Summary: Prompts 7, 2, 29, 39, 15, 47, 32, 41, 37, 22
A/N: Also following the same sequence. You might be able to tell that these are a bit different - quite a few of them are in Ozai's POV. Other than that... this is the last set. I hope you enjoy.
A messenger hawk comes from the Fire Nation Royal Palace every week.
Ursa reads each letter from the Fire Lord with a bitter aftertaste in her mouth. The letters are horribly formal (not that she expects much from the man who essentially had her banished). I trust you are well, rather than how are you? You have my eternal gratitude, instead of a simple thank you.
She throws each letter into the fire after she finishes reading, and cannot help but think how those letters and her own life share the same fate.
He tells himself that her banishment was actually a blessing in disguise. He remembers the early stages of their relationship, when she had been reluctant to marry him. In the end, she only agreed to his proposal to save her father's job. She had always been the roaming, exploring type, and she did not like to be tied down.
Now she could wander free as a peasant in the Earth Kingdom without worrying about manners or protocol. It was exactly the life she wanted.
And this was exactly the life he wanted. He was now the Fire Lord, the most powerful man in the world. This was all he needed. There was nothing else missing.
Yet his eyes always linger far too long on the turtleduck pond whenever he passes by.
Zuko's eyes narrow as he kneels to Ozai's level. "Where is my mother?"
Ozai will never answer. For all his life he has been Prince Ozai, Fire Lord Ozai, Phoenix King Ozai, only to have all of those titles and all of his belongings stripped from him, and if her location is the only thing that belongs to him now, he will take it to his grave.
She waits with bated breath as the scarred stranger steps closer and closer. He is eerily familiar, but Ursa dares not hope. So many times she has caught sight of someone who looks like him from afar, only to meet him up close and face great disappointment.
When the boy stops in front of her, she takes the time to examine the marred side of his face, and despite it, she feels an intimate connection with him. He is exactly how she imagined he would look. Handsome, confident, strong. A gentle gleam in his eyes.
He stoops down, nearly a head taller than her, and pulls her in to him. She returns his embrace.
And she nearly breaks down. Because these arms, this hug tells her that she's found him. The same arms that were once so small, the same arms that could not fully encircle her, the same arms that she left behind so many years ago, are around her once more.
And it only takes a single word from his sob-filled voice to release the tears from her eyes. "Mom."
She is just as beautiful as he remembers her. He watches as she approaches him with a solemn expression, pity in her eyes, and she kneels down just outside of his cell. Already he knows what she is thinking. What's happened to you? Whatever happened to my husband?
There is silver threaded through her hair and her eyes are world-worn and tired, and there is wisdom and understanding on her kind face.
There is also sadness.
And how he wishes he could freeze this moment in time and keep it in his memory forever.
Every day, she sits outside his cell, just outside his reach if he were to extend his arms between the bars. He cannot touch her and she knows it and it drives him mad. She says not a word and merely looks at him with that sad, sympathetic look in her eyes.
So many years have gone by without hearing her voice. He speaks to her in the only way he knows. "Have your years in exile made you mute?"
Her fiery attitude is long gone, and while he knows she would have been riled up at that comment when they were teenagers, she remains quiet now, maddeningly silent.
Each day he makes some sort of verbal jest at her, some violent, some less so. And each day, she says nothing. Eventually he gives up trying to anger her into speech, and he also gives up on trying to reach for her. Each day he sits against the dank, dark stone wall of his cell and watches her just as she watches him.
Until one day, just after the guard has brought him his food and he is in the middle of his meal, when she sits much closer to the cell than usual, and wraps her fingers around the bars. He ceases chewing.
"My husband," she whispers helplessly.
He closes his eyes at the sensation of her fingers running through his tangled hair. Her hands are gentle, just as he remembers them. He dares not move; the moment might be ruined if he so much as crosses his arms. Instead he opens his eyes again to stare up at his wife, who smiles down at him.
The smile she reserves only for him.
And suddenly they are not in his cell anymore; they are the young married couple of the past. They are not lying underneath a dimly lit prison ceiling, they are lying underneath a giant blossoming tree. He is not feasting on a stale loaf, he is sharing her favorite banana ash bread.
Her fingers trail from his temple to his jaw, and he catches her hand and presses a kiss to her palm. "My love," he says, surprised at how easily the endearment rolls off his tongue.
The guards exchange wary glances and look back at their former Fire Lord, who lies in his cell alone.
"Father is... not well."
Ursa's nod is barely perceptible. She has only visited his cell once, and the sight was too pathetic for her to continue seeing him. He was once so fearless and arrogant, but now she can't even recognize him.
In the past she wished for him to be more humble. Somehow she has gotten what she wished for... at the price of his soul. He looked like a hollow shell of himself when she saw him.
She closes her eyes. It shouldn't have ended like this.
He ignores his son when he comes in to announce that Ursa has left the Fire Nation and will be returning to the Earth Kingdom. He knows his wife, and he knows that she does not lie. She promised to renew her marriage vows with him after his release, and despite Zuko's words, Ozai waits every day, hoping that those footsteps outside the door are small and slight - they never are.
Every day, he waits, and every day, she doesn't return.
She gazes upon the towering pillar of flames with an odd mixture of feelings. Nostalgia, sadness, relief, regret. Her eyes are misty as she feels someone take her hand, and she looks to her side at her son, who hasn't taken his eyes from the fire. She notices that he blinks several times, his mouth drawn in a taut line. She understands how difficult it must be. The Fire Lord must stay strong in front of his people.
The crowd is silent, some weeping, most others keeping dry eyes and solemn expressions.
The flames dance higher and higher, and finally it is the smell that gets to her and she fists her free hand in her white robes and lets the tears roll down her cheeks, and the deluge of emotions flows free.
This is it.
Because no matter how much he has hurt her over the years, she always comes right back to him.