Azula lie face down on her bed. Her eyes were closed but she wasn't actually getting any sleep at all. The dull whispers in her head were all too loud.
The whispers, despite what many would assume, where not formed of her own insanity…but of the people she'd overheard on the streets. Their words were harsh and refused to stop echoing and replaying in her head.
Whenever she tried to focus on something else, their words would resurface.
It had only been two days since Zuko had bought her home. And thus far, a horrendous letdown.
It was her own fault; she'd set her expectations too high…of course things wouldn't return to the way they were before right when she got back to the palace.
More than anything she just wanted her mind to go numb so she could finally get some sleep.
But as it would seem, the more she tried to push any and all thoughts out, the more they would filter in. One thing leading to the next, until she was practically reliving the moment.
Reliving the moment that she stepped off the boat and into the eye of the public.
Without any other political scandals or issues to distract them, they were growing bored—they had nothing to talk about. It was only natural that when the princess made her comeback that they'd jump on the opportunity to start speaking truths and gossips.
Azula fast became the talk of the public.
A spectacle of sorts.
And not one ounce of it was positive publicity.
For the most part the attention came in the form of whispers when they thought she was out of earshot. They would talk about 'the crazy one' how they heard that she talks to herself and sees things that aren't there. And how they couldn't believe that someone like that could ever get near the throne.
They would utter things trying to spark a reaction or even go as far as yelling something they thought may trigger a breakdown.
A good majority acted as if Azula would snap at any time.
Didn't they know she was someone outside of her psychosis? She wasn't crazy all the time, she had a pretty firm hand around her emotions—a strong ability to keep herself in check. She couldn't possibly be in crisis all the time. Could she?
At this point the only thing keeping her from sending a rain of fire down onto them all was the sheer need to prove them wrong about her being nothing but insane. Zuko's vows to send her back to the asylum were also pretty off putting.
And so she held herself together.
Even in spite of that, every little thing Azula did seemed to pose as a threat to the people. If she bumped into someone on the street it was a hostile act of vengeance. And if someone bumped into her they'd hurry away and chatter to their friends about how "that was a close one" and "she gave me this psycho look." The only look Azula felt like she had given was one of indifference.
All of this in only two days.
Azula couldn't really say how much longer it would be before their attempts to set her off would become a success.
On one hand she wanted to stay inside and keep to herself. On the other, what a display of weakness that would be.
Azula shifted positions and ran a hand through her hair.
It would take another hour or so for sleep to find the princess.
The following days weren't much better either. Azula had fallen into a rather nasty pattern. She'd go outside only to be ridiculed, go home, and (despite trying to patch things up with him) take her problems out on Zuko.
For every insult they'd sling at her, she'd pass it along to Zuko and aim it in his direction.
Every day their words would grow harsher…darker…to the point she struggled to block them out. And the harshest of them—the ones that got to Azula the most—were the ones that spurned from the truth.
Azula knew she was crazy. She knew she had no power left and that no one feared nor loved her. She didn't need the reminder.
She didn't need them to tell her that she had probably the shittiest haircut in the Fire Nation nor that she looked a mess with her tired eyes and her all too pale complexion. She already knew it. And she already inwardly chastised herself for it too.
About two weeks in it had finally happened. Azula was just trying to get some fresh air. Trying to take a walk to ease her mind. She'd taken care to follow a remote woodland path that led opposite the crowd.
She should have just stayed home.
Azula couldn't come up with any reason for so many people to be gathered in the woods that day. But they were. And there were a few familiar faces; two being Chan and Ruon-Jian (their presence just another thing Azula couldn't quite figure out) and one being her old servant.
She was the first to look Azula's way. And she made no hesitation in shooting her a string of vulgar words. Calling her "the bitch who almost lost me my children" and right after "how does it feel to be the one without power?"
Azula had no answer. Not a comment in mind. Her energies were focused on keeping a composed demeanor…her trademark cold façade.
Through this determined haze Azula didn't notice the woman approaching until her hand met her cheek. Until that moment none of them had ever gotten physical—they had still seemed to retain that much fear. Of all the people to get physical, Azula would have never thought her little servant would be the one to do so. And the girl hit surprisingly hard—the blow a red-hot stinging one.
She felt her face grow hot with anger; perhaps she made a mistake in not showering those peasants in fire. The flame was pulsing in her hand. They were going to think of her what they would anyways…
However the thought of being deported back to that asylum still remained far less than pleasing.
At that hesitation Chan decided it was his turn to cut in. Azula wasn't really listening to what he had to say, but from the few words she let slip in she assumed he was still pissed about 'nana's vase'. And then he delivered his own punch.
This time Azula didn't hesitate in making a counter attack. The flames blast into his stomach landing him on his back.
The crowd let out a uniformed cry of outrage as if they didn't see him throw the first punch.
At this point they had all seemed to close in on her; some benders others non-benders. Either which way Azula knew that she couldn't take them all on alone. There were just too many of them. And only one didn't seem to want her blood.
Their insults all seemed to run together a slur of rapid-fire put-downs. Each word cutting sharper…deeper than any of the physical attacks.
For a second Azula thought about bringing down as many of them as she could. But by the time this idea rendered she was too beaten down to fight.
Ruon-Jian threw himself atop her. She awaited his attack. It never came. Through the dull fuzz in her head she could hear him making a pathetic attempt to speak on her behalf. To talk some sense into the crowd.
He'd taken numerous blows before the crowd realized he wasn't going to budge and dispersed.
When the forest became completely vacant she shoved the boy off of her and ran like hell, hot tears clinging to her cheeks.
Inside the castle Zuko had busied himself with sucking Mai's face. Neither of the two paid Azula any mind. She'd slid past them and to the sanctuary of her room with ease.
Just as supportive as ever.
But who could blame him. She'd been treating him like shit anyways.
She could feel the swelling of her lip…the blood trickling from her nose. She could only imagine just how purple and nasty her eye looked. Frankly, she didn't want to know so she draped a blanket over the mirror. She had planned on doing that regardless.
Hands gripping the nightstand with an unnecessary amount of exerted force she bent her head over and broke into a series of violent sobs. Sobs that eventually had her in a crumpled heap on the floor.
She hoped Zuko and Mai were enjoying themselves downstairs.
She hugged her legs closer to her chest. All the while trying to fool herself into thinking that she was okay.
The next morning came to an open with Zuko inviting himself into her room. Luckily, she'd managed to drag herself off the floor and into her bed.
"I haven't seen you at all yesterday." He muttered.
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Did you even get out of bed?"
"Does it even matter to you?" When he didn't respond she continued. "You and Mai just seemed so busy with each other. Didn't want to ruin anything else for you." The last part came out as a bitter hiss.
"Azula…" Zuko frowned. "Okay look, I was planning on going into town—with Mai—for a nice lunch and wondered if you wanted to come with me."
"No!" The answer was all too abrupt. "No I don't want to go into town."
Zuko let out a frustrated sigh. "I don't know if you care, but I'm trying to rebuild our relationship. I don't know why you don't want to go to town with me."
"Maybe if you paid attention at all, you would." Azula spat, face still turned opposite Zuko.
"Anytime I 'pay attention' to you, you throw it back in my face." Zuko found his volume doubling.
"Have fun with Mai." Azula replied softly, her grip on the pillow tightening as she felt another chance for support slipping.
"Azula, what's going on?" He lowered his voice again.
Azula heaved herself up on still aching arms and turned to face him.
"What happened!?" Zuko was once again practically screaming.
"I went out in public." Azula stated matter-of-factly. "I won't be making that mistake again…"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Azula shrugged. "I can handle them myself."
That was an outright lie. And she knew it.
"But you don't have to." Zuko pulled her into his arms.
She made a feeble attempt to shove him away. It was half-hearted; enough to pretend like she didn't want him there but not enough to actually force him away.
"I used to think that I had to take on everyone alone. Uncle helped me realize that I didn't have to. Needing help isn't weak. It's normal. And it's a shame that father made us think otherwise." Zuko continued. "Let me help you, Azula. I won't let them hurt you again."
Azula nibbled the inside of her lip—the side that wasn't aching. She nodded. Why fight the support she longed to have?
He smoothed a hand over her hair. "I'll fix everything, I promise."