rounds the mortal temples of a king

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fic: "if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice" (pg, 1, 117 words)
lan fan

tw: mentions of abuse
disclaimer: I own nothing. Not even the title (taken from The Killing Joke)
A/N: my 4 Azula headcanons that I refuse to choose between. I tried to make them the least contradictory as possible, but they're not necessarily from the same canon.

summary: Despite current popular opinion - the monster who was once a girl is human and always has been. 

The other nations have no qualms about teaching their children the bending arts, but not the Fire Nation. Fire is too volatile; at least the other elements can be quickly rendered harmless by an attentive adult. But with fire, you need perfect concentration all the time or it will spread. Therefore, the children don’t start learning until they are at least six years old.

But Azula was an exception.

Not because she was extraordinarily powerful (she was), and not because royalty get what they want (they do).

No, Azula started firebending at age five because she fell ill. She stayed in her room for two weeks with a rota of healers of all denominations who came to try and cure the princess’ lung infection as she spluttered and wheezed and cried (despite current popular opinion – the monster that was once a girl is human and always has been). Her family spoiled her for those two weeks with every form of attention they could muster (except her father. His attentions would come later in the form of 17 hour training days and lightning hurled at her nine year-old body).

There are rumours, of course, as to why on the fifteenth day, Azula began practicing basic firebending breathing techniques and had a new handmaiden, Danu, but no one outside of Ursa, Ozai, Azulon and one particularly trustworthy healer knows for certain.

The death of her old handmaiden (sweet sixteen and entered the bedroom while the princess was sound asleep), Jaheera, was an accident, of course. No five year-old has the discipline to control the fire then. Even so, Ursa never quite looks at her daughter the same after seeing what an untrained firebender full of fear and illness could do.


Azula was six when Ursa gently informed her that she was to go to the Fire Nation Academy for Ladies and she received the news as well as could be expected.

“But Zuko isn’t going to the Imperial Academy!” She pouted, even then their lives revolved around each other. Ursa shifted uncomfortably at having to explain to her youngest child that she just wasn’t a priority (princes come before the rest of the line).

“Your father has to educate him. But you get to go to a normal school, and make lots of friends and learn to firebend.” She said, taking her daughters’ hands between hers. Azula brightened at the thought of firebending until she remembered why she didn’t want to go.

“It’s so far away, though.” And Ursa’s eyes softened as Azula’s filled with tears at the prospect of being further than a corridor away from her mother’s cups of tea, or Zuko’s incredibly bouncy bed that is just so much fun at four in the morning (everyone always forgets she was just a scared little girl who didn’t want to leave her mother and brother).

“I know, my darling. But you’ll come back every six weeks and we’ll all go to Ember Island and build sand palaces together.”

They never go to Ember Island. Not after Azula is sent away. Instead, she returns to an even-colder father and a bedroom that hadn’t been tended to in six weeks. She returns to her ever-gentle and loving mother and the jokes Ursa shares with Zuko about turtleducks that Azula isn’t privy to. So she goes back to the Academy three days early and asks her masters for more firebending lessons.


Azula likes sleeping next door to her mother. It’s a comfort when she wakes after scary dreams involving vengeful earthbenders and creeping face-stealing scorpions from the stories Zuko likes to hear (she hates to agree with her governess, but some things are really not appropriate for four year olds).

It’s a comfort apart from on nights like tonight.

Her father rarely sleeps in their shared chambers, preferring to rest in his study than have to converse with his wife, but some nights he does join Ursa and those are the scariest of all. All Azula can hear is the occasional sob from her mother and whispered begging

“Please don’t...”

but it’s enough to terrify anyone, never mind a young child, so she sneaks to her brother’s room and climbs under the covers with him (they were close, once. They were siblings, once.).

“Is he hurting her again?” Zuko would always whisper quietly and Azula would nod. He’d never kick her out (who could put their sister through that?) but pull the covers around them tighter and attempt to go back to sleep.

Azula wouldn’t drop off, though. She would lay awake and promise herself not me, that’ll never be me. I’ll never give him a reason to.


She was always cleverer than her brother, everyone said so. When they went out hiking (before the Agni Kai but after their mother left), Zuko would lag behind, distracted by something off in the distance whilst Azula would press on, determined to reach the top of the ‘mountain’ (it’s little more than a large hill – but they are so young that they don’t care) and proclaim herself the conqueror.

“This is why you’ll never beat me at sparring, Zuzu.” She’d tell him cheerfully and her brother would always scowl. He hates the nickname; it’s why she uses it. He’s crown prince and she’s only a princess, she has to assert her superiority somehow.

“I wasn’t trying to beat you. I thought we were just walking.”

“Exactly. And that is why I’ll always win; you don’t know when to go all in.” She’s always acted so wise, so old for a girl of barely ten.

“And when should I go all in?”

“Everytime.” She would say simply with a slight frown on her face, as if baffled by her brother's question. Azula never really understood the concept of play. Or of holding back. If you face her – you face her at her fiercest. Always. She’s achieved all she has through work, through putting her heart and soul into everything (she does have a soul, she loves her brother, she’s always been human, she’s giving him good advice), not like her brother. If she sounds slightly bitter about that, it’s only because he’s had everything handed to him on a silver platter through virtue of being born two years older, everything except the fire it takes to be a firebender. She’s been convinced (by her teachers, by her father, by her readings, by what she knows deep down to be the case) that true fire comes from focus, from ruthlessness and pure strength – all the things Zuko lacks. It’s almost enough to make her pity him.

She won’t figure out where true fire actually comes from until it’s too late.

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