It was a soothing sound. The water lapping against the stones.
Azula picked at a loaf of bread—contrary to popular belief, she'd stopped chucking whole loaves of bread at the turtle ducks when she was about ten. She flicked a chink into the water and watched as the turtleducks flocked to it.
6:00 was always Azul's favorite time of day. She found a sort of secret enjoyment in watching the day close. The colors were always so warm and vibrant.
She let herself fall back into the grass, dark hair fanning out around her. It wasn't too hot nor too cold. A sunset in July, at least around these parts, never were. She felt at peace…
Like she was back in her own backyard. Which was why she'd chosen to get her 'nature therapy' at precisely six. Though Azula much preferred to call it 'down time' or 'relaxation hour' both of which sound a lot less demeaning than some sort of therapy session.
The turtleducks began to squawk and swarm. "Look, I don't have any more bread." Azula stated matter-of-factly. "So you best just move on."
"Who are you talking to?" It was Shou, the nurse assigned to keep an eye on her.
"I was telling the turtle duck that I'm all out of bread." Azula answered.
The nurse made a face, one that told Azula she'd be in for another 'talk'. Frankly she was growing tired of every single thing—no matter how trivial—being regarded as either crazy or not normal.
"Look. I'm fine, see? No one's talking to me. Just those turtleducks, myself, and a lack of break." Azula motioned to emphasize her point.
"Look Prin…Azula. You know that we can't have you talking to…well, no one." Shou disregarded.
Azula sighed. Truth be told Azula hadn't talked to the voices in a long time. She'd stopped after a visit from Xin-Kua.
Dastardly being Xin was.
She hadn't seen or heard from her mother since Xin's first appearance either. Azula wasn't sure if she should be relieved or dreading a doom-to-come. With her luck how it's been, Azula long since decided to expect the later of the two.
She'd also long since declared—to herself at least—that she did not belong her. In the asylum. At first she had agreed that she'd lost her mind. But after Xin, she had her doubts. Something else, it had to be. She spent her first nights in the asylum clutching her hands over her ears, begging them to leave her alone…screaming at her brain to just—in a manner of speaking—turn itself off. Hating…loathing herself for being able to control everyone and everything but her on mind.
And then came Xin. His nails digging into her wrist. She cried out that night because the sting felt all too real. When Shou caught a glimpse of the nail marks running up and down her arm, she'd carted Azula right on down to Lu-Ming's office. Whereat she was promptly restrained to 'protect her from herself." Of course they ignored Azula when she tried to explain herself.
She refused to even talk to Lu-Ming, or anyone really, about Xin now. When he asked if she'd seen him around, Azula would promptly nod her head 'no'…all the while Xin would linger in the opposite corner (or sometimes a nearby mirror) and stare her down with those dead white-lacking eyes.
They were black.
A Hellish black.
His presence alone bought Azula an overwhelming sense of emotional agony. It took all her might not to just burst out into irrational tears in front of Lu-Ming.
"I think it's time to get inside." Shou had this way of making demands sound like suggestions. It made Azula shudder, the way that woman put ideas into her head—made her think an idealism was her own.
"I think I like it out here." Azula muttered, silently adding a 'where Xin can't get me'.
Outside by that pond, surrounded by an army of turtleducks was the only place she could stop thinking about this face. It horrified and haunted her. Those black eyes were terrifying on their own. But accompanied by the pulsing red veins spiderwebbing up is neck and on his temple had every fiber in her body on guard. And his mouth. That was a horror show on its own; on some nights (like on the first one she saw him) it'd look normal. But on others (full-moon nights in particular) it would develop these four slits. And these slits would open like an apple cut by an apple-slicer, leaving his three fat and forked tongues to jut out and wriggle around.
The first night Azula'd seen that display she had found herself retching in a corner. Shou was the one to consul her. That was the one time she let Shou help her.
And the last time.
No one could protect her from Xin now. No one could protect her from any of the spirits that refused to stay in their own world.