The walkway is dark, excepting a few flickering torches here and there. The doors to all the rooms are locked, the keys hidden from the patients in the security room. It is far past bedtime for these poor souls, and yet two figures walk down the hall. They are regal, bodies encased in flowing red silk from the finest silk-bugs. A crown sits upon the tallest's head, keeping his hair in place. The other has a headpiece not nearly so decorative. She is no longer Fire Lady Ursa; she is Fire Princess Ursa, mother of the current Fire Lord. She is perfectly happy in that.
Their strides are long and their steps are noiseless. The fire flares up brightly as Zuko passes in front of it, casting more light upon the corridor. There is one locked room at the end of the hall; this room is fire-proof. Inside the room rests the insane Princess Azula. The closer they get, the more Zuko's steps falter. They are in front of the door, keys jangling in his hands, when he stops to ask, "Are you sure, Mother?"
Ursa gazes upon him for a second, golden eyes warm like the best fire. Her head tilts and a corner of her mouth kicks up. She understands her son's worry. "She's my daughter," the Princess Ursa says. Her voice is soft, but it is sure. She nods to the door.
Zuko fishes out the correct key to Room 612. He had ordered his sister's room to be put on the highest level of the best asylum in all of the Fire Nation, the former for the safety of herself and others—she couldn't escape the room by its window if it was on the sixth floor, and her not escaping was in everyone's best interest—the latter for her own metal health. She may be insane, she may have tried to kill him and his closest friends, but she was still his baby sister. He's learned from Sokka that the older brother's job was to protect his little sister as best he could.
The key jingles in the lock, and the Fire Lord gives one last questioning look at his mother. She nods and the key turns, the door opening.
Azula is not asleep. Her back is to them; she faces the farthest corner of the room. Her hair is disheveled, the crown on her head hidden behind the tangles of her brown hair. The room smells stale, like old tears and broken minds. Zuko does not know why broken minds have a smell. The bed is nailed to the floor, and it does not look very comfortable; Ursa takes note to send for a better one. Everything is nailed to the floor. The dresser is nothing but a desk underneath a metal mirror, the kind with a distorted, silver reflection. She is not allowed to dress herself, and therefore not allowed to have clothes in her room. Other than the dresser, mirror, and bed, the room is bare. The walls are a clean, pristine white.
Azula does not turn to face them. She rocks back and forth, arms circling her knees, the only hug she'd gotten. Ursa calls her name. Azula does not turn. Instead she mutters something, over and over, her voice getting louder: "You are not here! You don't exist! Get out!" Ursa winces at the tone in her voice; Zuko is ready to restrain his sister if needed. Aang had done him the favor of restraining her bending to nothing more than a weak flicker of fire, simply enough for light if she should so choose. The Avatar had offered to take her bending entirely; the Fire Lord had refused. He would not do that to his sister, not when firebending was so big a part of her person; he would not take a part of her soul. Still, the restraints are enough, because the fire is simply for her to entertain herself; she cannot fight with it, it is too weak.
Ursa steps closer in the darkness of the room. Their only light was that of the moon, shining in through the barred window. "Azula," she says softly.
The insane princess answers with a loud sob. "Go away!" she shouts. Her hands are tugging at her hair, pulling at knots, yanking strands out entirely.
Ursa inwardly cries at the sight of her daughter in such mental and physical disarray. She should never have left. If she hasn't, perhaps this wouldn't have happened. Perhaps if she hadn't, Azula would be a perfectly healthy twenty-year-old woman, a perfectly healthy princess. Ursa chokes down a sob and walked to her daughter until she is close enough to kneel. She wraps her arms around Azula. She expects the girl to claw herself away. She doesn't. She stays perfectly still in her mother's arms. "Why did you leave?" Azula sobs. She suddenly feels cold. Her voice is harsh. "Why did you leave me, Mother?!" she cried out. Her voice brakes. Ursa and Zuko feel something brake inside themselves. "Wasn't I good enough?!" She is shouting now and her golden eyes are starting to shed tears. They come out alone, in the beginning, then progress to streams of water, then rivers. Her face is contorted in anger—sadness—betrayal; it is impossible to tell which. The princess turns into her mother's embrace, sobbing loudly. Although, they aren't sobs—they're screams, shouts of pure and utter agony. Azula can't breathe, she gasps for precious oxygen. She throws herself into her mother's, clutching the silk as if it were her lifeline.
Ursa is crying now too. Silent tears of self-blame. She holds Azula, smoothing over her chocolate hair.
"Why wasn't I good enough for you, Mother?!" Azula begs to know. Her voice is broken, her words interrupted by sobs. Her fists clench the red silk of her mother's dress tightly. "Why…" she sobs, "wasn't"—she gasps—"I good enough!?"
Ursa is silent. She's afraid that if she starts speaking, she'll start sobbing too. And she needs to be strong, for her baby girl. She doesn't say a word, she just pats Azula's head, smoothing her hair, holding her close. Ursa's cheeks are wet. She wonders if she'll ever let go of her daughter, her baby girl who needs her so much right now. They sit together in each other's arms for a while; Ursa doesn't think she's ever held someone as tightly as she's holding Azula.
It is an even longer while before Zuko walks to them—silent, tall, strong—and kneels on the other side of his sister. He pulls them both into his long arms, holding his mother and sister to his chest, and a silent tear races out of his good eye.
Azula is shouting. "Zuzu!" she cries, and the weight of his arm brings about comfort and a sense of reality she hasn't had in a long time. The weight of his arm around her separates hallucination from reality—the world in which she is the right-hand woman of the Phoenix King from the world in which she is a disgraced, insane princess. There are wordless sobs from her until she formulates a correct sentence. "Why weren't we good enough, Mother?!"
Ursa manages to say two words before braking down herself: "I'm sorry."
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