I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so pleasant about that place
Even your emotions have an echo in so much space
And when you're out there, without care
Yeah, I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much
—"Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley
They began discussing the prospect of letting Azula out of the asylum when she began responding to "Princess Azula" instead of "Fire Lord Azula."
Plus, she had stopped biting.
The palanquin rocks with the steady pace of the men who are carrying it.
Azula hasn't ridden in one in six years. She is twenty, with a sturdy body and a sharp mind that everyone around her has been trying to suppress. And even though they've told her that she is crazy, and that she can't feel, and that she can't show empathy, Azula is just happy to finally be going home.
"How are you feeling?"
Her annoying, totally unfit for the throne older brother is sitting across from her, every bit as gentle and worrying as their stupid Uncle.
And yet, she is glad that he is with her.
"Fine, though I'd be happier if we were on solid ground already. This could happen a little faster if someone would move it." The palanquin jolts forward and Fire Lord Zuko nearly tips over off of his knees. Azula, however, remains perfectly still with her hands resting on her thighs.
She smirks. She's still got it.
She can't go back to her room. Not yet, at least. First she must go straight to the medical ward. She sits in a room with the window. Through the window natural, wonderful sunlight shines through, illuminating the dust particles in the air.
In her early years at the asylum Azula didn't get to see much of the sun. She relishes its rays now.
A young man close to her brother's age comes bustling through the door, looking sheepish. "I apologize for my tardiness—"
"I'm a princess," Azula interrupts smoothly, "and I don't like to wait. On anyone."
The young man stops and glances down at the bundle of papers he has clutched in his hand. "Right. They told me you were assertive."
"I'm a lot of things. Impatient is one of them."
He smiles before sitting in the chair opposite her. "I'm glad to finally get the chance to meet you, Princess Azula. I'm the Royal Physician of the Mind. Everyone in the palace simply calls me Kole—"
"What an odd name."
Kole smiles again (Azula is discovering that he does this a lot) and shifts in his chair. "I like it."
He flips through his papers, or notes, before pressing them into a somewhat even pile and shoving them underneath the chair cushion.
Azula narrows her eyes. "Aren't you going to take notes?"
Kole shakes his head. "I don't like to take notes. I like to listen. And I can't listen all too well if I'm constantly busy writing down my assumptions about you, can I? We're going to be seeing a lot of each other, Princess Azula. Every day until your esteemed older brother says otherwise. So why don't we try to become friends?"
Azula stays in her bed longer then is healthy. She has opened the curtains to her balcony and is letting the sunshine in, but she keeps her back turned, training her gaze to her bare wall.
She's not sure what to do with herself anymore.
Kole is going through his papers again. He's yet to shove then under the chair cushion. Their session hasn't started yet.
"Your brother is worried," he begins. He glances up at the princess, bright amber eyes taking her in. "Do you know why?"
"Because he's an idiot who doesn't understand that he has more important things to do with his time other then care for his delinquent little sister?"
"Your brother is worried because he cares about you. Princess, you've been showing signs of depression lately."
Azula sucks in a breath and crosses her legs; she's not used to this method of "therapy".
Kole actually looks concerned. "You can talk to me about anything. That's what I'm here for."
Azula remembers the old men and women from the asylum. They wouldn't really listen to her, they were much more interested in dissecting her, figuring out why she was the way she was. A part of her will always resent them for that, even if she is better.
Kole, the mental physician that her brother has so painstakingly chosen for her, actually pretends to care. Azula has to give him props for that.
She points her sharp eyes onto him and he straightens a bit as most seem to do under her scrutiny. "You try growing up with a mother who doesn't love you and a father who was more interested in making you powerful then making you happy. You try having a hapless brother rip your throne away from you and then throw you in hell for six years. You try that and then ask me again why I'm not particularly perky."
Kole doesn't bat an eye. He doesn't pity her. "Fire Lord Zuko cares a lot about you, Princess Azula."
He leans forward, suddenly smiling and excited. "What you need is something to occupy your time."
"Please, enlighten me."
"What do you care about?"
"I cared about my throne."
Kole is unfazed. "Your brother is not a married man."
"Are you saying I should kill him and take my throne back my force? Because I've already deeply considered that."
There is silence for a moment. "No. I mean, help your brother find a woman who is suitable for being Fire Lady."
Azula opens her mouth to argue, to say something snappy. But then she pauses and taps a fingertip against her chin. "For a long while I assumed it was going to be Mai. Not that she would have made a decent Fire Lady. She hated court politics. But she was my friend. Then again, I can't blame her for discovering that she has taste and leaving my brother."
She stands suddenly, hands propped on her hips. "You might be annoying, but you're correct. No one else is more suitable for finding Zuzu the best Fire Lady then me." She glances down at Kole. "You would make a good advisor."
The young man smiles. "Thank you. I appreciate that, Princess."
"Yes, well. You'd do a better job there then you're doing in here."
His expression doesn't even fall.
She ties up the straps to her boots with more force than necessary. It feels good to be back in full armor, even if it is not for battle.
Azula pats her head again to make sure that her topknot is nice and sleek. Then she sticks her crown into it.
This is the crown that she has not been allowed to wear for over half a decade.
She does not let herself get emotional.
The Avatar and his waste-of-space rag tag group of friends are all here in the Fire Nation palace for some World Peace Banquet, or something equally as silly.
Azula sips her wine and pretends that there aren't extra guards lining the doors.
Of course, Zuko is dressed in his fine royal clothes, the Fire Lord's crown sticking out of his hair, indicating his power. But she won't dwell on that. She won't. She can't.
She stands in a corner, purposely secluding herself from the crowds of people circulating through the ball room. To her surprise, the Avatar is not the first person to speak to her.
"You look…fearsome, Princess Azula."
She blinks at her therapist over the top of her wine glass. She's never seen him outside of therapy before.
"I try," she purrs, finishing the rest of her wine in one gulp. She notices that his own glass is full to the edge. She plucks it from his fingers and starts sipping.
"Over intake of alcohol, seclusion from others—"
"This isn't therapy," she snaps, narrowing her eyes.
His eyes are amused, and she realizes with a flash that he was joking around with her. How…odd. It bothers her, so she ignores it.
"I'm not an insect for you to pick apart—"
The happiness in his expression fades a little. "I would never say that you were, Princess."
She turns her head away in a sharp movement, and before she can say anything else her brother is walking up to her, looking stressed.
"Azula, did you want to talk to—"
"No. I'm going to continue standing here."
Zuko frowns but stays beside her.
What a new gesture.
Azula doesn't speak to anyone for the next few minutes. She's perfectly content watching her brother squirm whenever anyone walks up to him and bows. He has become humble, for whatever reason.
All of these noblemen and noblewomen also turn and bow to her, offering up congratulations on "getting well." Azula takes them all in with stony eyes and a bored expression.
And not one of these noblewomen seems to have an ounce of backbone.
The Fire Lady must have a backbone.
And then the Avatar is walking forward, a smile on his face, his arrows standing out against his light skin. He smiles and pulls Zuko into a hug, which the Fire Lord awkwardly returns. Then the tattooed young man turns his attention to Azula.
Azula turns and walks away before he speaks another word, ignoring the calls of her brother and her therapist.
Two minutes later she is on the other side of the ballroom, leaning against the wall and glaring at small children.
Zuko grabs her elbow but quickly releases her at her glare. "That was rude, Azula. Aang was trying to be polite—"
"I don't care about the Avatar, and I certainly don't want him speaking to me, and—" She cuts herself off when she sees who's walking up to them.
Zuko turns around and Azula watches curiously as his eyes go wide. He coughs, pink tinting his cheeks, and nods. "Katara."
The waterbender is baring something that exposes her midriff and pushes up her chest, exposing a titillating, but modest amount of cleavage.
Azula knows that her brother has noticed this uncovered brown skin by the way that he's not looking. Zuko keeps his gaze trained to Katara's face and is blinking more than usual.
The fire princess rolls her eyes.
"Is everything all right?" Katara asks, glancing at Azula warily. "Aang said that your sister wasn't feeling well, and that that's why she walked away so abruptly."
"Urm—" Zuko begins to stumble over his words, hurrying to agree with what the Avatar said in order to save face for his sister.
"I feel fine," Azula says, smiling. "I just have no desire to speak to the Avatar. Ever."
The waterbender's blue eyes narrow in irritation, and she opens her mouth to talk when Zuko quickly changes the subject.
"Katara, it's been awhile since you've seen my sister. Azula, Katara has become a dear friend of mind." He makes an awkward gesture between them, as if hoping that they'll suddenly hug and become the best of girlfriends.
Azula finishes off Kole's wine before tossing the now empty glass over her shoulder. It shatters against the floor, causing everyone nearby to jump.
"I know who this is, Zuzu." Azula still remembers being chained up very well. She'd like not to repeat it. She walks away before anything else can be said. She cannot stand the constant look of suspicion on the waterbender's face, cannot stand the way her brother hovers over her, as if caught between protecting her and preventing her from harming others.
She remembers years ago, when banquets used to be fun, when she'd run around terrorizing the servants with Mai and Ty Lee, when she'd light fire to the curtains, and sneak fire whiskey out of Ozai's secret stash.
But those days are long gone, and with a heavy heart Azula realizes that they're never coming back. And that's partly because the world is different, and partly because she is different. Princess Azula has grown up.
This fact leaves a bitter taste in her mouth, a taste that not all the sweet wine in the world could wash away.
She disappears between the shadows of the party, not wanting anyone else to stare at her and call her "psycho" behind her back, as if she's not listening, as if she truly can feel nothing.
The young waterbending woman passes into her line of vision, alone for what Azula can see. Katara has her own glass of wine in her hand, but she doesn't seem to be enjoying it.
Azula watches as a young nobleman, perhaps a suitor, walks up to her and obviously hits on her with no intentions of being chivalrous, with the way he's leering at Katara's breasts.
Katara kicks him in the shin and then dumps her wine on his head.
Azula can almost feel the horror coming from all the other noblewoman in the room. The impropriety, she can nearly hear them say. What a rude, barbaric young woman.
And if Katara notices the rest of the banquet judging her then she doesn't seem to care. She holds her head high with pride and glares down at the wine soaked nobleman until he's scurrying away.
And that's when Azula realizes who the next Fire Lady is going to be.
"The Fire Lady should be proud, should have backbone, should hold power and know how to wield it, should demand respect—"
"Should be like you?" Kole is tapping his finger against his knee, listening to Azula intently.
The princess lets out an annoyed breath. "I am the best choice for Fire Lady, obviously, but there hasn't been inbreeding within the Royal Family for centuries. Best to keep that old tradition swept under the rug."
Kole looks a little pale, but he presses on. "So you think Lady Katara should be Fire Lady?"
"Well, she's the only person who's ever bested—I'm sorry, Lady Katara?"
Kole is smiling at her now. "Yes, Princess. Your brother gave her the title a few years ago. He's rather fond of her, you might say. But it sent the court into an uproar, as you can imagine."
Azula lets her hair fall over her shoulder. She's changed her routine by wearing it down today, per Kole's suggestion. "You don't seem too scandalized."
Kole shrugs. "I like Lady Katara. She's lovely."
And for some reason these words cause something to burn unpleasantly in Azula's belly and she finds herself scowling at her therapist. "I hope you don't like her. She's for my brother."
Of course, Kole infringing on her brother's new Fire Lady isn't why her stomach is burning. Azula chooses to ignore this.
"Not at all," Kole answers smoothly. "I was just pointing out that she is a very nice person."
Azula, feeling shaken, wants to leave. "Are we done for today?"
The young man nods, even though they both know that they still have ten minutes left in their session, technically. "Okay. I'll see you, my favorite patient, tomorrow."
Azula has already stood up. Her hand is propped on her hip. "That kind of flattery will get you know where with me."
And yet again he smiles at her. "Don't I know it, Princess."
Azula has taken it upon herself to make a match between Zuko and Katara. Her matchmaking plans will begin the very next day.
This is the first part of my Zutara Secret Santa gift to y3llowdaisi3s on Livejournal. The prompts were as follows:
Uncle Iroh/Toph Matchmaking
Humour & Romance
AU Season 3
I am going with the first one, obviously, and will be incorporating some of the others throughout the next part.
Originally this was supposed to be a lot more light hearted, but Azula is a complex character, as we all know. And when you don't choose to approach her character as a psychopath it becomes a little tricky to write her. Sometimes it's easier to explain away a person's complexities by stamping them with "crazy". I don't want to do that to Azula; she deserves better. There's a lot more to her character than meets the eye.
This was supposed to be a one-shot. While writing this I found that it hit a little close to home, which is why I've had trouble working on it for prolonged periods of time. But since today is technically the last day for the Secret Santa exchange, I thought I'd split it up into two parts. Expect the second and final part in a few days or so.
I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas, and Happy New Year! Drink some champagne tonight…or sparkling grape juice, if you prefer! :D
Would love to hear your thoughts!