Azula’s state was more than fragile. He was only doing what he thought was best at the time. She was still chained to the iron gate when they arrived to take her away. This was her third major break since the comet—fourth if one included the one on the day of the comet. Zuko forced himself to watch; she was still putting up a fight—a good one at that. Screaming fire, jerking violently, attempting to bite them if they got close enough.
She looked like an animal…an animal that had found the body of a human and took it over. She was nothing like the calm and collected Azula he knew.
Eventually Ty-Lee was summoned to chi block her.
He watched her body grow limp, head hitting the ground with a slightly concerning force. She whimpered at the pavement’s greeting.
Two men lifted her limp from. Her tired eyes focused on the ground. And then she stared right at Zuko…her gaze spitting every ounce of rage within her small body into Zuko’s soul. Anger, hurt, confusion, accusation, all hitting Zuko at once—all from that one short glance.
Briefly he considered reaching out, touching her hand, and offering her words of comfort. Briefly he considered telling the men to put her down and let him care for his sister.
He couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“Worry not Firelord Zuko, we’ll take good care of her.”
“I’ll come check on her in three days.”
Zuko made his way to the institution door. The place seemed rather nice…calming. It had a lovely pond out front, a lazy looking cherry blossom dancing in the water’s reflection. The place smelled of the tree, it was a sweet smell…a springtime fragrance.
Zuko pulled the pinewood doors open.
The woman behind the desk gave a slight bow. “I’ll send for the princess right away.”
As he awaited Azula’s arrival he gave the interior a scan. It looked quite nice as well; nicely carpeted floors with floral wallpaper…red and magenta in color—to look like the cherry blossom tree, he decided. There wasn’t much furniture aside from an elegant gold lamp and a small table set or two off to the right side of the room. A golden chandelier—made to match the lamp hung from the ceiling, bobbing slightly in the draft coming from the door he had forgotten to shut.
Zuko stood and pushed the door shut.
Upon turning around he found his eyes locking into Azula’s.
She didn’t look all that better. Her eyes seemed to have lost that wild animalistic gleam though. Her bangs were still choppy and uneven and in her face. He moved to brush them out of her eyes, but the girl hissed and flinched away. Well…away as she possibly could with the two nurses standing behind her.
“I came to give you your things.” Zuko started.
“Hand her things to me.” Came a voice from behind.
He was a tall thin man with a clean shaven face and well-groomed slicked back black hair. He ran a hand over his deep red suit, smoothing a wrinkle in the fabric. He held out a hand. “Tang-Shin. Lead therapist and head of Cherry Creek Asylum.”
Zuko took his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Your sister would say otherwise.” He chuckled.
A visible scowl bought life to Azula’s otherwise deadpanned expression.
“I’ll sort through her things and give her only the items that she can’t use to bring herself harm.”
“Is she going to be okay?” Zuko asked after a moment.”
“Of course, of course. We’ll see to it that she gets our most comfortable room. Do you wish to see where she will be staying?”
“That would make me feel a bit…more easy with the…situation.”
“Yes of course.” Tang-Shin motioned for Zuko to follow him.
Azula’s room was only a little ways down the hall. It was spacious and cozy. Her bed seemed well enough—sure it wasn’t as big as the one she’d used back at home but the mattress was soft, the pillows fluffy, and the blankets warm. Aside from that there really was no furniture. However there was a window…barred, but a window no less. And the view it provided was easy on the eyes.
He looked over at Azula, she pushed past him and sat on her bed.
“You can send a messenger hawk...” Zuko looked over to Tang-Shin, “you don’t mind her writing me occasionally if she wants. Do you?”
“Not at all Firelord Zuko. The girl may write you as much as she wishes.”
“I do want you to write me Azula. Let me know that you’re okay.”
“But I’m not.” Azula didn’t turn from the window. “I’m not okay. I don’t like it here. And I don’t like them.” She glanced at the staff for a moment.
“I’ll be here to pick you up in a week.” Zuko put a hand on her shoulder.
She swatted it away.
“Alright. I guess I’ll see you in a week then.” The hope leaving his face.
“Yeah…a week.” She mumbled. “See you in a week.”
“I’m sorry I have to leave you in an institution again. But this one looks a lot nicer than the last one.” Zuko replied. “I’m doing this because I care about you.” This would be his fourth time dropping her off and it didn’t get any easier.
For him anyways.
At least where guilt was concerned. Sure Azula still put up a fight, but each time she seemed to go down easier…and was less spiteful towards him. But that guilt…he tore at his entire being.
She nodded. “I know.”
The hope reignited. She seemed much better…sounded much better.
“Kirah and Zhu-Ling will take care of your sister as I show you out.” Tang-Shin motioned the women to do just that.
He took a last glance back at his little sister. An unsettling feeling beginning to knot his stomach. Something felt wrong about this. He couldn’t help but feel a bit uneasy. The feeling seemed to come from nowhere. The place looked nice enough…the staff kind and caring.
“Is there something wrong, Firelord Zuko?” Tang-Shin asked.
A horrendous cry washed over his response. The woman was young with sandy colored hair and frenzied green eyes—must be from the Earth Kingdom. She was thrashing and kicking at the nurses with a ferocity and desperateness unknown to Zuko. All of the woman’s words were delivered through a high-pitched shriek; “Help me! They’re gonna kill me! They’re going to kill me like they killed Eesouk.”
Zuko’s unease tripled in intensity. “What’s she…”
“Her name is Hiru. She’s like your sister; hears voices, sees things. Eesouk was one of the voices. You see, we found this new herbal remedy that silences the voices. After we gave it to Hiru, she could no longer hear Eesouk. She’s been screaming about how we killed him ever since.” Tang-Shin explained. “But that’s our job is it not? To get rid of the voices?”
“Azula’s not going to…”
Tang-Shin cut him off again. “Hiru is far gone. One of our…extreme cases. She seemed to like the voices. Your sister seems to want them gone.”
Zuko nodded. “I suppose that makes sense. Tell Hiru I wish her a well recovery.”
“Your message will go through.”
It took all of Zuko’s will power to push through those doors and leave Azula to the staff and her own accord. His sense of dread never truly dying down. He had hoped that the further from Sun Dragon island he grew the less dread he’d have.
But a hope was all it was.
“I’m making a mistake Mai I can feel it.”
“Of course you feel like you’re making a mistake. She’s your sister. It’s normal to feel…queasy about locking her away. Even though she’s a real piece of work.”
Zuko let his fear-induced rage get the best of him, at least for an instant, when he pounded his fist on the table.
“Look, she’ll be back over here…though I don’t think it’s a good thing…in a week. You have nothing to worry about, Zuko.” Mai cupped her hand over his. “She’ll be fine, she’s Azula.”
“She’ll be fine. She’s Azula.” Zuko repeated to himself.
He’d never seen a week pass slower.
He’d received no message from Azula—not even one hawk. On the third messageless day, Zuko found himself questioning whether or not this was a good idea again. Mai had tried to put a stop to his ‘paranoid rants’ claiming he’d end up with Azula if he didn’t.
But as any other…the week did come to a close.
He found himself leaning against the front desk. “What do you mean, you’re not releasing Azula yet?”
“She’s gotten worse. We have to keep her a week longer.” Kirah replied.
“Can I at least see her?”
“As your Firelord I demand…”
“No need for demands, Firelord.” Tang-Shin flashed him a near forced smile. “Your I’ll be back with your sister in a moment.”
That moment was spent with Zuko glaring down Kirah until the woman turned her head.
He didn’t hear Azula approach. She looked rather worse than before; pale, much thinner—sickly so, the circles beneath her eyes darker. She only offered him a hazy expression. One that said Azula wasn’t quite there.
“I was going to take you home today. Trust me I really want to…”
“Go away Zu-Zu.” Her voice seemed distant. “I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Why haven’t you sent me any letters?” Was all Zuko could manage.
“I don’t want to talk to you.” She repeated. Her speech seemed unusually slow and slurred.
Zuko felt himself growing frustrated and impatient. Before he left her she seemed…willing to get along with him. And here she decided that she’d make a victim of him again—or as much as a victim as she possibly could make him.
He took a deep breath, the last thing she needed was for him to snap at her. That’d probably only serve to set her off. “Azula, I want you to get better so you can come home.”
She seemed to be nodding off. Falling deeper and deeper into herself, into that hazy state. “Don’t want you here.” She muttered. “Don’t want to see you.” She lifted her left arm and pointed to the door.
That slight lift was all it took to send her sleeve sliding down her arm, revealing something akin to a bad accident. Her arm was a collage of scratches and bruises.
“What happened to her arm?” Zuko shouted.
“This,” Tang-Shin took hold of Azula’s beaten arm, “is why she’s staying with us longer. She clawed her own arm up during one of her episodes.” He paused. “Now, Firelord, I believe it’s best you head home. Your presence only stresses her out more.”
“I’ll come to check on her again later this week.” Zuko declared. He watched Azula’s body sway slightly, she looked almost dizzy…very disoriented. “Don’t let her hurt herself again.” He added more firmly. Various punishments for them swimming through his head.
“We’ll do our best. Your sister is…tricky. A bit hard to manage.”
There was something Zuko didn’t like about Tang-Shin. The way he spoke was all too diplomatic. All too calm. The man himself was much too smug. He had this agitating air of arrogance, one that a simple asylum owner should really have.
He watched Kirah and Zhu-Ling carry his delirious sister off.
His heart ached for her.
Zuko felt more unnerved leaving her this second time than the first. The feeling was driving him as loony as Azula herself. He had to talk to Mai, she always seemed to put things into perspective for him.
“Something is wrong.” He informed Mai once again.
“I went to visit Azula. They told me I couldn’t bring her home. She was all scratched and bruised; they said she did it to herself…”
“Yeah. There is something wrong with Azula if that’s what you’re getting at.” Mai shrugged.
“No, that’s not what I’m trying to get at. Mai! She doesn’t do that. I’ve seen her breakdown a lot—major nor minor, she’s never hurt herself.”
“Zuko, maybe this one is worse than…”
“But she looked better Mai. When I saw her to give her, her things she looked almost fine.”
“What do you think is happening then, Zuko? Where do you think the bruises are coming from?”
“I don’t know. Another patient.” He went silent for a second. “One of the nurses.”
“Zuko, that’s a bit farfetched don’t you think?”
“This place rubs me the wrong way. Azula looked fine and suddenly she has to stay another week. No messager hawks…”
“They’re just doing their jobs. If she’s not better they aren’t going to release her. Maybe she’s still peeved that you left her there.”
“Azula didn’t seem that mad.”
“You said it yourself, Azula always lies.” Mai pointed out.
“She said she didn’t want to see me today. If Azula always lies then she must have wanted me to stay.”
“Zuko, now you’re just being snide.”
“I’m just worried about her Mai. I don’t know why they seem so opposed to me seeing Azula.”
“Don’t worry about it. If something doesn’t seem right to you next week then I might jump aboard the Zuko the S.S Suspicious Ship.”
Zuko couldn’t help but to laugh. “Alright. Fine, you win.”
“I always do.”
And yet he still couldn’t shake the feeling that something twisted was taking place a sea away on Sun Dragon Island.