Zuko had his mother's face.
It had apparent since his birth that he clearly favored his mother. His eyes held the same citrine glow – unlike Azula, who had inherited Ozai's charcoal – his skin the same creamy sheen – barely richer than Ozai's own ivory – his hair the same unruly mess – like Ursa in the mornings.
For the first several years, the court ladies had cooed about how adorable the child was, giggling behind painted paper fans and porcelain hands, slipping subtle compliments to the royal parents in the process. Ursa accepted the praise with a smile – more for Zuko than for them – before waving them away as Zuko began to cry, claiming weariness as she smiled down at her breathing mirror.
The likeness only grew with Zuko. The chubbiness of childhood was traded for her angular cheekbones, her defined nose, her slightly pointy chin. The round eyes sharpened with time, with the same foxferret felinity – Ursa had looked at him with the same sly gaze, the day they had first met beside the turtleduck pond.
It hadn't stopped at features. His gaze held not only his mother's gold, but her compassion – her true gold – as well. Her poise – or lack thereof, when she felt at ease – settled on his shoulders like a mantle, her voice – lyrical, laughing, pure – was folded into his. Her smile – merciless Agni, her smile – was his.
All of this was irrelevant, of course. Winsome though his son might be to the female contingent of the court, someday, it did nothing to improve his abysmal firebending, and the boy remained as oblivious to politics as ever. Ozai did his best to teach him discipline, but soon it became clear that Azula far surpassed her brother. He turned his attentions instead to perfecting Azula's technique, planning her future, and preparing her to lead the nation.
After Ursa's departure, the boy became intolerable. She shadowed him beneath every action, every word, every damnably impossible breath. When Zuko looked at him, her message was clear. I'm watching, Ozai. The mere presence of the boy twisted his gut, like a wicked blade – like the one he had used that night, stained as crimson as her gown –
It had to stop.
In this matter, as in all matters – Iroh's infuriating success, Azulon's murder, Ursa's treachery – Ozai found a solution.
A war room of generals, an outburst, a challenge – it was almost too easy. He spoke briefly with the offended general, who gladly yielded his Agni Ka in exchange for the enactment of his proposal.
When the boy had seen his true opponent, he had knelt and bowed his head, begging forgiveness, mimicking his mother in the last possible manner.
Ozai had raised his hand, directing the blow – it could have gone anywhere – arms, legs, heart – to his – her – face.
After that, Zuko's posture became as stiff as a soldier's. His voice dried out like wheat in the summer and tangled in his throat. His smile vanished and so did she.
But the day the doctor declared that Zuko's injury would not threaten his life, Ozai had made arrangements for a second-hand ship and a misfit crew. What's more, his crackpot brother – growing soft in his complacency – had even volunteered to guide the futile expedition.
He had attended his son's departure from the capital – purely political, of course – but he'd kept his distance, maintaining a dignified silence and looking at his son only when the bulky white bandage blocked his gaze.
Zuko no longer had his mother's face, but he still had her eyes.
Note from Snot: Greetings, my invisible, non-existent public. I wrote this story mainly because the idea clocked me in the head when I was sitting at my computer, but also because I think Ozai is one of the flattest character in Avatar. Why not poke around in his head? Also, I got to use the word "citrine".
Disclaimer: I make no monetary profit from the publication of this story (or at all, really).