He is a lost cause, Zuko’s council whispers.
Zuko fears that they may be right.
A month later, Azula still has not spoken. She sits on her knees, hands flat on her thighs, and stares. She eats when commanded, not prompted, but commanded. She takes care of the minimal bodily functions.
Her eyes are empty. And Zuko feels half-crazy himself for missing the times she was trying to kill him. At least then she had vitality. She had purpose.
Now she was lost to whatever madness had taken her mind.
Katara’s healing was of no use. Zuko had spent weeks persuading her to try.
“She doesn’t want to be healed,” Katara had said, pity in her voice and consolation in her eyes. “I can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be saved.”
Sokka couldn’t understand why Zuko cared enough to try.
“She tried to kill me! And Aang. And Katara. And everyone! But especially you!”
“She’s still my sister,” Zuko said, thinking of Azula crouched in the dungeon, hair a stringy, greasy curtain around her face. Jagged where she’d cut it in a fit of pique. There was a smudge of dirt on her chin. Grime under her fingernails. Stains on her robe. Dark circles beneath her eyes.
Once upon a time, Azula would not have stood for such disarray. Now, she stared glassy-eyed at a reality that did not exist. And she was a danger to no one but herself.
Zuko spent long hours pacing the halls of the palace. Her expression, or lack thereof, kept him awake. Not even Mai or Ty Lee could get her to stir.
She was losing weight, her cheeks gaunt, her wrists thin and delicate like a bird’s. If this were a trick, it was the best Zuko had ever seen. He believed it.
“Do what you have to do,” Aang advised. “She is still your sister.”
“Just don’t trust her further than you can throw her,” Toph added with a punch to his shoulder. “We don’t want a repeat.”
It was early one morning that Zuko’s course became clear. He sent for the guard and issued his orders. He let none dissuade him.
Lord Ozai might be beyond saving but Azula still had a chance. She couldn’t find herself in the dungeon.
Zuko would bring her back into the palace, under heavy guard, and oversee her treatment himself. He would try to find the a single kernel of kindness in her heart. He would give her a chance.
She was still his sister. And it was time Zuko started treating her as such. He owed her as much.