What Will Survive of Us
Chapter 1: Honor
"Evil and good are always in war inside you, Zuko. It is your nature, your legacy, but there is a bright side. What happened generations ago can be resolved now by you. Because of your legacy, you alone can cleanse the sins of our family and the Fire Nation. Born in you, along with all the strife, is the power to restore balance to the world."
The words his uncle spoke that fateful night in his prison cell remained with Zuko to this day. It was the catalyst in his life; the night Zuko learned he was descended from Avatar Roku was when he finally realized what his duty to the world—and himself—was. Helping the Avatar defeat his tyrannical father was one of many paths that was always present, but remained unseen until he was able to choose it for himself. After spending so many years scouring the world for the Avatar, he ended up finding himself along the way. Switching allegiances to teach Aang Firebending was the best decision he ever made in his life. No longer was he that selfish prince who did not care for the common people, no longer was he the boy who had nothing in common with his peers; he was now the Firelord during an era of peace.
Despite changing and transforming into that beautiful prince his uncle always knew he could be, Zuko still felt guilty over many of the mistakes he made in the past. He still felt resentment and sadness. The young Firelord knew that the only way he could truly be at peace with himself was to make amends and search for his redemption all over again, but in a much different place from where he first discovered and earned it. Zuko would have to return to the other nations—not with the lifelong friends he made during his arduous time as a prince aiming toward his humility but—alone.
He began his new journey weeks ago and found nearly everyone he wanted to see. First, the Firelord traveled to the Southern Water Tribe with his friends Katara and Sokka to help rebuild their home to its former glory. Zuko was overwhelmed with the positive reception he received from the tribe; he was shocked at how quickly they had forgiven him and his country, especially after the Fire Nation had ravaged them for so long. Having been graced by the Southern Tribe's cordiality for a week, Zuko and his men presented a shipload of supplies for the tribe's use and a monetary gift in the name of all Fire Nation citizens so that they could further rebuild their home.
After leaving the South Pole, Zuko parted ways with his loyal crew to continue his journey alone. He proceeded to return to the various Earth Kingdom villages he passed through a year ago as a lost prince—one of them being the hometown of the farmer Gansu, his wife Sela, and their son Lee. Despite being a king now, he felt bitterness and rejection return to him—the very feelings that festered inside him the day he left the village. The last time the Firelord was there, he stood up against the thugs that continually stole from the people they were assigned to protect. Zuko ended up using his Firebending to defend himself from their assault and announcing his true identity in front of the villagers, only to be met with hostility and banishment. They were unable to look past where he came from and who he was, choosing instead to ignore his good deeds. That day, Zuko experienced first-hand just how much the world despised his nation and his people.
The young Firelord could still feel uneasiness emanating from the villagers as he walked the dirt roads of their small town, but all that changed when he visited Lee and his family at their pig farm. Zuko was delighted to see that Lee's older brother Sensu and their father Gansu had returned safely after the end of the war. To prove to the villagers that the Fire Nation had undergone many revisions under his rule and that his countrymen now felt deep remorse for their actions (during the war, most people in the Fire Nation did not even know of all the suffering that existed elsewhere in the world; it was hidden from them), Zuko presented Sensu and the rest of the men in his battalion with Flames of Valor—the highest honor in the Fire Nation military—and donated money to the village so that they too could recover from the hardships of the century-long war his great-grandfather instigated.
Everything Zuko had done and accomplished over the past few weeks was frightening to him at first, for the young monarch was unsure of how people would react to him. He wasn't ignorant and knew that there were many people in the world who still remained prejudiced against the Fire Nation, but was surprisingly well received everywhere he went. For this he was relieved and thankful, but the next stop on his journey reverted him to his previous state of doubt and uncertainty. There were many horrible things he had done in the past, but the thing that probably haunted him the most occurred when he and his uncle began their short life as refugees. An Earth Kingdom girl showed them genuine kindness, something that Zuko had never experienced from a stranger before he met her, and he returned her selfless actions by stealing from and lying to her.
She must have been so downhearted, Zuko thought. She won't want to see me and I wouldn't blame her. I betrayed her trust and generosity.
Song had come across Zuko and Iroh just after they were branded traitors of the Fire Nation by Firelord Ozai. Back then, Zuko had not yet evolved into the person he is now; she met him early on when he was still indifferent towards the world and driven only by his rage and need for his father's acceptance. He and his country are different now: that's all he wanted the world to know. Zuko wronged her and his guilt was always present, so he wanted to meet Song again to prove just how ashamed he was of his past self. Restructuring the Fire Nation and helping to rebuild the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom was not enough for him—he had to repent and apologize with all his heart.
"We're almost there, Kaze," Zuko murmured nervously to his eel hound mount.
The lights in Song's home illuminated brilliantly in the surrounding wilderness. He was returning to her just as he left so abruptly a year ago—silently in the night with only the stars to guide him. Zuko wondered if Song and her mother had heard of him and how he became Firelord or if he was still only Lee to them. He squeezed his eyes shut in discontent; Zuko did not want to be remembered as a petty and ungrateful thief.
That's why I have to do this, he thought with a renewed determination. I'll always be a horrible person if I'm remembered that way. I need to be free of my former self.
"Yes, Mother?" the girl replied as she gathered the last of the dishes on the dining table.
Her mother paused for a moment before asking, "Do you think I made too much roast duck?"
Song let out a soft laugh. "Yes, I do. I keep telling you this, Mother, but you always end up making enough for ten people!"
"Oh, I just can't help it," her mother sighed. "If only that kind man Mushi and his nephew decided to stay and make a living in the village..."
The girl grimaced as she remembered Lee. To spare her mother the burden of knowing the truth on what happened that night, Song never told her how their ostrich horse was stolen from them. After losing their father to the Fire Nation, she and her mother remained hopeful and continued to believe in people. Knowing of Lee's actions would have devastated the woman.
She confided in Lee, even showed him the horrible scars the Fire Nation left on her, and helped him. Of course the maiden expected nothing in return, but she at least wanted him to know that he wasn't alone and that she understood him. Song let Mushi and Lee go without saying a word despite witnessing the theft of her ostrich horse. Too crestfallen to be angry, she allowed them to leave freely. The young herbalist really believed that she reached Lee that night, but seeing the manner in which he left her and her mother's benevolence and hospitality proved the girl otherwise.
I was such a fool, she thought somberly.
After putting away all of the dishes, she helped her mother wash them and then cleaned up the dining room. When her chores were all done, Song felt she needed a bit of fresh air and stepped outside onto the porch. The maiden placed herself on the exact spot where she had sat next to Lee when she tried talking to him. She just wanted to get through to him and renew his hope, but he still remained so distant.
Suddenly, Song heard a twig snap nearby. Her head immediately shot up to find Lee standing before her with a parcel in his hands. He looked so different from how she remembered him; the air about him seemed lighter somehow. The girl could not put her finger on it, but knew he had changed. After all, he came back and that was more than enough proof for her.
She stared at him in disbelief. "Lee..."
"Hello, Song," he said slowly, unsure of himself.
"Wh-what are you doing here?"
"I came to apologize. I'm sorry it took me so long to do it."
"You're the Firelord?" Song asked in bewilderment.
"Yes," Zuko responded. "I know it's a lot to take in, but I felt that a long-overdue apology was not enough."
It was indeed a lot of information for her to swallow. Song and Zuko had sat there for who knew how long as he revealed nearly everything to her. He told Song why he and his uncle were wandering around the Earth Kingdom a year ago. He told her about the day he received his own scar just like how she first told him about her own. Zuko wanted to be sincere and believed Song had the right to know of his struggles in order to understand his past doings. The Firelord even revealed all the other times he resorted to crime in order to get by and survive on his own. After his past was taken care of and out in the open, Zuko explained why he was here now and what he had done over the past several weeks in the South Pole and throughout the Earth Kingdom. He took the time to pour out so much of himself to Song because he felt that the only way for her to truly understand why he did what he did was to know everything.
"I can't believe you know the Avatar. I can't believe any of it," she finally said after sitting silently for a few minutes. "It all makes sense, though. I understand why you were so secretive and reserved. You had a lot weighing you down back then—you still do."
"I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me," Zuko expressed his regret once more, his eyes downcast and full of shame.
"Of course I forgive you, Zuko!" Song exclaimed with a smile. "I forgave you as soon as I laid eyes on you again."
"Yes! The moment I saw you standing in front of me, I knew you probably mustered all the courage you were able to. Just being here and facing me again shows just how much you've changed and grown."
"Thank you, Song. You are too kind and one of the most genuine people I've had the fortune of meeting."
He could not believe how compassionate people were to him. Not only Song, but Lee and his family and the nuns at the Western Abbey and everyone else he met during his pursuit of forgiveness. There were indeed many warmhearted people in the world. His guilt ran deep, though; a part of Zuko felt as if he didn't deserve the world's mercy and pardon so soon.
Song smiled at him again. She didn't think it was that big of a big deal. Ever since she could remember, her parents always stressed the importance of doing the right thing and that helping anyone in need was everyone's duty. Her late father always took the time to tell her that. According to him, humankind would not get very far if absolutely no one helped each other and lived only for themselves.
"I still feel like I owe you so much. Please, take this as a token of my gratitude and appreciation," Zuko said as he finally presented her the package that he held onto the entire time.
"What is this? Zuko, I don't need anything. I can't accept this. A gift from the Firelord is much too great for a person like me."
"Song, I want to give this to you. I need to give this to you because you deserve it and more," he implored.
With a pleading look in his eyes, the he handed the parcel to her. Song unwrapped it, exposing a small lacquered chest with gold edges and a dark red finish. The emblem of the Fire Nation was artfully engraved right in the center and it gleamed proudly under the moonlight.
"Please, open it," Zuko urged her.
She did as she was requested and nearly dropped the chest in astonishment. Song's hand covered her mouth as her eyes went wide with shock. Inside the little chest was enough gold pieces to purchase an apartment!
"This is the least I could do for stealing your ostrich horse. You and your mother are both such thoughtful people and I know you'll make good use of this," he declared with a smile. "I have something else for you."
The Firelord reached into the pocket of his tunic to reveal a gold necklace attached to a circular pendant.
He clasped it around the girl's neck. "It's a sunstone. They were prized by the ancient Sun Warriors and are highly sought after in the Fire Nation. Since you're so selfless and give so much to others, I brought you this as a reminder to treat yourself to something nice every once in a while because you deserve it."
Song's eyes filled with tears. "Zuko..."
"You've touched me with your kindness," he continued. "My guilt over what happened last year was so strong because your compassion and story resonated deeply within me. Your story, seeing your scars, was the first time I directly faced the brutality and savagery of the war. It was the first time I was shocked and left speechless over my country's actions. Your compassion was something I was not used to. I had no idea how to react to it. I know I can never erase the horrors of your childhood caused by my country and my forefathers, but I hope that this will make your life a little more comfortable. Under my leadership, the Fire Nation continues to recover from the war. Its citizens are learning the error of their ways and the truth on the events of the past. I promise that no one else will have to suffer like you and so many others have. I swear it."
Song set aside the chest filled with gold and hugged the young man next to her, a gesture he gladly returned.
"Thank you, Zuko. Thank you..."
Zuko inhaled deeply and felt the fire within his core burn brightly as the sun rose over the horizon. After spending weeks traveling the world to help the people and places he and his country had pillaged and ruined, the Firelord was soon on his way to find closure before returning home to the Fire Nation. He entered the great City of Walls and was escorted to its Upper Ring. Song's home was his intended final destination. However, Zuko spontaneously decided to visit the man who helped shape him more than anyone else in the world.
He smiled brightly as he looked up at the Jasmine Dragon. It felt like the last time he was there enjoying tea with all of his friends was ages ago. Zuko visited his uncle from time to time to seek advice on Fire Nation affairs, but this particular visit was much more important than politics. The Firelord dismounted Kaze before entering the finest tea shop in the Earth Kingdom.
"Zuko!" Iroh called to his nephew happily.
Zuko greeted him with a hug. "Hello, Uncle."
"What are you doing here?" asked Iroh. "The shop is not even open yet!"
"I came here to see you."
The old man laughed. "We saw each other not too long ago, Zuko."
"...and to thank you."
Iroh was a bit puzzled by his nephew's response, but grinned in return.
"As you already know, I've been traveling throughout the Earth Kingdom after my visit to the Southern Water Tribe to confront my past. I met so many people we came across together a year ago and thanked them for helping me become the person I am now. After I met with Song I wanted to come here to show you my gratitude as well, Uncle. You are the most influential figure in my life; you were the one who set me on the right path and always stood by me. Without you, I would have been lost and I probably still would be. Thank you for everything, Uncle. I will always be grateful."
Swelling with pride, Iroh wiped away the few tears forming in his eyes. The young man before him was different in so many ways from only a short year ago. He could not help but be touched by his nephew's humility.
Iroh hugged him tightly. "You're welcome, Zuko. I've told you this before, but I am very proud of you for choosing your own destiny and changing your previous ways. For so long you were chasing after your honor and it must be so rewarding to finally have it."
"Uncle," the Firelord murmured quietly.
"I'd like some of your tea now, if that's alright with you," he said sheepishly.
Iroh let out a hearty laugh and led Zuko to a table where the two of them could enjoy a cup of his freshly brewed chrysanthemum tea. He continued to marvel at his nephew and could not be more satisfied with life. Peace, love, and tea—it couldn't get any better than that.
"So, Firelord Zuko," announced Iroh as he poured two cups of tea. "Now that your journey of repentance and rediscovery has come to an end, what will you do now? Attempt to generate lightning again?"
Zuko merely chuckled at his uncle's suggestion.
"I wasn't joking, Zuko!" Iroh laughed. "Now that you've finally overcome all of your emotional turmoil, I believe you'll be able to successfully execute it."
Zuko stared at his cup and contemplated hard on what to say next. He was glad and flattered that his uncle felt that he was ready to attempt lightning generation once more. He wanted to go home, but knew that there was still some unfulfilled business left in his life. The young king smiled to himself as the thought of returning to the Fire Nation flooded him and smiled even brighter when another idea crept into his mind.
"I would like to find my mother."
Iroh simply nodded to show his approval. The retired general and the Firelord raised their porcelain cups to toast the other before drinking its hot contents. They both reflected upon their lives: roughly a year ago, the two of them were on a seemingly impossible mission and now they were able to enjoy all of life's little pleasures. Zuko would return to the Fire Nation before searching for Ursa while Iroh would remain in Ba Sing Se to serve his wonderful tea and play Pai Sho to his heart's content. Zuko knew the search for his mother would be difficult and full of toil, but he wouldn't have it any other way. Making mistakes, going through trial after trial, struggling every step of the way—that's made him who he is now.
Note: This is my first Avatar fic! :3 I hope you all enjoyed it and feedback is always appreciated! :D