Summary: One-shot – He can see so much of himself in Zuko, and maybe that's why it's so easy to hate him.
Disclaimer: I do not own any characters featured in this story. They all belong to Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.
Once upon a time, Ozai had loved his son dearly.
On a night so black you couldn't see the stars or the moon no matter how hard you looked, he had held his newborn son in his arms and felt his heart overflow with love.
"He has my eyes," he told the exhausted but glowing Ursa.
His wife nodded and gave him one of her gentle smiles that had made him choose her for his wife. "He does, my husband."
Most people would have found such an observation foolish and rather obvious—all Firebenders had the same eye color, after all—but Ozai was more observant than the average man, and he knew his eyes when he saw them. His eyes were paler shade of gold than the usual deep amber that everyone else seemed to wear.
His eyes were special and his son now shared that unique trait.
And it just made Ozai love him even more.
Ozai names his son Zuko and watches him grow with a sort of curious eagerness that he has never felt before.
His son is special and he knows it. There is something buried just beneath the surface and he is waiting for Zuko to show everyone what it is. But as the months pass all Zuko ever does are normal and average at best.
He is disappointed at first but consoles himself that Zuko will change that when he gets older. But then he remembers Iroh and how he treated every little thing his son did with excitement and pride. Even if they weren't great things or very special, he still treated Lu Ten like he was something great.
He cannot understand why his brother would love someone so deeply that was so ordinary and average. But then again, Iroh had always been an odd one.
When Ursa gives birth to their daughter Ozai knows instinctively that he will love her more than Zuko.
It is not because she is born under a lucky star or because she is a girl or looks like her mother. It is simply because she is the second child just like him that his heart swells his adoration and sympathy.
Zuko is at first curious and wondrous over his new sibling, but then he turns jealous and angry and Ozai cannot understand why. Zuko is the firstborn child and is special and gifted. Azula is the second child who is female and will be forgotten. Clearly she will need more of his love and attention than his firstborn whom all adore.
But then Azula begins to grow and it is obvious the spirits have skipped Zuko and gone to her because she is a true prodigy if there ever was one. She is Firebending in its purest form and he knows she will be something greater than anything he could imagine. After that he cannot help but show that he loves her more than Zuko.
Azula is his gifted one and Zuko is not.
When Ozai is ordered to kill his son he hesitates for half a second before agreeing. He does not think about it too deeply until Ursa confronts him and makes him tell her the truth. After that there is no time to think about it as his wife and he begin their plans to kill his father and make him Fire Lord of the nation.
Banishing his wife makes him feel a twinge of regret and remorse, but it is overshadowed by the sweet taste of triumph and relief that he is finally the Fire Lord that he was always meant to be.
The next day at his coronation, when he looks out over his people, he meets his son's eyes for the first time since he was ordered to kill him. The light amber eyes stare at him accusingly; as if Zuko somehow knows that Ozai was going to kill him just to appease his father, or that the reason his mother is gone and his grandfather is dead is all thanks to Ozai.
He does not know which reasons it is, but he does know that it makes him avoid looking into his son's eyes for a long time.
As he grows, Ozai begins to realize Zuko had inherited more than just his eyes.
Zuko is him thirty years ago; passionate with a burning drive and a quick temper. He has a sharp tongue and an arrogant view and strives to master everything there is. But underneath that there is a softness to him that has never completely left him thanks to Ursa's coddling.
And even though he is the heir, he is constantly competing against his prodigy sister for recognition for his own talents. Zuko is everything that Ozai was and it fills him with such anger and hatred that his son would choose to take after him in all of that.
Eventually the fires of his rage simmer down and he begins to think and plan on how to turn Zuko into the man he should be instead of the weak boy he is now. He realizes his son must be toughened and disciplined, and that the only way to do that is to send out to face the world on his own.
So Ozai burns his son and banishes him and hopes that when they meet again, the man looking back at him will be the one he sees in the mirror, and not the one in his memories.
When Zuko returns home at seventeen with news that he has killed the Avatar, Ozai feels proud of him for the first time in his life.
Zuko has changed and has become the man he had always envisioned; talented, special, gifted. He has defeated the Avatar and is no longer the wretched memory of his younger self. He is everything that Ozai knew he would be.
But… there is something odd about him. Zuko's eyes are still the light gold they always were, but there is something in them that he has never seen before; something that he cannot place no matter how hard he tries.
It isn't until later—when Zuko confronts him for the first time in his life and tells him what he really feels—that he realizes what was lurking in Zuko's eyes.
The next time he faces his son Ozai is a powerless prisoner and Zuko is the new Fire Lord.
When he first sees Zuko he feels nothing but disgust and hate for the weakling that claimed Iroh as his father. But, as they begin to talk, Ozai can't help but look past his colored vision and begin to see in Zuko what he had missed before.
His smile is Ursa's gentle smile; his stance and manner are like Iroh; even his chiseled face is a mix between Sozin and Roku. His son does not resemble him as much as he once thought. The only thing left of Ozai in Zuko are his eyes; those light golden eyes that he still knew marked him as something special.
He wonders, very fleetingly, if perhaps he had not seen Zuko so much as himself but as his own person, then maybe things would have turned out differently. That maybe he would have loved him just as much as he loved Azula.
But the thought is gone as quick as it comes, and Ozai does not think anymore of his son or the people he reflects.