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Hope and Freedom

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“Today we triumph over the birth of Princess Azula. Only daughter to Prince Ozai and Lady Ursa, sister to Prince Zuko, niece to Crowned Prince Iroh, cousin to Prince Lu Ten and granddaughter to Fire Lord Azulon. May her birth mark the fire nation’s reign as long and prosperous.”

The uproar from the crowd shook the altar where he stood. Clenching the hand of his mother he looked out to the sea of faces he did not know.

“Come Zuko,” a voice whispers as he’s led to the center of a wide stage. Positioned and poised beside his father, he watches a small, wide-eyed child be lifted towards the crowd as a mountain of flame envelops the altar behind him.

Staring at the waves of people, the uproar morphs into an inaudible chanting as he’s led back to the burning altar, flames parting for his entrance, leaving only a dull echo behind him.

“Zuko,” a voice purrs as his hand is tugged, “come say hello to your sister.”

Glancing at his mother, kneeling down with her hair cascading down her robes, he glimpses the bundle of blankets in her arms as a squirming hand peeks out from the folds. Taking small steps and even smaller breaths, Zuko stands before his sibling. His only sibling.

Amber eyes stare into his own as his mother places the child into his arms. Carefully holding his sister towards him, the small boy smiles and the smaller girl smiles back.

“Hello… Azula.”

***

Soft quacks are carried through the breeze as a woman dressed in flowing silks sits beside her children. A doddling toddler with shiny, swirling hair holds the hand of a taller, softer boy as they both stare off into the rippling waves of a pond, freckled with ducklings and lily pads.

“I want you both to know,” a voice lilts as the children tear their gazes away from the waves to the woman with only love in her eyes, “I love you very much.”

Soft smiles grace the children’s lips as they watch the love in their mother’s eyes match their own softened looks.

“I love you both so, so much…”

***

Racing through the halls of a never ending palace, the small boy grown up to look so much older, runs. He runs through the only home he’s ever lived in and the only prison he’s ever known. He runs through the doors he’s walked through so many times before when he was happy. But now he fears, that boy is gone.

Staring out into a courtyard for someone he knows isn’t there but needs to be. She just needs to be.

But she isn’t there. She wouldn’t be. Instead he sees what he knew he would.

Alone -- by the pond he has no right to gaze upon like she did - stands a silent man. No, a shadow, where his mother once stood. Hand in hand. With him.

“Where is she?!” Flames course through his throat and poison his words.

“WHERE IS SHE!” Fire burns through his vision and into his heart where he finally let it in. He let it in because it’s his fault she’s gone.

With nothing but silence as an answer, the burning boy runs back into his prison. He runs head first into his inevitable solidarity without a fight left to give.

You really are alone now.

In a room that would never feel her presence again, the burning boy let his own flames engulf him. He let the fire he wished his father saw in him burn him alive. So he, collapsing along with his lungs, let sleep drift him back into a nightmare he knew he’d never wake from.

***

Knock knock knock.

Jolting awake, the ashen boy stares at his door while it creaks slowly open. Before he can glimpse the person behind it, a small, shrill voice pierces the air.

“Did mom love me?”

“What?” he manages to croak out as his eyes adjust.

“Did. Mom. Love. Me.”

With now focused eyes and a heavy heart, the small, ashen boy stares at a small figure with long, billowing hair. Sitting up in his sheets, the boy meets the sparkling, tear-ridden eyes he can’t help but mistake for his mother’s. For his own.

“Yes,” Standing and stepping, breathing and bearing, the boy speaks, “she still does.”

Taking a breath and letting his own tears fall he watches his sister stare.

Blinking, he’s left alone with nothing but a soft sob and a gust of wind, the figure vanishing as fast as it came.

She loves you… Azula.

***

Quack.

The amber-eyed boy is snapped from his thoughts as a duckling nudges his hand. With a strangled sob and tear-blurred vision, a soft hand meets his shoulder. Reaching up and taking her hand in his, the broken boy sighs.

“She loves you too, Zuzu,” watching the girl he remembers from all those years ago, smile; that same, small, kind, smile, he meets her eyes, “she’d want you to know that.”

No matter what they’d face, both children realized they would always have each other. They were their only equal. The only other person in the world who could understand what they were going through. They had found in each other what they couldn’t find in themselves, a reason to believe in family.

***

The war between the Fire Nation and the world carried on through the wrath and hatred of Fire Lord Ozai, but over time his own children grew to understand they had no place in their father’s heart. With wounded pride and flaming hearts they joined the side of their country’s enemies.

---

As Zuko was banished and sent into his frenzied hunt for the Avatar, he no longer did so for his own honor or his father’s redemption, but in hope that it could bring the world he held so much faith in closer to peace. No longer would the words of his father spoken in his own voice echo through his mind...

He said Azula was born lucky, that I was lucky to be born…

---

While Azula was left alone in a palace with no one she loved, she took down the monarchy from the inside. Whispered rumors, planted conversations and strategic warnings as weapons, she gained the trust of her father. Silver-tongued and quick witted she fought for freedom against the oppression her kingdom brought the world. The fears she once clung to no longer plagued her mind, for she knew now how to recognize her lies…

My own mother, thought I was a monster…

---

Her brother was bringing them hope.

His sister was bringing them freedom.