"I need you, Zuko."
Azula always lies. And this was one of her worse lies. When had Azula ever needed anybody but herself? But even as he thinks that Zuko finds himself longing to help his little sister, to be the supportive big brother she had never let him be. They could be loving siblings, just like mother always wanted. Mother...
"I've plotted every move of this day, this glorious day in Fire Nation history."
Song with the burn marks on her calves that looked like hands, showing where someone had forced her legs apart. Little Lee and his family struggling to eek out a living while all the able-bodied men were off fighting the war. The refugees on the boat with fearful hungry faces. Was that the glory she spoke of?
"And the only way we win is together. At the end of this day, you will have your honor back."
That's all I ever wanted. But he knows it isn't true. Azula always lies. He's stolen, lied and cheated his way across the Earth Kingdom. Can anything restore his honor after that? I did what I had to do to survive. Father will understand. He wants me back...
"You will have Father's love. You will have everything you want."
Father's love. That's all I want. If I help Azula everything will go back to the way it was. The way it was before...
"Zuko, I am begging you. Look into your heart and see what it is that you truly want."
Uncle stuck with me for three years. He saved my life when Azula tried to kill me! But he helped the Avatar. The Avatar is the enemy of the Fire Nation. Anyone who helps the Avatar...
"If we'd known each other back then, do you think we could have been friends too?"
"You are free to choose." And just like that, she is gone. No Dai Li, no Mai or Ty Lee, no imperial firebenders. She really is giving him a choice. Azula never gave choices. She bent others to her will.
Zuko shakes his head. "We'll get you out of here, Uncle." Zuko makes a fist of flame and prepares to bring it down on the crystals.
"Forget about me! It doesn't matter!"
"What are you talking about?! Of course it matters!"
"For once in your life, Prince Zuko, think about yourself. Forget about me. Forget about Ozai and Azula. What do you want, my prince? What do you believe?"
Zuko slams flames into the floor. "I don't know!"
"It is time to decide. I know it is difficult, but you must decide."
"She's done so many horrible things, Uncle, and I know she will do more. How can siding with her be my destiny? These people, the ones who live in this city, they aren't our enemies. They just want a safe place for themselves and their families. They're the overworked parents who bring their kids to the tea shop. The struggling workers just trying to make ends meet. They're..."
Jin, the pretty girl he almost wished he had wanted to kiss. Smellerbee and Longshot, who never did him any harm and really did just want to start over. The guard who when Zuko returned his swords to him clapped him on the back, called him a good kid and asked if he ever thought about enlisting in the city guard. "Three hots and a cot, well maybe three lukewarms and a straw pallet at first, but a respectable young man like you can rise high."
"Do what you think is right, Prince Zuko. That is all I ask. Not what I think is right, or my brother or your sister. Do what you believe to be right."
Zuko bows his head.
Azula, the Avatar and the Waterbender. The Waterbender who lost her mother to Fire Nation soldiers. The Waterbender he chased all over the world. The Waterbender he fought so many times. And still she offered to heal me.
Aang spots him first. "Zuko!" An exclamation of shock, or was the Airbender calling out to him?
Azula looks over her shoulder. "I was beginning to wonder about you, brother."
"You don't need to wonder anymore." But even as he says so, he has no idea what he is going to do.
"She's crazy and needs to go down." But if I can return home with her... I can... I'll... Things will be...
"Did you free Uncle?"
Zuko shakes his head. He didn't. Uncle Iroh insisted he could take care of himself, and Zuko ran to confront...
She grins. It scares him. "Good."
"He's our uncle."
She scoffs. "He's a traitor."
He speaks in almost a whisper. "Then so am I."
Her eyes widen and she barely gets her hands up in time to block. Zuko's fireblast is fueled by years worth of resentment and anger. But she executes a perfect block, like always. She returns fire and he readies to defend, but he doesn't need to. A wave of water rises to meet Azula's flame. A few droplets of hot water land on him, that's all.
Azula laughs. "I can't wait to sit front row at your execution. Dai Li! Attack!"
They come from everywhere. Three against dozens. Zuko knows it will be a brutal, bloody battle. For just a moment his eyes lock with Aang's. The younger boy gives him a solemn nod, and then a lopsided grin. Well, things could be worse. Zuko is a fighter. He knows combat. He may be beneath cold earth surrounded by water, but he is in his element. And for a moment, it seems as though they might prevail. The Waterbender is a true master, and the Avatar is... well... the Avatar. Everytime Zuko looks at Azula he feels the pain and rage filling him. It fuels his fire. His flames are more powerful than they have ever been. He sees her take the stance, but he knows the other two won't recognize it. She is going to summon lightning. Zuko calls forth the memory of Uncle's technique. She's going for the Avatar. Zuko isn't sure if he'll be able to make it in time, so he runs. In. Down. Up. Out. In. Down. Up. Out. In. Down. Up. Out.
In. He assumes the stance just as the bolt leaves her fingertips. The impact is... It's the most intoxicating thing Zuko has ever felt. He is overwhelmed by the raw power. But he knows he has to focus.
Down. He stares at Azula. He needs to redirect the lightning at her. Without a leader the Dai Li will flounder.
Up. His sister. His little sister. What would Mother say? He reaches up, towards the ceiling, and sees her grin.
Out. Cold dread fills him as the lighting leaves him. She knows something he doesn't. Of course she does. It's Azula. As the darkness takes him he only has time to process two final things, the look of glee on Azula's face, and the sound of someone calling his name. "Zuko!"