Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender, its concepts, or its characters. No money is being made out of this.
A/N: This is sort of fucked up. It isn't meant to be seen as Zucest, although of course you're free to interpret it however you wish. Also, Azula is a very unreliable narrator, if that's not obvious enough. The way she feels about people and situations isn't necessarily what I believe the truth to be. Just to be clear.
Lyrics (and title) are from Angus & Julia Stone's "Draw Your Swords".
so come on love, draw your swords
shoot me to the ground
you are mine, I am yours
let's not fuck around
"But why don't we play together, Azula, the three of us? We can go to the garden-"
"No! I said just you! Zuko can't come!"
"Whyever not, sweetheart? You can get your dollies, we can have fun…"
"No! I don't want to play with my dollies and I don't want to play with him! He always has to come! But he can't, I don't want him here!"
Azula's throat hurts with frustration. She glances at her brother, who is half-hiding behind her mother as the woman sighs. Azula knows that sigh; it's impatient, impotent. She has heard it many times directed at her, but her mother never sighs like that because of Zuko.
"Darling, we can't just leave Zuko here, playing by himself. Would you like it if he did that to you?"
"You always do things with just him! You always read to him, and do puzzles with him and help him write. You never do anything with me! You don't even like me!"
Azula only sees the shock in her mother's eyes before she turns around and runs.
Later, in her room, her mother comes in with sweet words and kisses and reassurances. But at night she hears her mother's voice in her brother's room through the door, reading him a story Azula has had to read to herself.
Father is a shadow in Azula's life, permanently bored or displeased whenever she does see his face.
Until she bends fire, and her fire is blue.
She was supposed to be unable to bend, like her mother; he tells her this, and tells her she never had any importance aside from being able to make an advantageous match, if necessary. But she deviated, sprung free from her mother and became a different thing.
Ozai looks at her differently now. Like she's really there. She sees the way he looks at Zuko in comparison, and the pleasure that blooms in her chest is as foreign as it is welcome.
Bending fire becomes Azula's obsession. It takes up most of her days and part of her nights, but not because she needs the practice. It comes as easily to her as breathing, and feels a thousand times better. She feels the heat flow through her body before he fire appears; she feels it coursing through her veins like she is made of it. Every second that she is not bending feels like a waste of time, like some kind of senseless abstinence, and it takes her years to master the ability of not bending. Soon the blue fire becomes who she is, and she is her father's only pride.
Azula holds his cold approval close to her chest to try and warm it up, but she can't. The blue fire is the hottest, but it's not hot enough for that. She takes what she can get anyway.
When Zuko makes a fool of himself in front of her grandfather, trying to outdo her in the only thing that's hers, the pleasure Azula feels at his humiliation is soon dwarfed by the stab of jealousy at the way he is comforted by her mother. It doesn't matter if you're good at this or not, she tells him, because I love you no matter what.
The look Ozai shoots them is disgusted, and the one he shoots her is proud. But his smiles are not like her mother's smiles, and it leaves her cold with insecurity.
She pushes the feeling back. She will always have her blue fire, and so he will never take away his smile.
In the Academy, Azula is finally able to stretch into her life without bumping into her brother.
Once again, her blue fire buys her attention, and nobody ever even utters his name. There, her abilities and title matter; she is second to none. Sometimes, she even feels like she could be an only child, treasured and loved as such.
But then she catches herself making space for the non-presence of her brother, feeling the weight of it as if he were lying on a bed next to her, physically impeding her expansion. She realizes she doesn't know how to guide herself without it, and she hates herself for it.
At home, the company of her friends helps maintain shreds of her uniqueness. Ty Lee and Mai do whatever she wants and always follow her lead, like she has a lead to be followed. She convinces herself that she does. Their company is a poor substitute for what she should have – and what she knows her brother has – but Azula takes it. They are hers alone. With them, she feels like she might own the world a little.
Her mother no longer tries to push her brother into her space again, and Azula knows it's because Zuko doesn't want her company. Her mother listens to him, after all. But Azula knows what the right words are, now; she knows what her mother wants to hear and believe, so she says them, and the only scrap of meaning behind her words is a painful throb in the back of her throat – spite, anger. Her mother doesn't know her at all.
"I don't care; I don't want to play with you!" he says. Mother was right back then; it does sting a little. But right now, her mother's face is hopeful and Azula knows she has won.
"Darling, I think it's a good idea to play with your sister. Go on, now, just for a little while."
Azula has noticed the way Mai's cheeks blush at the sight of her brother, and it makes something burn inside her. When they play, she shoots fire at the girl's head, makes her brother run to the rescue. When they fall together in the fountain, it feels as if Azula was the one to physically smash them together, hoping their embarrassment hurts them enough. Even when her brother storms off and Mai is quiet for the rest of the day, Azula decides that it has not.
Uncle is a mystery to Azula, a presence she never sees enough to know well. He is a General and Azula knows what that means; she spends obsessive afternoons in the palace library reading about the war and what it means to be in it. She knows her brother has never touched even one of those scrolls, and it gives her a private satisfaction to be secretly ahead, to know that when he realizes how much he has to catch up on, it will be too late. Father constantly quizzes her on her reading and tells her she is doing well as long as she gets all the answers right. She does.
Her father doesn't like Uncle, and it takes her a few years to understand why. When she does, everything falls into place and she thinks that, for a second, she knows the man standing in front of her.
Your uncle is lazy, he tells her. He has never had to work for anything in his life; everything has always fallen into his lap. He is already an old man, too old, obsessed with drinking tea and delusional about that idiot son of his.
Azula listens. She knows what he wants – the crown on Grandfather's head – and she wants it with him, because it means she would become more important. Even her mother wouldn't be able to ignore her then. And her brother, who would become crown prince, would owe her everything.
Still, her reading tells her that Uncle is a great General. Uncle likes her brother, she knows. It's because he's a boy, she hears from her maid, and you're a girl. General Iroh has a son, so Prince Zuko probably reminds him of him. Girls are never of much consequence to their fathers or uncles. You shouldn't worry about that.
Azula tries not to. After all, Uncle doesn't know her either, and it's better to be underestimated than overestimated. But when he sends them presents from Ba Sing Se and her brother gets a dagger while she gets a doll, Azula realizes just how much of a stranger she is to him. She feels the familiar burn of dismissal inside her chest.
Only Father knows who she is, who she has tried to become for him. To everyone else, she is a complete stranger, and the touch of fear she reads in her mother and brother's eyes as she charrs the doll to a crisp causes her a painful sort of pleasure that spreads through her chest like blood.
One night, her mother disappears. Azula doesn't quite understand why, but she knows it has to do with Zuko and what Grandfather wanted Father to do to him. She has terrorized him about it after she overheard Grandfather order it done, but she hasn't heard anything about her mother having to go, and suddenly there is no Mother and her brother is fine and Grandfather is dead.
The next few days are a blur, but Azula grows steadily more confident with the new environment. The tides are turning. Ozai becomes Fire Lord, which Azula knows was extremely unlikely even a week before, and she feels like the favored child for the first time in her life. Until Uncle comes back, her brother has no one, and it fills her with a toxic sort of glee.
He continues to not want her company, but she has gotten over that. She throws herself into her Firebending and into her studies, and her prowess only dwarfs her brother further in Father's eyes. She watches her brother as he watches her bending, and knows the jealousy in his eyes as they reflect her blue fire. Uncle trains him, but he is never as good as her, no matter how much he practices.
He tries to be like Father. Now that Mother is gone, Azula watches him try to become what he thinks Father wants of him, but he is hopeless. Only Azula can do that. His manners become unpleasant; he develops an air of arrogance about things Azula doesn't believe warrant it, such as his bending. But he is still the crown prince, she reminds herself sometimes, and perhaps that is reason enough. Secretly, she hopes Father will make her his heir instead, but she doesn't dare admit it out loud, even to herself. Girls are never of much consequence to their fathers. Azula trains harder every day.
Her hopes seem to pay off one hot afternoon, before the eyes of Father's entire court. She watches the fire hit her brother's face and the burning pleasure makes itself known in her chest again. Her heart beats frenetically, and she is taken over by a feeling she can't identify or place. She feels Uncle run toward her brother, fallen in the middle of the arena, and brings her fingers up to her own perfect face. She is whole now, but only because her brother no longer is.
It feels unsettling and foreign, being an only child.
Azula never fully admits it to herself, but lets a stale discontentment take up residence in her chest. What little time her father used to have for her is gone, and she spends her days training and studying as if for an exam she has already passed. She tells herself that her brother (and Uncle) is no longer a threat to her worth in the eyes of others, and she's almost convincing. The Avatar is a non-issue and her brother is a fool if he still holds out hope to come back as a hero. Besides, in the meantime she has asserted her power and worth to Father many times, and he knows she is the superior child by far.
Azula is sure of it.
For years, she keeps herself pointed like a sharp knife, ready to strike an enemy made of shadow and smoke. She turns around, sure she will find her brother trailing after her like a lonely ghost, but she is always alone. When she bends, her fire shoots out like it is being chased, like it is desperate to remain ahead of something. The insecurity she has long since denied existing still pokes the back of her throat, shaping her every action.
With the failed Siege of the North, comes the opportunity she didn't know she had been waiting for.
Father gives her explicit orders to imprison her brother and Uncle in the Fire Nation. She sees them three times after that. The first time, three years since his banishment, she is appalled at how much smaller her brother is, how much he seems to let her presence dwarf him. A part of her is disappointed, but she doesn't fully acknowledge it.
The second time, he is all skin and bones and protectiveness, smaller than last time but a hundred times fiercer. She strikes Uncle and runs, welcoming the familiar burning pleasure of breaking her brother's favorite things.
The third and final time, he is a new person all over, his hair longer and his bending rusty. He acts like a butterfly born out of an ugly thing, and Azula resents him for it, because that would mean that she is a part of the ugly thing he left behind. She doesn't want him to leave her behind.
So she makes him her best offer. She gives him the Avatar; she does for him what he could never do himself, and he takes it, and they go home together.
A few days later, she discovers the Avatar is alive, and the snare closes around him like a flower. He can't leave her, now.
Her brother is there, but he keeps getting away from her. It feels as if she was grabbing his chin, making him look at her, but his eyes kept looking elsewhere. He doesn't seem to know what he wants, but Azula knows, and she knows she can't let it happen.
She gives him Mai. She pushes them on top of each other like she did all those years ago, but this time they stay like that. Mai is ecstatic, and her brother certainly doesn't seem as wound up anymore. But he still sits by the pond and broods, so Azula has no choice but to play the Avatar card. He is duly terrified and she is duly satisfied about that, although his broodiness doesn't abate.
It comes to an urgent peak during their forced vacation at the beach. Azula is their natural ringleader, even with her brother there, and she's comfortable with the part. But he insists on being unhappy and their castle crumbles like the sand beneath their feet. She finds him in the old house, where the root of all their troubles are.
"So much has changed," he says. She doesn't want to agree.
By the fire, he confesses his confusion, and Azula is torn between desperation and that burning pleasure at his suffering. She wants to comfort him, be what he needs, but the instinct escapes her like a slippery fish. She doesn't know how to. Instead, she ridicules him, and when he accuses her of being perfect, with the venom of a dozen years in his voice, Azula can't help but feel somewhat pleased at what he thinks of her. She mentions her mother, says she knows the woman preferred her brother; she wears it like armor, so they all may know it doesn't affect her. It does, and they know it.
By the time the eclipse comes, her brother has been quiet for some time and Azula has started to think he may stay, after all. When the light returns, he is gone.
Azula gives chase. She finds him sleeping on the cold ground with the Avatar and his friends as if he were one of them, and chokes back indignant laughter. He runs forward to face her alone; he's protecting them, she realizes, and he is no longer afraid for himself. He is free.
Their explosive encounter sends them flying, and Azula is left to her own devices even with an airship and dozens of soldiers behind her. Her brother is caught in someone's arms and flies away on the Avatar's sky bison. She can't tell if her brother's last look is one of frustration or relief, but she smirks and rubs her survival in his face. Unlike him, she has always had to rely on herself and thus she doesn't need anyone else.
She has Mai to thank for finding him next, breaking out prisoners from the Boiling Rock with the Water Tribe boy. It boils her blood that he is so loyal to them now, so devoted not only to their cause but to their personal well-being, as if he is willing to do anything for their acceptance when he has thrown hers away like it means nothing.
Then, in a mad second, it becomes clear to her what the solution is. If she can't have him, they can't have him either.
So she orders the guards to cut the cord of his cable car and drop it into the boiling water below. She will probably hear him scream, she realizes as she and Ty Lee jump to safety. She will probably watch his skin melt off his flesh, and perhaps smell his flesh get cooked. She will have to think of a way to retrieve his bones, later, she thinks wildly. She will have to get them back somehow.
But the guard is shoved off, and she has Mai to thank for that as well. Azula is livid, but mostly at herself, because she has always felt the instability of her control over the two girls and has always forced herself to ignore it. Now, even Mai has chosen Zuko, and Ty Lee has chosen Mai. Falling to the floor, limbs temporarily numb, Azula lets the acid burn of betrayal flood her insides and feels a suspicious tingling behind her eyes, one she hasn't felt in years.
She hates them, all of them – the Avatar and his friends, Uncle, Mai, Ty Lee, Father, Mother, Zuko – but most of all, she hates herself.
Azula is Fire Lord now. Well, technically she hasn't been crowned yet, she reminds herself as she wanders down an empty Palace hall, but she will be. That much is certain. She will be Fire Lord. She's sure it won't mean a thing now that Father is king of the world, but still. She will be Fire Lord. It doesn't quite fit, the way it's happening; she was supposed to inherit it after Father's death, and it was supposed to be relevant to the rest of the world, and she wasn't supposed to be quite so alone when it happened. But still. She will be Fire Lord. The words keep repeating themselves in her head, like she is trying to grasp their meaning but gets distracted. Her train of thought is all over the place and it annoys her.
She wanders into her room and sees herself in the mirror; it occurs to her that she needs to be dressed and her hair needs to be in a proper topknot for the coronation. Glancing around, Azula remembers she has banished all of her maids, but she doesn't need them – she's never needed them. She can do everything herself; it will probably look better, anyway.
But it looks off. No matter how many times she redoes it, her hair looks like it's been played with by a child, and the failure ignites a burst of anger in her chest. The tenth time she does it, she decides it's enough. She picks up a pair of scissors.
"Alright, hair! It's time to face your doom!" Bits of shiny black hair glide down toward her toes. When she looks back up, her mother is standing behind her.
"What a shame. You always had such beautiful hair."
"What are you doing here?" Her mother's presence is unexpected, although her disappointment is not.
"I didn't want to miss my own daughter's coronation." Mother's face is benign enough, but in her voice Azula senses an edge of something like irony, ridicule, and it makes her insides burn with shame.
"Don't pretend to act proud!" she snaps. It infuriates her that Mother could pretend that everything is fine, that she has been remotely decent at parenting. "I know what you really think of me. You think I'm a monster."
"I think you're confused," Ursa says, eyes full of pity. "All your life you've used fear to control people. Like your friends Mai and Ty Lee." Azula's face contorts in pain. How dare she mention them? Who the fuck is she to judge Azula for doing what she needed to in order to not be alone?
She whirls around to face her mother. "What choice do I have?" she demands, sounding more hysterical than she intended. "Trust is for fools," she adds, controlling her voice. "Fear is the only reliable way." She pauses, looks her mother straight in the eyes. "Even you fear me."
Mother is unfazed, although she looks slightly sadder. "No. I love you, Azula. I do."
The words send a wave of anger and pain so incontrollable Azula thinks she might burn her mother alive right then and there. Instead, she grabs a hair brush and throws it at the mirror, shattering her mother's image. She crouches, sobbing, and allows herself a few minutes to compose herself; by the time she stands, Mother is gone.
She glances at her reflection on what's left of the mirror. Wiping her eyes with her hands, she decides the Fire Lord gets to determine what is good enough, so her hair stays the way it is. She puts on the armor some servant has left ready for her and walks out.
The sky is red, as if the sun were setting from every direction, but it is only noon. The courtyard is completely empty save for herself and the Fire Sages. It doesn't feel like a real coronation, says a tiny voice in her brain. But she reminds herself that it is, even if it doesn't seem that way. That's all that matters.
Heads bowed, none of the Sages says absolutely anything beyond what the ceremony requires. Then, as the head Sage is about to lower the crown on her kneeling form, he falls silent. In a surge of impatience, she snaps at him to continue, but an ominous rumble in the sky finally calls her attention. For a split second, she wonders what the hell the Avatar is doing here, wanting to fight her, when her father is off burning down half the Earth Kingdom. But the beast lands and it is not the Avatar that jumps off of it.
"Sorry, but you're not going to become Fire Lord, today. I am," are her brother's bold words.
Azula glances up and notices there is someone with him – the Water Tribe girl. It makes something inside her burn, but she's not sure exactly why. To her horror, Azula wants to cry. So she laughs at him instead. "You're hilarious," she says.
The girl has gotten down from the beast as well and is standing beside her brother. "And you're going down."
For a moment, Azula is at a loss about what to do. The girl's insolence is irritating enough; her cheesy, misguided belief that she is fighting for the good of the world already makes Azula want to smite her on the spot; but the fact that the dirty peasant is standing beside her brother, that she means to fight Azula with him, that she has come to protect him, that she thinks he belongs on her side and that they are loyal to each other, like friends, like family…
The solution occurs to her as the Fire Sage is lowering the crown again; she stops him. Standing, she looks her brother in the eyes. "You want to be Fire Lord? Fine. Let's settle this, just you and me, brother. The showdown that was always meant to be. Agni Kai!"
He says yes.
She can't remember anymore if she wanted him to say yes or no, because the fact that he accepted her challenge doesn't make her feel any better. In fact, Azula has noticed the peasant girl's reaction and it became clear to her in that moment that he said yes to protect the girl from Azula at least as much as he did it to exclude the girl from a fight that was never hers to begin with. Azula wants him to want to fight her, too, she realizes. She wants him to feel the same bittersweet agony, the same shapeless yearning in her presence as she feels in his, but he doesn't. He just wants to get it over with so he can be rid of her forever.
It will be over quickly, she vows to herself as she takes her place on the arena's opposite side to his. Just not with the outcome he hopes for. His bending could never remotely compare to hers, and with the comet he doesn't stand a chance. When she turns around to face him, the peasant is nowhere in sight. It is a small relief to see no one on his side of the arena either; almost as if he, like her, came alone.
When the duel starts in earnest, she realizes she has underestimated the effect of the comet on him. He is a Firebender, after all; it was bound to affect him as well, no matter how feeble his talents. But there is something else, too. He is only blocking her attacks, barely moving from his spot, while she circles and charges. In the old days, even producing as much fire as he is now would leave him panting and make his moves increasingly erratic; now, he looks completely calm, his face neutral except for the occasional crease of concentration on his forehead. He's changed, somehow, and her chest hurts worse at the realization. As usual, being around him feels like rubbing salt on an invisible wound. Azula channels that into her attacks.
After a few minutes, she already feels exhausted; she knows she is putting too much emotional load into her attacks, but she feels like the control over that is completely out of her reach, as if the intention is to keep the lid on her fire in between attacks rather than to actually produce them. But as the fire comes out of her, it isn't the effortless release she's used to; instead, it's as if the fire incinerates whatever is on its path, leaving more of a shell of her with each move. Meanwhile, Zuko is producing stream after powerful stream of orange fire, all as big as hers and more accurate because of his detachment.
The arena feels like an inferno around them. She doesn't care one bit about setting fire to the buildings around them (they're empty, anyway – not that she would give a shit if they weren't), and with the comet she could barely control it even if she did. She guesses it is mostly her fire that's doing the damage, but once the fire catches on something it turns orange, so she can't really tell. The fire keeps coming out of her mouth, hands and feet, almost without her consent, and she uses it to propel her toward her opponent like a missile. He creates a circle of fire that expands toward her; the impact is more than she expected and she is brutally thrown backward. Her body feels completely drained, but she forces her muscles to work and immediately gets up to face him. She slumps forward like a rag doll, but it's good enough. She can hear her own involuntary grunts as if they came from someone else.
"No lightning today?" he taunts her, although his face is serious. "What's the matter? Afraid I'll redirect it?"
She notices the peasant show up behind him as he speaks. His words infuse her with renewed anger, burning so white-hot that it might as well be pure hate; being reminded of the girl's presence brings that to an almost unbearable point, and she wants to hurt, hurt, hurt him – kill him as long as he suffers during it and brings down with him this disgusting girl he cares more for than for Azula.
"I'll show you lightning," she growls, and produces the right motion but in the widest possible way, bringing the opposite sides of her chi so far apart that the spark of electricity between her arms is the largest she has ever produced. The power running through her is so intense Azula can barely see straight, but one instant is enough to focus on what's in front of her, and the most obvious idea in the world occurs to her.
At the last possible second, she points her arms toward the Waterbender. She can almost see the girl writhing on the ground as the electricity courses through all of that water – ironic, fitting – and then her brother screaming – but then she realizes her brother is screaming, and the lightning never made it to the girl. Instead, Zuko is the one writhing and groaning on the ground as the peasant runs toward him, hands glowing blue. Azula feels something bubbling up inside her, and it comes out as maniacal spurts of laughter that she has no more control over than her fire. She can't believe she has managed to strike Zuko; the thought fills her with an acute sense of fullness, of accomplishment – as if she gets to claim him again now, like his defiance has been burned out of him.
She can't let the Waterbender come near him again, she decides with a growing sense of urgency. She has to squash her. She punches out gigantic streams of blue fire and lightning that the girl continually dodges, although with some difficulty, and Azula chases after her even when though it draws her away from her brother. When the girl stops running and faces her instead, Azula takes it as an opportunity to shove a fistful of lightning up the girl's nose; moments before she can produce it, she is encased in ice. Then, she is in chains.
Victorious, the peasant runs towards Zuko and Azula can't tell what's happening from where she is, but soon her brother sits up and they are talking. The peasant sounds weepy.
It takes Azula several moments to take in her situation. There is a strange peace in that interval, as if everything around her is suspended: the sounds muted, the colors dulled, and the erratic beating of her heart a fraction calmer. Something inside her wants to yield, wants to lie down and die; or if she can't die, she wants to live only in complete passivity, letting the world happen to her and take her wherever it may, like the waves on Ember Island did when she was little and used to play at trying to stay underwater as long as she could. Long, long before she is ready, the moment ends and she can hear her blood rushing inside her ears, and the fire rushing through her veins and out of her. She can't move her arms or legs, so it comes out of her mouth in blood-curling screams that turn into desperate sobs, like a child's. The salty tears burn on her face like they themselves are made of fire.
Her brother wobbles over, leaning heavily on the peasant; in their eyes there are similar looks of pity – his with a touch of sadness, hers with a touch of sympathy as she glances at him.
She never expects to see him again, realistically. From what she gathers, after the comet passed she blacked out and was brought to the psychiatric ward of the Capital City prison, to be cared for by terrified guards and at least two healers – who never seem to do anything except observe her. The terror is amusing; the observation is unnerving. But Azula hasn't bent fire at them or even said barely a word in their presence. The day she calmly asks for more cloth to contain her monthly bleeding, she can literally see the blood drain out of the guard's face as he removes himself from the vicinity of her cell as quickly as he can. But he does as she says.
She hears that Zuko is Fire Lord now. She is also surprised to hear that Father is not dead, but held in a cell in this same prison. How he got there and Zuko got on the throne instead is a complete mystery to her. It feels like everything she knew to be true in her life has turned upside down, but the thought of finding out what happened and how to fix it sounds exhausting. So she lies on the bed, and when she's feeling like it she looks out the stone-barred window, thinking she might see a tiny speck of black and red she fancies is her brother, and the thought gives her a comfort that comes from Agni knows where. At least he is out there, at least he is within her sight, at least he is home and hasn't left. After everything – and Azula doesn't know if it's madness or sanity that makes her see her actions on the day of the comet as a little out of balance – she didn't expect him to ever want to see her face again. Neither he nor the peasant had the guts to kill her (and apparently the Avatar didn't have the guts to kill her father either, so maybe Zuko does belong in their group after all), so the thought of rotting away in a cell seems like the logical second option. She tries not to let it affect her but it does – but she tries, and trying feels right.
Then, one day, he shows up. He doesn't say anything at first, just stares at her through the bars beyond the solid stone door, which the guards have opened with the same trepidation as if she were a wild animal, whose reaction no one can predict. (Perhaps she is.) Zuko stares at her, and she stares back, and then he says he hopes they are treating her well because those were his orders, and that the doctors are working on a way to make her better. Then he stands awkwardly for another minute, then he leaves.
When he keeps coming back, even though she's mostly unresponsive, a familiar burning blooms in her chest once again. She catches herself thinking that Zuko has always been a wimp so it could be – it could be – that he's coming to see her for no other reason than to see her, because she has nothing else to offer anyway. Immediately afterward, she catches herself wanting to hurt him worse than ever for it. But he keeps coming back, even when she snaps and sneers at him, and he says (with some frustration, she is glad to notice) she's finally going back to normal. Even when she lies on the bed with her back to him and barely acknowledges his presence. Even when she sits facing the bars and stares him straight in the eyes the whole time, making him squirm and scowl. Every few days, he comes back.
Azula knows the sound of his steps on the hard stone floor. Day after day, she lies on the bed and listens for it.