Ozai couldn't stand to look at Zuko for too long. He looked too much like her. And he hated her. He hated her for what she had done. For leaving. Even before banishing her, he knew that she was not truly there. That man from her island is the one who ruined everything. Everything that could have been.
He hated her so much he couldn't even remember if he ever loved her. And that boy was just like her. Strong, stubborn, smart and soft and beautiful...Just like Ursa. But he did not want to be reminded of Ursa. Even after permanently scarring his face he could still see her in him.
He could see that the boy had potential in both fire bending and military matters but he didn't want to give him a chance to prove himself because it would be like giving her a chance. He didn't want to give her a chance to anything. He wanted to break her and beat her down and make her feel like nothing. So that's what he did to Zuko yet the boy seemed to still try to please him. He couldn't understand- he didn't want to understand. He wanted to destroy- her- him.
Why couldn't he be more like Azula?
Azula was nothing like Ursa. She was cunning and mean and lied for her own profit. Was she like him? She was like him.
Zuko loathed his sister for getting all of it. She had the Fire Lord's attention whenever she wanted it, he spoiled her, he complimented her and encouraged her with her fire bending. Of course he did. She was the prodigy. And what was Zuko? He found pleasure in merely being spoken to without being insulted by his father at this point. His heart would flutter any time Ozai would compliment him, even as backhanded as the compliment was most of the time.
At the those times, his father was at least acknowledging him with something other than contempt.
All Zuko ever wanted was his father's love and acceptance and he would give anything to have even the slightest bit of it. In any way that might be. They had long surpassed the line of being a normal family.
The only people who had shown Zuko love were his mother and his uncle Iroh. It had been too long since mother was gone and ever since returning to the Fire Nation, he and uncle had been distanced due to uncle's huge amount of work and responsibilities.
He felt so alone and he longed for someone to talk to. Even Mai's expressionless-ness was better than nothing. At least she heard him out. But there wasn't anyone he felt like he could really talk to anymore.
Unable to sleep for reasons he would never admit out loud. Namely, thoughts of his mother, Zuko walked in the dimly lit halls if the palace. His travels brought him to the patio of the big garden where a figure was sitting on the stairs. He walked silently, trying not to alarm the man there. He approached to stand next to Ozai, watching as the light of the full moon illuminated his face.
For the first time in a long while, Zuko saw his father looking truthfully calm and not just wearing a placid expression to please a crowd or to stand intimidatingly calm in front of an audience. He seemed sincerely calm.
"Will you just stand there?" Ozai spoke, a little more than a whisper, barely disturbing the silence the night had brought. Zuko opened his mouth but no words came out so he just closed it again and walked to sit on the step next to his father. He was a fool to even think that Ozai would not notice him.
Surprisingly enough the silence wasn't awkward as Zuko had anticipated. It was rather calming and dare he say refreshing. Whenever he was at his father's presence be felt pressured to be at his best behaviour, showcase his best skills and constantly prove himself. It was nice for a change to just stand there in silence beneath the starry sky letting the light breeze wash over them.
In any other situation, apprehension would have gotten the best of Zuko but now, he wasn't afraid. Maybe he should be but he wasn't. So he asked what he had longed to ask for so long "You miss her too, don't you?"
"I do." Ozai admitted, "Her presence seems to linger in the halls of this palace even after all those years. And I don't think she will ever truly leave as long as you're here." Ozai spoke, still looking out in the distance as Zuko gazed at him. "You're so much like her at times it's like she is the one I am looking at." The older man said, finally looking at his son.
"Beautiful and kind. Not what I wanted in a son." He watched Zuko's expression fall as he turned away. "I thought I knew her and yet she kept surprising me. She was capable of things I could have never imagined and it makes me wonder...What are you capable of, Zuko?" Ozai put his hand on Zuko's jaw, making him turn his head until they were looking at each other.
Zuko gazed up into his father's amber colored eyes, unable to place the expression in them. His father's intense stare caused a knots to form in his stomach. Zuko shivered, making an impulsive decision as his father’s face loomed close before Zuko sealed his lips to his. Ozai froze, too surprised to react. He pulled away briefly and at that moment Zuko wished that the earth below them would open so he could fall in and escape the shame of what he had just done. All that worry though melted when Ozai kissed him, deepening the kiss.
Zuko could feel his heart beating violently against his chest and tears glisten his eyes as he put his hand on the other man's cheek letting it travel to his jet black hair that hung loosely around his shoulders, free from its formal topknot. Ozai didn't pull away from the touch, Zuko couldn't tell if he didn't mind or he was merely tolerating it, whatever it was it made the young prince feel fuzzy from the inside.
It felt as if everything Zuko had been dreaming of had come to life. He had his father's attention to himself for once just as he had his love. Surely it must be love, a kiss like that is something that is shared between people who love each other. Or that was at least what Zuko thought.
Being deprived of any simple act of love from his father all of his seventeen years of life Zuko didn't think of what they were doing as wrong or taboo and he couldn't bring himself to care much anyway.
The young boy didn't know the first thing about kissing but he let his father take control, allowing him to gently nib and lick on his bottom lip and finally his tongue exploring inside his mouth. The older man tasted like fire sake, thus the calmness, Zuko assumed.
The hand Ozai placed on Zuko's waist seemed to burn, sending a shiver down the latter's back. He wanted to go closer, impossibly closer to his father.
Heat bloomed inside Zuko until it was so overwhelming he felt tears streaming down his cheeks. This had been the first time not only that he had been so close to his father but to anyone in general.
Feeling the wetness on the younger male's cheeks Ozai pulled away and looked at his son, golden eyes piercing right through him. Zuko looked down in shame to hide his tears, suddenly he felt very vulnerable and had the fear that his father would mock him for his weakness.
Ozai gently put his hand under Zuko's chin and lifted his head up until the boy was looking at him and Zuko felt his cheek burning red and his stomach tightening in worry. The Fire Lord's lip turned upward and Zuko clenched his eyes shut, preparing for the inevitable taunting.
The deriding from his father didn't come though, and Zuko was starting to doubt it will when he felt the man's lips on his cheek, kissing his tears away gently, earning a surprised gasp from the prince.
His father then pulled away, for the first time showing Zuko a smile that wasn't cynical. No, it was a small one yet contemptuous and charming, Zuko was not the one to say though, he thought his father never ceased to be charming even if cruel intentions hid behind that wry perfectly evil smile.
This time it was different though and Zuko couldn't help the gleeful smile that was painted across his face. At that moment he knew, that he could endure any pain as long as his father kept looking at him like that.
"Will you run, Zuko?" His father then asked abruptly still though having the same expression, making the words fail to alarm the prince. "Will you leave too? Will you be like her?" Ozai asked, looking at Zuko's eyes expectantly and Zuko could see that. No matter the amount of sorrow the mention of his mother's departure brought to him he couldn't bring himself to dwell on that now.
Without breaking eye contact Zuko shook his head. It was his father who then turned his gaze away and stared off at the distance for a moment before letting his head fall on his son's shoulder.
No, Zuko wouldn't be like Ursa. He wouldn't run when everything would get too much to handle. He would be there at the Fire Lord's side for whatever was to come and maybe, just maybe he could hope that their relationship had now changed. Progressed. And that maybe his father had accepted him.
To Ozai, it was merely a reminder of what Ursa's kiss used to feel like and longing of what he used to and could no longer have.