The cell in which Ozai was kept was cold, dark, damp, and stank of mildew.
The state of Ozai's surroundings was a testament to how far the Phoenix King had fallen since the Avatar, a mere child, had defeated him and stolen his fire. The Fire Nation had fallen with him--no longer was it a proud conqueror of nations, its people holding their heads high with the knowledge of their land's innate superiority. Now the people of the Fire Nation hung their heads and grovelled like whipped animals, begging forgiveness for daring to try to bring unity and progress to the world...
It made Ozai sick.
But this was not the greatest crime perpetrated by the Avatar and his lackeys, lackeys which included his miserable failure of a son. They were not content merely to rob him of his life's work, refusing him the honor of death in combat and leaving him alive to waste away in a forgotten prison cell. Oh, no, they had stooped even lower.
They had destroyed his daughter.
Before he had children, he would never have thought that he would favor a secondborn daughter over a firstborn son, but Azula was easily worth ten of any ordinary male and a hundred of Zuko. She was perfection incarnate. She wielded the blue fire, hottest and most difficult to create, with an ease that spoke well of the legendary talent of her lineage. She tossed out lightning, the cold-blooded flame which could destroy the unskilled, with a casual air that made it clear that she was barely trying.
Ozai remembered learning how to use lightning. He had been forced to go through months of training before he had even been permitted to create a single spark: hours upon hours of dreary meditations, attempts to create a singlemindedness and clarity within himself that did not come easily to the passionate young prince.
Azula, on the other hand, had not even needed to be taught. He well remembered the day when Azula's nursemaid had entered his presence, so flustered as to have forgotten all proper protocol, and told him in panicked tones that his daughter had killed a turtleduck with lightning. He had not believed it at first, but later on, driven by curiosity, he called his daughter before him to demonstrate her skill in firebending. She had smiled, bowed, and proceeded to go through her training routine as usual. Ozai had decided to banish the foolish nursemaid when, at the very end, a confident smirk on her face, Azula had shot a perfect blue bolt of lighting straight up at the ceiling.
She had been seven at the time.
Then again, she always had been an unusually cool-headed child, never seen to descend into fits of passion and tantrums like her older brother. She was perfectly controlled in every way--a prodigy.
He had been presented with a perfect, flawless gem, and given the opportunity to cut it as he chose. And so he shaped his daughter to be a cold, ruthless, ambitious heir to the Fire Nation throne, for some part of him had always known that his son would fail.
Azula had been perfect, a paragon of Fire Nation nobility, and a most worthy scion of the royal family.
"L... Ozai," said a guard, looking nervous, still in fear of the now-nonexistant power of his deposed monarch. "You have a visitor."
She was dressed in a simple, unornamented white gown. Her golden eyes, once full of confidence, ambition, and unquenchable fire, were wide and uncertain.
"Daddy?" said Azula, a slight tremble in her voice.
What have they done to you? She had never, ever called him "Daddy" ever since she could speak properly. It was always a properly respectful "Father."
"They said I could visit you as soon as I was doing better, and I guess I'm doing better now, so I asked if I could come and they said I could so here I am," Azula babbled, her eyes on him, watching his face intently.
Ozai's face was unreadable, yet he felt as though an inferno burned in his chest.
He was filled with an unspeakable rage to see what had become of his favored daughter, and he was deeply sorrowful to see how those incompetent fools at the hospital had broken her. He did not trust himself to speak yet, and felt himself automatically changing his breathing patterns, performing an old Firebending exercise that had become reflex over the years.
In. Hold. Out.
In. Hold. Out.
He felt himself calming down.
"Azula," he said carefully. "It is... good to see you."
Her face broke into a radiant smile. "Oh, Daddy, I was so worried that you'd be angry at me after... after..." She bit her lip and looked away.
Ozai sighed. "I'm not angry with you, Azula."
"That's... that's good. I'm glad. I want you to be happy with me, Daddy!"
"I..." He certainly couldn't say he was happy with the way she was now. No longer was she an incredibly capable young woman--no, now she was acting like a small child, desperate for parental attention...
He blinked slowly.
A blank slate.
Clay to be molded.
A gemstone, needing the tools of a skilled jeweller to reach its full beauty and potential.
They had broken her with the intent of creating her in whatever way they chose. Ozai could not and would not allow it. It would be an insult to the royal lineage and an insult to Azula herself. No... Ozai would be the one to guide his daughter, just as he had always been. He would help her become what she had almost been, and what she was meant to be: ruler of the Fire Nation.
It would take time, but Ozai could wait.
Somewhere behind Azula's soft, pleading eyes lay a will of steel, sharp as a blade and just as deadly to all who stood in its way. He merely needed to bring it out again, and together they would drive out that usurper Zuko and all of those who followed him. Together they would steer the Fire Nation towards its inevitable destiny: domination over the entire world.
"It's almost time for your medication, Azula, so you need to say goodbye now," said the guard, shooting another uneasy glance at the former Fire Lord.
"Okay. Goodbye, Daddy," she said.
"Goodbye, Azula." He paused. "Do try to come back soon. I enjoyed this little visit."
"Okay, Daddy! I'll visit you as often as I can!" With a last, cheerful wave, Azula allowed the guard to lead her away.
As he watched them leave, Ozai did something he hadn't done for a long time:
Someday, perhaps very soon, the Phoenix King would rise again.