Author's note. In my east wind story, I've mentioned a couple of times how Zuko visits Azula on Sundays. I have so many ideas for what happens during these interactions and I don't think I'll be able to incorporate it into my main story. So I wrote this little portrait of their strange and twisty sibling relationship. This story is from Azula's POV and focuses on her life after the war. I think Zuko's sense of duty, guilt and responsibility for Azula would mean that he would make sure she was well taken care of. It doesn't mean she has to like it. I wanted to explore how their dynamic interactions would evolve the longer Azula is in the 'hospital nobody calls a hospital.'
The first time he visits her is a Sunday. He comes in and shifts nervously on his feet. "How are you feeling today?" he asks curiously, apprehensively, weakly. Always so weak. She feels a familiar rage burn up inside her so hot she can't control it. She just has to let it out. But she can't bend anymore, not since they added the bracelets and anklets. For her own and everybody else's safety, they say. Those doctors and nurses and guards with blank faces. She hates them. She hates Zuko more. How dare he lock her up here in this place where she can't bend. Can't breathe.
She can still fight. Still make him fear her. She launched herself at him and scratches and kicks and screams and cries. He fends her off and she feels the strong arms of the nurse with the black hair wrap around her. It's like a hug almost, if it wasn't so restraining. She struggles against them both. Neither of them use fire bending against her, in the spirit of fair play. She bucks back and butts her head hard against the nurse behind her. It hurts but it works. He gives a cry and releases her. She leaps over Zuko and runs.
Her feet pound the tiled floors and echo all around her. She suddenly makes it to the garden and into the bright sunshine. It's so bright it blinds her. The sun makes everything beautiful. She can see the sea and the beach and the boats. She could go down and get one of those boats and sail away. 'And then what?' One of the voices in her head asks. 'what's the plan Azula' asks another. She doesn't know. She used to always know. Now she's not sure. Where would she go really?
All the fight goes out of her as suddenly as it came. Her moods are so wild lately. They confuse her. She always had such control over them. She sits down and basks in the sun. They'll be out to get her in few moments. She may as well enjoy it. They will probably revoke her privileges again. She hears his footsteps before she sees him. The brother she loves and hates with equal measure. His face is worried and he has three fresh scratches on the good side of his face. Good, she thinks smugly to herself.
She still can't believe he won. He's Firelord and she's crazy. When did that happen? Surprisingly, he was the better tactician out of the two of them. That's why he won and she's here. She can respect that. It wasn't a smart move. Attacking him. It made her seem crazy. They all think she's crazy here. In the hospital nobody calls a hospital. She has to act normal if she ever wants to get out of here.
"Hello Zuzu. I'm feeling much better today thank you." She says breezily as she walks past him and back to her room. She loves how he gapes at her in confusion.
She sits on the window sill and he sits on a chair at her tea table. She plays with the hem of one of her favourite dresses. She put in on when she realized it was Sunday and she would have a visitor. Now she doesn't know why she bothered. She remembered why they'd brought her old things and what that implies. Her old clothes and some furniture from her room at the palace. Her favourite books sit in a lonely pile near the bed. To make this place seem more like home, Zuko says hopefully. She hates it. It makes this situation seem more permanent. She resolves not to speak to him for the rest of the day. Her mother frowns at her unhappily. She stands a little behind Zuko, but he's ignoring her too. He probably is mad at her for leaving them. Azula still is.
"Azula honey, he's doing his best for you." Her mother says. Zuko is also talking, but she's not listening to him. Her eyes are fixed on her mother's face. How dare she comes back here and tell Azula what to do.
"Shut up mum!" She yells loudly and it echoes in the room and gives Zuko a fright. He looks around behind him and her mother disappears. Great vanishing act that she is. Zuko disappears too, a little while later. But she pretends she doesn't care.
She started talking to him again. Mostly to mess with his head. Some days she tells him what she thinks he wants to hear. Some days she tells him what she knows will upset him. Some days she tells him things that she knows will just plain bamboozle him. It depends on her mood mostly. Everyday is different. She's more agitated on the days her mother comes too. Once Lu Ten showed up and she directed all her questions to him. This confused Zuko so much that she wished she could've got a portrait of his gormless face. He visits her every Sunday now. He's back in the fire nation permanently. No more travelling for Zuzu. She told him that she didn't miss him. She told him she missed him every day. She doesn't know quite which one is true.
She knows that his visits give shape to her week. Sunday and Wednesday are the only remarkable days. Sunday for Zuko and Wednesday for the firebending. For a glorious hour, they take her anti bending bracelets off and she can let off all her pent up fire and frustration. She's watched by 10 of the top firebending guards and she almost feels like she's performing for them sometimes. She loves the exhilarating feeling that comes from bending. She sometimes wonders about her father. They took away his bending. How must he feel about that? Bending was such a huge part of her that she's sure that she would shrivel up and die if they took it away.
The avatar wanted to. He knew how. He thought she was too dangerous. She remembered being locked in a cell. She could hear them talking about her. Deciding what to do with the mad princess. It would be easy, the Avatar said, she wouldn't be able to bend and then they wouldn't have to worry about her hurting any more people. There was a murmur of agreement. Her heart stopped. This is the end then.
Zuko spoke up. He wouldn't let them. Bending, firebending, she won't be able to live without it. It's such a part of who she is, he says. The others think he's the crazy one. Ha ha. He's adamant that there must be another way. Eventually the boy with the ponytail, the one Ty Lee found so handsome, invents the bracelets. They block her bending, but they don't suck it out of her. She can still feel the fire bubbling away in her belly and once a week she gets to release it. She knows she has Zuko to thank for it. She feels grateful on Wednesdays, but that feeling never lasts until Sunday. Maybe one week it will. Maybe she will be able to say "Thank you for looking out for me Zuzu" to his face. And mean it.
Zuko is angry at her. She feels satisfied. She also feels sad. Mai came to visit her two weeks ago when she was Zuko's girlfriend. She broke up with him this morning. In a letter. That's my girl Azula thinks, oddly, with pride. She's not sorry. People are just like toys. You just have to know which buttons to push. She's been pushing Zuzu's buttons for so long that it's like second nature to her now. He's the only one she sees from her old life. Does nobody else care about her? She nags at him relentlessly on her 'good' days, to bring her friends to see her.
She wanted Mai, she wanted Ty Lee, she wanted confirmation that somebody else aside from Zuko, anybody else in the entire world, thought she was worth visiting. Now Mai had come and Azula had used her all up and she wouldn't come again. She knows Mai well. She knows Zuko better. Always so predictable. Of course he blames her. He doesn't see how inevitable it was, how Azula was just helping things along. He thinks she did it to hurt him. Maybe. Azula's not sure, but she thinks she did it to help him. He was never very good at helping himself.
"Why did you do it?" he asks, as if any answer could make him happy.
"Because it was fun." Azula answers. " And in my state I need all the fun I can get" she gestures round her room.
"What did you say to her?" he demands now.
"Nothing but the truth precious." She answers blithely, pouring him tea as he scowls off into the distance, not looking at her. They drink in silence. After a while Zuko says softly.
"We were happy"
Azula scoffs and corrects him. "No you weren't and you know it!" she says flatly. He stares at her for the first time in ages. Azula doesn't like the expression on his face.
"I was doing you a favour." She adds almost as if she was justifying herself to him.
"Don't do me any more favours." He grumbles back at her and sips his tea.
Azula has escaped again. The nurse with the black hair found her pretty. Azula doesn't know his name, but she knows she can use that. That was an easy enough thing to exploit. Azula had always been good at manipulating people without them even realizing it. He'd walked out with her, convinced she was better, that it was just a quick outing, some fresh air. She struck, two quick blows, as soon as they were past the gates and had run for it. She was lucky she was dressed for a date. She blended right in as she walked through the town. She was surrounded by people and sights and sounds and life again. It was all overwhelming. She had planned to make it down to the harbor and procure a boat and sail away. Now she doesn't like that plan. It was a bad plan. There's no boat in the harbor that is suitable for a princess.
She walks without really know which direction she's going in. It doesn't seem to matter. She crosses a bridge and looks down at the river and has a moment to be completely taken aback by how much water there is in the world. That it was a waterbender, a stinky waterbending peasant who brought her down. She always knew she was better than that.
She looks at the river as if it had insulted her. She took of her shoes and threw them in the river in frustration. What need has she for shoes anyway. She stalked off; walking further away from the hospital nobody called a hospital. She heard the faint sound of an alarm in the distance and smiled to herself.
Zuzu doesn't find her until it is nearly sunset. She's sitting on top of the highest roof of the Royal Holiday Residence. Her feet were bleeding but now they've started to scab over. She's twirling her one of her mother's combs in her fingers. It was one of the only things she left in her bedroom when she disappeared. Azula doesn't miss her. She's not allowed to miss her, because missing people was weak. Azula's not weak.
She's been here most of the day just taking in the view and talking to her mother, who has sat companionably beside her all this time. Azula, honey, I always loved you best her mother croons and Azula knows for sure that she isn't really here with her. She always loved Zuko best anyway. Her father had told her so, and she knew it to be true. She had to stop talking to her mother like this. The lady doctor, the one Azula liked, with the stern face but the kind eyes, told her that these conversations were not healthy for her. Still, she doesn't have the will to send her mother away, especially when they are sitting in pleasant silence like this.
She hears Zuko call out to her. She answers back. He's scaling the wall and then she sees him walking towards her. He takes in the sight of her. He sighs, mostly with relief, Azula thinks. There must be a little anger too, because the next thing he says is angry.
"What the hell are you doing? I've been worried sick! I've been looking everywhere!" his face is red from exertion and worry and frustration. He sits down next to her. Her mother leaves and it's as if she was never there. Just her and Zuzu and the empty royal residence.
"Well you found me." She says placidly. The sky is that brilliant orange red, with purple light hitting the clouds. She feels calmer watching sunset.
"What were you thinking?" Zuko asks sounding resigned.
"I wanted to see the sunset Zuzu, surely that's not a crime." She snaps back. She's fed up with him acting like he's the one who's been put out. He's not the one who's locked up.
"No, but flirting with your nurse and then knocking him out isn't…" Zuko pauses and then says in an entirely different tone. A tone that is full of a dark worry. "Did he doing anything to you?" Azula knows what he's implying.
"No, he didn't. I'm not that helpless." She bristles. Aside from one kiss, that Azula instigated, no he didn't do anything. She wishes he'd done more, but he treats like she's delicate, her dark haired nurse. He looks at her like she'll break and it drives her crazy. She was a firebending prodigy and now everybody looks at her like she's just a delicate crazy girl. Maybe she is. She feels one tear escape her eyes and she swipes it away in angry frustration. What is wrong with her? Zuko notices her tears and now she feels even angrier at being weak in front of the weakling.
"I never said you were helpless." Zuko says as he gently puts an arm around her. She leans into the hug awkwardly. They're both unused to it. Being affectionate doesn't come simply or naturally to either of them.
"I feel helpless. I hate being like this." Azula confesses quietly.
"You're still able to crack a man's ribs in three places using only two jabs." Zuko says, trying for a light-hearted tone. Azula, despite herself, smiles a little. They sit in silence and watch the sunset. Azula twirls the comb in her hands. Zuko notices.
"You miss her?" he asks.
"No" She says flatly. .
Do you think she'll ever come back?" Azula counters with a question of her own. She knows Zuzu's been looking ever since he was crowned firelord.
"I don't know." He says simply. It dark now and his face is impassive so she can't make out what he's really thinking. She pockets the comb and Zuko doesn't comment.
"We should get you home." He says as he stands up, balancing his weight on the slanted roof.
"Where's home Zuzu?" Azula says in a teasing tone. She winces as she stands. She didn't notice the blisters earlier, when she was running barefoot down the streets, but now they feel so sore.
"Where are you're shoes?" Zuko asks curiously, worriedly.
"I threw them in the river." Azula replies simply.
"I'll carry you back then, but first we should wrap those blisters up." He says as he leans out a hand to help her down. For once, just this once, she tells herself, she'll accept his help. She doesn't want to stay in this cold house. She misses her room at the hospital suddenly and then feels strange for missing something she loathes. Maybe she's just used to it. People are always attached to what they're used to.
He bandages up her feet in the kitchen. She sits in a chair as he wraps some bandages he found in the old first aid kit around her feet. She remembers how much that first aid kit got used when they were both kids. There were so many old injuries here. They'd both sit in the chairs in this kitchen as their mother fussed. They would both pretend to be tough, pretend it didn't hurt and used all their will power not to cry out as burns were treated and splinters removed and gravel rash was smoothed by their mother's soft voice and hands. She'd "accidentally on purpose" hurt Zuko so many times as a kid. She didn't mean to hurt him as much as she did. It was for his own good anyway. Suffering makes you strong. That's what dad would say.
She stands on the chair and then climbs on his back as he turns around. He'll give her a piggy back all the way back to the other side of the island and the hospital nobody calls a hospital. She holds her arms around his neck and can feel his heart beat as he walks. She almost can't remember a time when she tried to make that heart stop for good. Almost.
She can feel the rough edge of the lightening scar against her wrist. She did that. The second horrible scar Zuko had gotten from a family member. She'd really meant to kill the waterbending girl. One less waterbending peasant would be a small loss to the world. Zuko, like an idiot, jumped in front of her bolt. Why did he do it? Azula didn't understand. He'd fallen and lain still for a dreadful second and she didn't know, in that moment, how she felt. She was unsure, not just about killing him, she'd killed lots of people after all, but of waking up tomorrow and the next day and the day after that in a world without her stupid, idiotic, weak big brother. Who else could she tease and torment and chase across the world and would still listen to her in the caves under Ba Sing Se. Then he groaned and moved and Azula knew he would live after all.
There is so much bad feeling and treachery and history between them. But still he comes to see her, and brings her letters and fans from TyLee and no news from Mai. He tells her about the world outside and occasionally, once every so often, she has coherent thoughts and ideas and follows the whole conversation without her bloody mother interrupting. It always upsets Zuko when their mother interrupts. Despite everything, he still visits her every Sunday and Azula thinks she might love him for that. She might love him for that a little more than she hates him for everything else.
He drops her off in her room and is about to head of to 'deal with' the fussing, infuriating and useless hospital staff. But Azula finally has some words she's been trying to say for a while now. She reaches out for his hand and looks him in the eye.
"Thank you for looking out for me Zuzu" she says and she knows that she means this. Sincerely.
"You're welcome Azula." He says as he gives her hand a little squeeze.
"See you next Sunday then." It's a statement, not a question.