A sour combination of apprehension and anxiety bubbled within the young warrior, bile rising ominously at the back of his throat. His stilted steps echoed eerily behind him, jostling his innards further into the recesses of nausea. The smell of the prison didn’t help, stenches ranging from human and animal excrement to the strangely sweet scent of lavender. Yet continually his stomach threatened to spew forth its contents onto the institution floor, pleading with him to regain control of his limbs and turn around, but there was no going back at this point.
Swallowing harshly, the young man managed to find his destination and showed the guards his security pass. As he watched the men Firebend several latches open from the door, he shuffled his feet uncomfortably. Though the war had ended and peace talks were in the works, and despite being chummy friends with the Fire Lord, he continued to be unsettled by seeing these soldiers bend their element. Glancing up from where he stared at his boots, he saw the older one of the two usher him inside.
“How is she today?” He gazed nervously through the viewing window, wringing his hands together as the soldier asked for a variety of things he could have on his person. He paused in his musings to hand the man anything that could be a danger to the patient in question. The warrior almost laughed aloud at the irony, considering the woman in question was the bane of any person who happened to value their life.
The soldier gruffly gave his response. “Fidgety, and talking to air. She’s seemingly more lucid than yesterday, but that don’t make her any less crazy.”
The seventeen-year-old nodded solemnly and waited for the man to unlock the room. He bowed his head in thanks and entered, the young woman huddled to herself in such a way that his heart twisted and clenched almost painfully. Her arms were tightly wrapped around her knees and she had laid her head in the crevice where they met, as if protecting the last bit of dignity she believed she possessed.
When the door shut behind him, he strode to the opposite wall and slid along its embroidered padding, settling his elbows against his knees. A comfortable silence remained between the two. The warrior observed every nuance of her person whilst she preferred to shroud herself in mumbles of delusion.
It was with a perplexing regret that he admitted to himself that she was far lovelier in her insanity than her former power hungry, blood lust. Without the red lidded eyes or equally seductive lipstick, she was far less intimidating as well as far more beautiful.
After her attempts to murder his sister, in turn injuring her own flesh and blood when he jumped to save Katara, the daughter of the most tyrannical man in history was left with only the vulnerability she had kept hidden beneath the constant armor she wore. The armor had cocooned her in its barriers and provided her with a confidence and strength unlike that which he’d ever seen. Without it, and the shovel of rouge and eye shadow, she was simply but a young woman masking a pain that she would never realize she and her brother shared. While the Fire Lord’s proverbial cracks were slowly healing, scarring, his sister’s only tore open completely upon defeat.
The warrior didn’t completely understand his motivation for visiting someone he formerly considered a threat – a girl who, several months ago, he would not have hesitated to slit her throat if it meant winning the war. But after many visits to the capital, and once accompanying Zuko to see her, he was very suddenly finding himself whistling a very different tune.
“You do remember that she tried to kill you and Katara numerous times, right? Did you get your brains scrambled after you took that giant bolt of lightning?” Sokka remembered asking as they trekked down the narrow, ill-lit path.
“My brain is fine, Sokka,” Zuko had stated irritably. “You didn’t see her after Katara beat her. All my life Azula was untouchable, like a porcelain figurine on the highest shelf that was just out of my reach. Only my father could wind her and make her do things. It didn’t matter that I was older and the supposed heir. I was her subordinate in both her and my father’s eyes and they both made sure that I knew it.
“Unfortunately for my father, our mother treated us as equals. With Azula’s inflated sense of self-worth, she tortured me every chance she got when our mother wasn’t in the room. Or on the off chance that she was, she would try to usurp our mother’s attention away from me.”
“So what does that have to do with us visiting her now?”
Zuko had stopped, gazing blankly ahead before addressing him again. “Our mother killed our grandfather to protect me. Mai betrayed her at the Boiling Rock to protect me. And Katara chained her to the grate to, again, protect me. I watched Azula cry in rage and spit blue fire at nothing, and I realized I wasn’t the only victim of our father’s manipulation. All her life, he’d manipulated her to believe she was better, that she was the deserving heir. But really, all Ozai did was inflate her sense of self-worth so she would take the fall.”
The underlying message of the Fire Lord’s words caught up to the warrior. His eyes widened in disbelief. “Do you honestly believe that her being crazy is your fault?”
“No,” Zuko shook his head, “but I do believe that if I had been more proactive – hell, maybe even a better brother – I could’ve helped her. She’s not crazy, Sokka, but when your sister defeated her, Azula fell from the shelf and shattered. I have no idea how to fix her. And I think the only person that could is out of our reach.”
As Sokka reminisced on that particular conversation, he remained watchful of the former Princess of Fire. She shuffled one foot over the other, keeping her head positioned in the crevice of her knees, but had stopped her inaudible whispering. A delicate quiet passed between the two for several hours before the warrior realized that he needed to go.
“Well, Azula, it was nice talkin’ to ya,” he stated, using the wall to help him stand. He stretched his arms high then low and allowed a large yawn to come forth. “I’m sure someone’s looking for me, so I better skedaddle.” When Sokka went to reach for the door handle and signal the guard, a cold, clammy hand snatched his own, startling him.
With eyes large as saucers, he turned to see that Azula now gently grasped him with both her hands. She lifted her head slowly, long, dark tresses falling ominously over her eyes. Though her move was bold, her body trembled in hesitance.
“W-will you visit a-again… warrior?”
In the little time Sokka had begun to visit the princess, she had never spoken directly to him. He was unsure how to react and settled for comfortably squeezing her hands and slowly kneeling in front of her. He used his free hand to remove the hair from her face and instead of the ruthful slits he was so accustomed to, he saw nothing but a wide-eyed desperation. Lifting her chin so her golden eyes were on level with his own cobalt ones, he gave a shaky, breathless nod.