was only so much that a basin full could do. With the manipulation of water on the peasants side she could clean much more efficiently. When these days were done, she was disappointed. Having the girls company was better than either of her earthbending guards, who looked at her with ill disguised hatred and fear.
Azula enjoyed the fear in their eyes, but relished in the fact that the girl was unafraid. She could look Azula in the eyes without flinching, and that made Azula hum with joy. The girl was strong, in every sense of the word. That excited Azula. She would concoct plans in her mind, where herself and the girl were fighting the Avatar and they would win. The power the two of them would wield together would be unstoppable. Masters of fire and water working together could destroy any combination.
For months, the arrangement continued like this. The girl would come in to sit with Azula for three hours a day. Sometimes she would bring new ideas, new techniques to try and mend Azula’s head. Azula knew she was just like the rest of the doctors who Zuzu had sent. Only here for the pay the Fire Nation could give out. However, Azula enjoyed the treatment she was receiving from the peasant. It was refreshing, and more like a casual daily meetup than a healing session. Azula never thought she could regain herself from where she went to, but after two years of the snow peasant she was close. She still had moments of terror, where nothing could calm her. The girl proved to be dedicated though, and she never once missed a day. This caring influence in Azula's life led to more… appropriate letters to her brother, and now they had very normal conversations, Azula spoke about her desire to leave the cell and how strong she felt. This was ignored in Zuko's responses.
She spoke to the girl about her childhood, about the abandonment of Ursa and the jealous rage she felt towards Zuko. Her relationship with her father was also spoken about, the manipulation that had occured in her life was “disgusting” according to the peasant. Azula enjoyed the reaction the girl had to her most deep secrets. Azula was both getting therapy for long held issues but also cultivating a relationship with a person who improved her, who pushed her to look past what her father had done and see why she, Princess Azula was a stronger person than him. She didn't trust the girl with all of her secrets, all of what had happened to her. She could never be that open with another person. Azula enjoyed gaining information about the peasant for herself, to use if she ever needed it.
She had ambition again, was practicing her forms and she felt a bit of her old fire reignite. Everyday she looked forward to seeing the girl. She was a good conversationalist and delightful to watch bend. Azula would even say she cared about the girl. She had stuck through Azula’s madness and helped her learn how to deal with it. She was dependable at least. Azula appreciated that, even if she would never say it out loud.
The sun inside the cell was disappearing, which meant the girl was late, and she had missed the first visit ever the day previous. Azula counted two hundred and thirty four seconds before the peasant appeared. The glass door opened and Azula saw the caramel hands of the girl push away the lumpy earthbender when he attempted to hug her. Azula narrowed her eyes. This was a new development that she did not like. Besides the girl was supposed to be with the Avatar. Surely she would not accept that oaf over the Avatar, no matter how bratty and annoying he was.
The girl entered the cell, and Azula could see redness around the girls eyes. Somebody had hurt her. Azula knew she would have to tread lightly, so she thought before speaking.
“Are you alright peasant?” Azula asked in the softest tone she could “Do you need me to verbally abuse somebody” not including physical violence in her opening words was a good move, it showed she wasn’t feeling blood thirsty that day.
“Please Azula, I’ve told you so many times. Call me Katara” She said this in a stern voice, and the usual hint of amusement was gone “Something happened that is going to affect both of us”
Azula felt the atmosphere shift. Something serious was going on. Had Zuko died? Was the Avatar dead? Had the pea- Had Katara finally had enough of her? She held her breath for a moment, calming herself. She saw Katara begin to form shapes with water and watched the graceful movements. Obviously the pea- Katara had noticed Azula becoming anxious. Thanks to the girl he had regained herself through the relaxation of the waterbending.
“What is it, Katara?” Azula asked, she found it an unusual sentence for her mouth to form, but she could get used to how Katara felt.
“Aang and I are no longer together” Katara said quietly “I’m leaving Caldera, because he’s here with Zuko a lot of the time and I just can’t stand the sight of him anymore.” There was a hint of a lie in these words which Azula missed due to sheer fear.
“You can’t leave me” Azula said, panic rising in her chest “You are all that’s keeping me sane, you can’t abandon me! I will not allow it” Her eyes were flashing and she grew more enraged at the sight of a smile on Katara’s face.
“I know, that’s why I don’t intend on leaving you behind, silly.” Katara smiled and pulled Azula in for a hug. Azula felt the tears on her face drip onto Kataras robe. It was the twelfth time they had hugged. As she relaxed into the trusted embrace she heard a whisper in her ear.
“I asked Zuko if I could take you with me and he said no, so we are going to have to make a run for it. I have all I need ready in a boat, and as soon as we are on it we’ll be headed away without Aang or Zuko knowing where we are going” Katara breathed this into Azula’s ear, causing a shiver to go down her spine.
“Why are we running from my brother and The Avatar?” Azula asked, with slight trepidation “Surely you could wear Zuzu down over time and he would let me go?”
“Trust me on this, Azula, please.” Katara earnestly said, her blue eyes inspiring more trust than Azula had felt in the rest of her life combined.
She nodded, and stood up from her furs. She grabbed her hair comb a blank page and an unopened letter from Iroh, and stuffed them in her pockets. Her hair swinging softly she nodded at Katara who had taken the water from the basin, as well as from her pouches. Katara opened the glass door, Lumpy looked confused about Azula’s presence behind her, but not for long as a water whip grabbed him around his neck, and another whip turned to ice just as it hit his head, knocking him out.
Katara grabbed Azula’s hand and ran with her, up through level after level. They would often meet a guard who would attack them on sight, but they were no match for Katara. She spun through them like a Tsunami, leaving them unconscious in her wake. Azula helped too, defeating a non bender in hand to hand combat and stealing their sword. Now she had a weapon too. She almost expected Katara to give out to her, but the water girl just smiled and nodded as they made their way through the seemingly endless amounts of guards.
“I didn’t know Zuzu was so wary of me” Azula purred, as they finally made it out of the deep cavern that was Azula’s prison “I thought old Lumpy was the only one there”
Katara scouted around them, and nodded “Up until about a month ago he would have been” she grabbed Azula’s hand and ran across the streets of Caldera “Things have changed Azula, I have to keep you safe”
Azula was bemused by this, but allowed the girl to drag her towards the harbour They got there relatively unchallenged, and it was revealed to them why. There waiting for them was Zuko with Mai and two fire benders beside them. Katara swore next to her.
“Give it up Katara, Azula” Zuko spat out “You’re outnumbered, you can’t win this! Katara I don’t know what my sister has said to you but you have to remember what she did! Don’t risk your position -yourself- for her”
“I’m sorry Zuko, but I can’t let this happen. Let us go now and I won’t hurt any of you” Katara began to lean into a waterbending stance.
Azula followed suit and readied her sword. She knew what Katara was going to do, the water behind Azula’s idiot brother would be her weapon. She could sweep them all away, drown them if she wanted. Azula was curious as to why everything had suddenly changed, why was Zuko now threatening Katara.
“Prepare to pay for being such a psycho Azula” Mai said in a dull tone “I’ve been dreaming about ripping you open for years and now if you attempt to fight, I will” Mai flashed her deadly weapons and Azula laughed.
“Oh dear Mai, I forgot how naive you are. You are facing a master bender, no silly knife tricks can trump that” Azula smirked as Zuko looked up shocked
“Katara you must have exaggerated how well you were doing… you can’t bend princess. You are no type of bender” Mai chuckled softly to herself “I’m glad your sanity is gone, you never deserved it”
Azula simply smirked, she had done her bit in distracting the group while Katara had gathered a wave large enough to sweep them away.
“ Katara is a master bender” Azula said, as a look of shock and betrayal shot across Zuko’s face. He tried to throw fire but the wave had him off balance. Katara managed to trap the three firebenders in ice, with breathing holes and settled for just sweeping Mai away on top of a thirteen foot wave. The wave parted for Azula and Katara, and they were left standing beside a very common looking Northern Water Tribe ship. Katara hopped on board the boat and pulled Azula in after her.
“I always detested Mai, she shows no emotion and is so smarmy” Katara mumbled, as she used her bending to propel the ship out into the ocean. Leaving Caldera far behind in the distance.
“Great team work by the way Azula” Katara smiled over her shoulder as Azula breathed in the air of freedom.