Summary: One-shot – He told her she could take one child with her. Just one. But what mother could choose between her son and daughter?
Author's Notes: Always wondered why Ursa didn't just take Zuko with her when she left. But then I thought about Ozai and how manipulative he could be, and I could totally see him pulling a stunt like this. But at the same time I also don't think Ursa is a fool, so…
Disclaimer: I do not own any characters featured in this story. They all belong to Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.
"You can take one child with you. Only one; Zuko or Azula. Choose."
It is one of the worst things that could happen to a mother, and for a moment she cannot believe Ozai has just put her into it. But then her mind catches up with her heart and she realizes she shouldn't be so surprised at how low her husband has fallen. In the past twenty-four hours he has certainly shown that he is no longer the shy prince who once clumsily courted her. No, now… now he is a man driven only by power and control.
The idea of how much he has changed makes her sick.
"Ursa. I'm getting impatient. Choose."
There is a subtle warning emphasized on the last word that only she or Iroh would have caught. They are the only two who know Ozai well enough to recognize that he is actually enjoying it. He probably wants to even extend the whole ordeal for as long as possible.
It makes her want to slap him.
"How dare you… How dare you make me choose between the two things I treasure most in the world!"
Her words are shaky but powerful in their passion. She wouldn't have admitted it before because it went against everything she stood for, but she put her children first in her life. Above her nation, her people, her heritage, her husband… Zuko and Azula rank above all of them. That's why she was so willing to betray her Lord and murder him. To protect her little ones… she would do anything.
But this… this is something she could not do.
"It is a logical idea. A mother should not be separated from her children. However, neither should a father, so…"
It takes only seconds for her brain to make the connection, and when it does she wants to laugh at his obvious attempts at manipulation. But then again, she is his wife and they both know she will see what he wants and will follow it because she can't help it. He wants her to take Zuko with her because Azula is the stronger one but Zuko is the heir, and he cannot kill his son now that she has made him promise. Even if he has fallen and is twisted and ugly, he is still Ozai and Ozai would never break a promise made to Ursa.
He—and possibly everyone in the whole nation—expect her to pick Zuko because he is the one she is closes to, and as some would (wrongly) assume even loves more.
They all assumed wrong.
"Azula. I pick Azula."
Ozai's face twist into something ugly and dark and she can hear a small gasp of shock somewhere off to her right, but she does not look to see who it is because she already knows it's probably Azula hiding behind the drapes, or hiding in the shadows; watching and listening in on them. She would not doubt Ozai would have placed Azula there to listen in so that he could turn whatever love she has for her mother into hate when she heard her pick her brother over her.
But she didn't pick Zuko. She picked Azula.
"No. No, you can't. It's not— why… Why?!"
Ozai is getting flustered and angry and she wants to laugh at how easy she can still unravel this man. But she doesn't because it will just get him angrier, and instead focuses on explaining to him something she doubts he will ever understand.
Her husband looks at their children and judges them on their Firebending strength. Azula is stronger than Zuko in that and believes it to be so in every way. But she looks at her children with eyes that are tainted by the blood of Avatar Roku and sees a different sort of strength in her children. She sees that Azula is weak and will bend and break under the strength of her nation and heritage and father. But Zuko… Zuko is strong and will bend and hold and not break under his father and nation and heritage.
Zuko will survive without her, but Azula… she will not.
"Because she needs me more. Zuko does not."
Her answer confuses him and it probably always will. Ozai is stubborn and looks at the world differently. Perhaps ten years ago he might've seen what she sees, but now? Now she can only hope he won't be too hard on Zuko. That maybe he'll see that the way he treats his firstborn is the same way Azulon treated him as a child.
Somehow, she doubts he will though.
"No. No she doesn't. Neither of them do. You can't have either of them. Leave, Ursa. And never come back."
It was the answer she was expecting as soon as she made her choice. She knew he wouldn't let her have either child. Not Azula because she was too important to him, and never Zuko just to spite her for daring to go against his plans. Grown man or not, Ozai can still be childish when he wants.
But maybe that is something that they all have.
"Let me say goodbye to them first. Both of them."
He hesitates for a second but finally nods before turning around and storming away. She watches him disappear into the shadows and feels a heaviness fill her heart. He put her into this position and now she has put him into an even more difficult one. Ozai will have to raise their two children without her, and one day will bear the knowledge that he has broken one of them beyond recognition. Just as she will continue to carry the burden of knowing that she could have saved both of them.
Zuko and Azula.