The cell door opens almost silently. Almost. Ozai only glances up for a second before casting his gaze back to the floor. His son is back, perhaps to taunt him again. Not that the boy realizes what he is doing, how the mere sight of his new power hurts Ozai like a knife through the heart. He doesn't give the boy a chance to speak.
"I'm not going to tell you where your mother is," he growls. Ozai doesn't actually know where Ursa is, but her son doesn't need to know that.
The boy smirks ever so slightly. It doesn't quite hide the hurt in those pale gold eyes. His mother's eyes. Ozai doesn't regret ruining those eyes.
"I wasn't going to ask about her," the boy says, his barely present smirk widening for an instant, then vanishing.
The door to the inner cell creaks open. "Get up," he snarls.
Ozai obeys. He isn't entirely sure why. Whatever it is, it is not deference to his son, he assures himself. Of course not.
"Follow me," is the young lord's next command. This time, Ozai knows why he doesn't hesitate. It has been at least a month since he left his cell. Maybe more, maybe not. It's hard to tell.
He follows his son into the palace. As they pass, the servants bow down. For one fleeting moment, Ozai thinks that it is him they are reverencing. The return to reality hurts more than usual.
The boy leads him to the royal chambers, once Ozai's, silently, expressionlessly, as though he does not even realize his father is there. Ozai yearns to make his presence known, but knows that if he angers his son, he is helpless. And the boy has little enough reason to show him mercy.
The rooms have changed since Ozai has last been in them. Before, they were decorated with grand tapestries of the lives of his father and grandfather, and of his own life. Now, the walls are bare, but trinkets scattered around the room reflect the cultures of all four nations. It sickens him.
The boy crosses the room with purposeful strides, with none of the clumsiness of youth or insecurity that had characterized him before. A quick jet of flame opens a hidden door on the far wall, leading directly into the volcano's core. Ozai can not suppress the pang of longing, and of hatred. Hatred of the Avatar for stripping him of his bending. Hatred of his son for betraying him.
It is only now that his son deigns to look at him.
"Close your eyes," he orders.
Ozai is only too happy to comply, to shut out the perversion of his quarters. To shut out his son's treasonous beliefs in the equality of the nations. He still can't help but flinch when the blindfold covers his eyes. It reminds him too much of an execution. He can't help but think that he should have killed his son when he had a chance. He can't help but think that he should have never harmed the boy.
His son grabs him by the upper arm and steers him into the passage. It's somewhat unnerving, not being able to see anything, but he has walked these paths many times.
In his minds eye he can see them stretched out before him. In his mind's eye his the Phoenix King, ruler of all the nations. In his mind's eye he can still feel his inner fire. He isn't sure he remembers what it felt like anymore. He curses the Avatar's cruelty and cowardice. Too weak to kill him, but strong enough to condemn him to this exquisite torture, this fate worse than death. A part of him can't help but be impressed.
He is jerked out of his reverie when his son removes the blindfold. He blinks a few times to clear his vision and looks around. He has to blink a few more times to convince himself he's still awake.
In front of him are four towering statues, carved out of the volcanic rock, or perhaps bent out of the magma. Likely the latter, as only the Fire Lord knows about the secret passages. He wonders how his son found out.
Each statue is of a person. The first one is unmistakably his son. Or rather, a younger version. The boy depicted in the magma couldn't be older than eight, and still retained that youthful innocence that he had tried so hard to beat out of his children at the first opportunity.
The second is of Azula. No more than six, one hand wrapped in her brother's. The affection shown is nothing more than a reason for contempt, so Ozai looks up.
There, just as he had expected, was his wife. She was standing as proud and regal as any Fire Nation noblewoman. She isn't looking at either of her children with any sign of affection. She doesn't have to. They are too secure in her love to need any reassurances. Part of him wishes he could have been the same for his children. He squashes that thought ruthlessly.
Finally he turns to the last statue expecting an image of his tratiorous brother. Instead, it is an image of himself, as he always has been.
He looks at his son in shock. He can't get the words out, but the boy seems to understand.
"It's a memorial," he explains.
A memorial? To what? The boy reads that question too.
"To the time when we were a family. A real one."
Back in his cell, Ozai can't help but wonder. Wonder if maybe things could have been different. If he could have had a family. A real one. Strange, how Zuko's words still haunt him.
Zuko. It's the first time in months he's thought of his son as Zuko.
Maybe he should keep doing that. Maybe all he needs is a real family. Maybe the only family he can have is that memorial hidden deep beneath the capital. Maybe it's already to late.
That night, Ozai dreams of the way things were before