It's dark, and the corridors seem to stretch forever. You haunt them with a familiarity that is less shameful, and feels more like a remembrance. You've been here for too long, never moving, never traveling, always returning again and again until it feels like all you've ever done is stand before jailed doors and metal prisons away from the sun.
They chain her with her arms stretched apart, kneeling on the frigid stone and her head bowed. She hasn't looked at you since the first day, the first time you came to see what became of the other child you left behind. She hasn't spoken to you since she tore all of the demons that had plagued her, and threw them, spat them at you as if you were a phantom of the woman she used to know.
Sometimes you feel like one.
You should have loved her first. You should have loved her the most. She was the perfect princess, more suited for the role than you ever were. More suited than Zuko to inherit the nation, more suited than Ozai to lead it.
She was everything their country had taught them to be, everything that for one hundred years they were taught to cherish and prize, a prodigious learner and an even greater solider. She presented her achievements to you like glittering gold, her triumphs like flowers blooming brightly. She had been a child, showing off to make you proud.
But Zuko was easy to favor. He reminds you of when you were younger, struggling with what was expected of him and the person he truly was. He has kindness inside him-an honesty-and a heart that justified his failings. He saw the same things you did, the murderous greed of his nation, the sins of his forefathers, and the hungering drive to be something more. It had vindicated you, absolved you of all your sins.
It turned all of Azula's trophies to ash.
A clinking sound in the shadows stirs you. Azula peers at you through the darkness, her labored breaths steaming the air around her. Realizing who you are, she lets out a piteous moan, closing her eyes as she flexed her wiry arms against her bindings. Her naked skin is white and blue, stretched tight against her body in the constant chill of the cell. Her wasting muscles gives her a diminutive appearance and reminds you of when she was small and you held her in your arms for the first time.
"No." The strangled sound is more fitting of an animal than a human, never mind a girl. It comes from her dry lips with a withering gasp. "Not again."
You torture her with your presence, and you have no doubt that she would prefer the caress of hot needles and scourging lashes to your kiss. You're everything that she can't win, deceive, dissect, or earn. Everything she has spent her life running from. But you can be monstrous too, and she shudders when you press the flat of your hand to her cheek, smoothing aside her matted hair and lifting her face so that you can see the wild desperation in her eyes.
"You're not real." She pleads, begging, and sobbing. "You can't, you can't…" Her tears cut down her face, salty with the taste of blood and it ignites you when you should have felt shame.
"I'm sorry, my love." You say sincerely, trailing your fingers down her chin, your eyes as dark as your thoughts when she screams.
You should have loved them equally.
She has her father's eyes, his pride, his ruthlessness. She's alien to you, belonging to a world that you never fully understood. Her ability to read into the hearts and minds of people terrified you, when you should have known that all she saw in you was a mother. Her mother.
She believes you thought her a monster. You don't know how to tell her that the monster had been inside you all along.