I'm coming up only to hold you under
I'm coming up only to show you wrong
And to know you is hard, we wonder
To know you, all wrong we were
—"The Funeral" by Band of Horses
Azula has never had a problem scheming and then sleeping. In fact, she sleeps better after scheming. One of the many perks to being her.
However, no one can sleep through a flurry of pink.
The bedroom door slams open and Azula is on her feet with a flame in her palm before she can register the fact that someone is hugging her.
"I missed you!" Ty Lee proclaims loudly, squeezing Azula until the princess feels as if her ribs might crack. "It's been like, forever!"
Azula pats her former friend on the back and clears her throat. "Ty Lee."
The pink clad young woman pulls away and grins at the princess. "The guards weren't going to let me pass, but then your brother's super nice girlfriend told them that it was okay! Because I couldn't wait to see you, you know, even though it's the middle of the night. I told everyone that you'd totally want to see me too."
Azula answers this statement with silence. Stony silence.
Ty Lee's smile falters—but only by a fraction. "Well, anyway, just thought I'd pop in! My circus is in town and I'd totally love it if you'd come see it tomorrow night! It'll be a lot of fun." Ty Lee claps her hands together and bounces on the balls of her feet in excitement. Only Ty Lee can be cheerful in the middle of the night.
That was one thing that Azula hadn't missed about her.
The princess smiles, although it is not genuine. "Of course."
"As long as you don't set it on fire like last time!"
"Of course not."
"You're not going?" Kole looks surprised, and Kole rarely looks surprised. "But she's your friend."
"Correction, she was my friend. I haven't even seen her in six years."
"You can visit people on the asylum, Kole."
Kole sighs and looks away from Azula for a moment, obviously thinking. "Look, I can see that you resent her for not visiting you—"
"Don't presume that I'm that petty," Azula snaps. "I thought you knew me better than that."
The accusation, for whatever reason, hangs heavily in the air between them. Kole frowns at Azula and opens his mouth to answer her once, twice, before shutting it.
"She abandoned me. She and Mai both did. My feelings aren't exactly warm and fuzzy."
"Are they ever, Princess."
"No, I suppose not."
Kole looks like he might say something else to her, something nice and possibly too sweet. So Azula stands up and walks out before he can. She feels…unsettled.
He unsettles her.
Kole calls out for her, reminding her that their session technically isn't over yet, but Azula doesn't care.
What, or rather who, she finds waiting for her back at her bedroom is an unexpected, unpleasant surprise.
"Evening, Crazy Cakes," the blind earthbender says, smirk plastered across her face. "I've been meaning to talk to you. Could you spare a moment?"
Azula stands rigidly, mind still whirling over 'Crazy Cakes' when she manages to bark out, "No."
"Well, that's too bad." And then Toph turns and walks into the princess' room anyway.
"Excuse me." Azula walks in right after the other young woman, already furious. "Get out."
Toph laughs and then launches herself onto Azula's bed. "Look, chill for a second. I just want to tell you that I think what you're doing is pretty neat."
And for once Azula is at a loss for what to say. But only for a brief, brief moment. "Come again?"
"This whole match making thing between Sugar Queen and Fire Lord Sparky. It's deviously brilliant. I don't know why I didn't think of it first. You setting Katara's room on fire so that Sparky would move her into the Fire Lady's quarters was just…I'm a bit of a fan, not gonna lie."
The earthbender sits up and runs her fingers over her own feet, inspecting them.
And Azula isn't even put off that someone besides her is dirtying her bedspread.
"Well, it was either that or trapping them in a room and setting the entire palace on fire. Escaping promotes bonding."
Toph snorts in amusement. "To be honest, that wouldn't have worked. They're both absolutely stupid when it comes to the other. You may have gotten them together, but that doesn't mean it won't take them forever to buckle down and settle. Which brings me to why I'm here—"
"I work alone."
"I get that vibe. But, you have to admit, we'd make pretty damn good partners." The earthbender laces her fingers and grins in Azula's direction. "See, you're going to come up with a little bit of an…issue, soon."
"Cut to the chase."
"Katara is leaving. Actually, we all are. For an unknown amount of time. But I heard that Sweetness was thinking about returning to the South Pole, and if she does—"
"No, that cannot happen."
Azula begins to pace. She taps her chin and furrows her eyebrows. "If Katara leaves then I, excuse me, my brother, lose the only viable option for Fire Lady. I have to fix this."
Toph is giving her a funny look. "Not to mention that it would break Zuko's heart, and eventually the regret of her actions would eat Katara alive…"
Azula pauses mid stride. "I don't really give a damn about that part."
Toph is quiet for a long moment. And then she nods. "I can respect that."
"When are they leaving, exactly?"
"Day after tomorrow."
Azula nods before remembering that Toph cannot see. "Give me a few hours to come up with a plan."
"Do you want my—"
Toph shrugs and then makes her way toward the door. "Later, Crazy Cakes."
Azula's whole body stiffens; she inhales sharply and presses her lips together. Crazy is all she's ever going to be to these people. She keeps forgetting to accept that.
And Toph, who is all too observant, pauses with her hand on the door handle. "You know, let's go with Princess Evil instead. I think that fits you more."
And Azula smiles, and even though Toph is blind she's pretty sure the other girl knows that she's smiling.
The rest of the day passes, and then the next, and Azula finds herself sitting in her room in the dark while everyone else bounds off to the circus.
But that is neither here nor there.
She stares at the vial in her hand, contemplating, thinking. The vial is left over from her earlier years in the asylum. The physicians would force it down her throat when she was being too feisty. She'd managed to sneak one all those years ago, though.
You never know when you might need a sleeping draught.
There are two options for the next day.
The first option is to "slip and fall" and cut open her own wrist so that Katara is forced to stay behind and heal her. But that brings up several issues.
The first is that it would require the waterbender healing her, which can never happen under any circumstances. Azula does still have a sense of propriety, despite everything.
The second is that Kole could misconstrue that as harming herself, and thus would be given the right to break the confidentiality of their sessions to Zuko.
The third and less pressing issue is that people could think that she was trying to kill herself, which could be problematic.
So Azula is forced into the second, much more complex option.
Azula has been watching her brother firebend for hours. He hasn't stopped since the rest of the group left, which was about half an hour ago. It'll take them two hours to travel through the city by palanquin. Plenty of time.
She hasn't seen Zuko cry yet, but she bets that he's saving that for later, for when he's alone in his room.
Azula had overheard some of his heartfelt pleading to the waterbender this morning.
The waterbender had given some clipped, political bullshit for a reply.
"Please stay, Katara."
And the earnestness in her brother's voice had made Azula hate the waterbender all the more. It wasn't until a little later, when Azula had heard Katara sobbing in her bedroom that Azula was reminded that people interpret strength in multiple ways. Multiple stupid ways, but even still.
The plan is still in motion.
Zuko finally stops bending, forgoing a towel offered by a servant in order to march out of the training arena and back into the palace.
Azula follows him at a marched pace, fingering the vial in her pocket.
She finds him exactly where she knows he'll be—in Ursa's garden, surrounding himself with pretty flowers and turtleducks.
She motions for a servant, asks for a glass of water, and then approaches her brother.
"Well, that was all very sad," she begins. "I'll miss them."
Zuko looks up at her, irritated. "No you won't. You hated all of them, Katara especially."
"She was the very first person to put me in chains, but no matter. I thought you two were striking something up? Not that it's any of my business, of course—"
"You're right, Azula, it isn't," Zuko snaps.
And Azula huffs, feeling frustrated. "Is it such a far out concept that I actually might care about your happiness?"
Zuko frowns at her and then sighs, pulling up tuffs of grass. "You've not exactly been social with them, Azula. You've stood on the side lines the whole time. I didn't even think you knew about me and Katara."
Azula forces herself not to laugh and not to hit her brother on the head simultaneously. And they think that he's better suited for the throne. Honestly.
The servant finally arrives with some water. Azula takes it from him and ushers him away.
She pulls out the vial and holds up the water for Zuko to see.
Zuko's expression is blank. "You're going to poison me in broad daylight? With me knowing?"
"No, you imbecile. It's a sleeping draught. They used to give them to me at the asylum when I was too restless. It just makes you sleep for a few…hours. I just assumed, given the emotional day that you've had, that you could use the rest that this draught would give you."
Her brother looks unconvinced. "Seriously?"
"Come now, I haven't tried to kill you so far, have I? And I've been back for weeks."
"Biding your time." Her brother is smiling now.
"Please. I would never poison you. I'd challenge you to another duel, perhaps." She waves the glass and vial around enticingly.
Zuko takes the glass and vial slowly. "Well, I do have a headache," he says, considering. He stands up. "I'll take it in my room."
Azula makes a point to roll her eyes. "You can just take it here. It's not like it immediately goes into effect."
Zuko nods, already looking weary and tired. He really does need this nap. He quickly takes the draught and then coughs, wincing.
"It tastes awful."
"No medicine tastes good," Azula points out.
Zuko coughs again and then takes a step toward the palace. Then his shoulders slump and he falls over, asleep.
He'll probably start snoring in a few minutes, which is why Azula must act quickly.
She tosses the empty glass and vial into the pond and then starts to scream for servants, for anyone.
Her brother really is too trusting, bless him.
"Call for Lady Katara!" she shouts as soon as a servant appears. "The Fire Lord has taken ill!"
Katara is currently in a panic. It's been nearly eight hours and Zuko has yet to wake up.
Everyone in the Avatar's little gang has crowded into the Fire Lord's bedroom, worried and anxious.
All except for Azula and Toph, who are standing in the back, bored.
And then finally, to stir things up just a little bit more, Azula says in her most miserable voice, "Perhaps it's heart sickness. He was talking about you right before he passed out."
Katara looks like she might throw up. Of course, everyone wanted to instantly blame Azula for Zuko's sudden sickness, but Katara immediately confirmed that there was no poison in his blood stream.
So now Katara is going into the self-doubt phase.
"Poor Zuko," the Avatar says softly.
"Damn," says Sokka.
"I knew I shouldn't have left!" Katara cries out, tears streaming down her face.
Toph has to turn her head in order to hide her laughter.
"Twenty seconds," Azula whispers to the other girl. "Twenty seconds until it's been eight hours."
"You're a fucking evil genius, did you know that?"
Mumbling and cursing comes from the bed. Then Zuko is sitting up, hair sticking out, but a healthy color to his cheeks. "My headache is gone," he says out loud to himself before stretching. "Good nap."
And then Zuko opens his eyes and yelps.
And Azula, knowing that she's probably about to get into some serious trouble, slips out of the room.
There are bags underneath Kole's eyes. He looks particularly concerned. "The Fire Lord woke me up this late at night in a rage." He fiddles with a loose thread in the fabric of the chair. "You want to tell me why you drugged your brother?"
Azula shrugs one shoulder, failing to grasp why the situation seems so dire. "It brought the waterbender back."
Kole sighs and rubs at his temples. "Okay, Princess, you can't just go around drugging people. That's frowned upon."
Azula already knows all of this, of course. "He's angry now, but he'll thank me one day."
"And what day will that be?"
"His wedding day."
And Kole barks out a laugh. "You're so sure of everything, Princess. However…" There is now weariness on his face and he runs his fingers through his black hair. "Right now everyone thinks that you hate your brother. Which, will all due respect, you don't do a lot to negate that thought process."
Azula is quiet.
"Do you hate your brother, Azula?"
The Fire Princess remains silent, not bothering to correct his inappropriate use of her name.
And then she speaks. "Fire Lord Zuko, my brother, visited me three times a week for nearly every week for six years. And when he couldn't visit me because he was traveling, he wrote to me. Three letters a week. I have them all underneath my bed. And he sent me tea, and funny scrolls, simply because he wanted to."
She pauses, stares hard at the carpet, memorizes the swirling patterns in the fabric. "Do you know who else visited me?"
She answers for Kole. "No one. No one else."
Tears do not prick the back of Azula's eyes. But her chest squeezes. "Zuzu was the first person to stop calling me crazy."
Kole is watching him, gaze attentive.
"So, no, I don't hate my brother. Not at all."
It was probably not the best idea, Azula realizes later.
Kissing Kole was probably not the best idea.
He was helping her leave, amber eyes the picture of concern, and Azula is so unused to having more than just Zuko care about her.
So she had kissed him.
And the look on his face had made her feel hollow.
Azula slips into her brother's private dining room, mouth pressed into a thin, irritated line. "What is it?" she snaps out upon seeing Zuko, who is sipping a cup of tea and eating fruit tarts.
And suddenly the Fire Lord is furious. He stands up and crosses his arms, glaring. "Do you want to explain why you drugged me, Azula? Because a lot of people—not just me—want to know what the hell you were thinking. Why did you do that?"
"I have my reasons," she answers with a casual shrug, not the least bit intimidated by her brother's attempt at interrogating.
And then all the fight drains out of Zuko, and Azula suspects that he wasn't all that angry to begin with. Her actions got him what he wanted, after all.
"It's just, I don't understand you, Azula." His voice is shaky. "But I really wish that I did."
Azula lets her hands drop to her sides. She keeps her eyes steady on her older brother. "I don't understand you either."
"I—I know." Zuko slumps back down into his chair. "We're on two entirely different wavelengths."
Azula walks over to her brother's dining table and leans her hip against it. "Certainly you figured that out years ago, Zuzu?"
He lets out an amused breath. "Yeah."
He does not reach for his sister's hand; they don't hug.
Zuko looks up at his sister, and their golden stares reflect the same emotions back to each other. "Mom and dad, they pitted us against each other," Zuko says softly. "They tried to ruin us. They did, for awhile. But not anymore, okay? Not anymore."
And Azula nods. She can't bring herself to say anything.
And despite everything that he claims, Zuko understands.
Azula goes to her therapy session the next day.
She won't apologize, of course. But maybe they can both pretend that nothing had happened.
Except Kole isn't there.
In his place is a middle aged woman with a mole on her chin and a graying bun on top of her head.
"Good afternoon, Princess," the woman says cheerfully. "I'm Ming. I'll be your therapist until the Fire Lord can find a replacement for Kole." She gestures to Azula's normal chair. "Please, sit."
Azula remains standing. "Where's Kole?"
"Don't worry yourself over him," Ming says, continuing to wave for Azula to take a seat. So finally Azula does, irritation and anger boiling in her stomach.
This woman leaves her notes in her lap, and she has an ink brush constantly in her grip. "Tell me about yourself, and the relationship you have with your esteemed brother, yes?"
Azula smiles and begins.
It takes her nearly fifteen minutes to wrap up her story.
"And I just have all of these dreams about brutally murdering Fire Lord Zuko. Sometimes I stab him, but not just once. Multiple times, to the point where he's got more holes in him then a pincushion. And there's always blood everywhere. And sometimes I'll bathe in it."
Ming is as white as a ghost. The tips of her fingers are stained black because she's been scribbling down notes so fast. "Bathe…?"
"Yes, bathe. In Fire Lord Zuko's blood. And then I take my rightful place on the throne and rule over the Fire Nation with a fiery fist."
Ming coughs and then shoves her notes off to the side. "Princess Azula, if you could just wait here for a brief moment?"
Azula nods politely, waiting until Ming is completely out of the room before chuckling to herself. She can't remember the last time something was this entertaining.
She'll have to tell Toph.
She finds Kole in the servant's quarters, where he's technically supposed to be. He freezes in the middle of the hallway when he sees her. Then he proceeds to duck his head with shame.
"Explain yourself," Azula demands lowly. "Now."
"I can't be your therapist anymore," he says instantly, cheeks beginning to tint themselves pink.
Azula rolls her weight onto the balls of her feet, eyebrows furrowing. "Why not?"
Kole's eyes scan hers and then he sighs. "Because I like you too much. Beyond what's appropriate for a patient-therapist relationship."
"So, I can't treat you anymore."
He gives her shoulder a squeeze. "I'll personally pick out a new therapist for you, someone as cool as me, okay Princess?"
"And you're just going to, what, leave?"
Another one bites the dust.
And Kole surprises her again by rolling his eyes and shaking his head. "No, Princess. I plan to stick around."
She stares at him for a moment before turning on her heel and walking away. He follows her, naturally.
"Good," she finally says. "That's good."
He is smiling, and soon Azula finds herself smiling back. It is almost effortless.
"And you can call me Azula, now."
Ahh, and we have reached the end.
I hope everyone enjoyed the way all of this wrapped up. Admittedly, it became much more of a fic about Azula's character then it did about Zuko and Katara, but alas.
Also, I realize that Ty Lee appeared and then fell off the face of the planet, and that's because I don't really think Azula would ever truly forgive Mai and Ty Lee for betraying her, and I portrayed that here. So, yeah.
y3llowdaisi3s, I hope you liked! I kind of ran away with the prompt a little bit, though. Apologies. :)
Review and let me know that you guys think!