Author's Notes: Avatar: The Last Airbender belongs to its creators Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko, as well as Nickelodeon. The following takes place between "Nightmares and Daydreams" and "The Day of Black Sun." This is my first Avatar fic. Vathara got me hooked on the series.

Summary: Before the Day of Black Sun, Zuko reflects and comes to an important decision. (Spoilers from Books 2 and 3).

The Decision

Evil Overlady

It'd been a long day. All Zuko wanted to do was put as much distance between himself and the war room as possible. He barely noticed Mai leaning against a pillar, waiting for him.

"So..." Mai joined him as he passed by. "How did it go?"

How did it go? Do you really want to know? He glanced at her and realized she was genuinely concerned for him. "When I got to the meeting, everyone welcomed me. My father had saved me a seat. He wanted me next to him. I was literally at his right hand."

Mai squeezed his shoulders from behind. "Zuko, that's wonderful! You must be happy."

I'm not. Zuko stopped before the wall hanging of his father, taking in his fierce look, wreathed in flames. He looked absolutely regal. "During the meeting I was the perfect prince, the son my father wanted." It was everything he ever hoped for. Then, he closed his eyes to the bitterness inside. "But I wasn't me."

Mai tried to comfort him, but comfort wasn't what he needed right now. "It's late," he interrupted. "You should get some sleep."

Mai withdrew her hands, lowering her eyes. "I understand. Well, good night."

He understood she wanted to help, but this was one battle he had to fight on his own. "Good night," he said and turned away.

Farther down the hall, one of the servants approached and offered to help him out of his armor, but Zuko dismissed him. He needed time alone, time to reflect.

At last, he reached his room. Zuko shut the door and released the breath he'd been holding.

This was his home for most of his life. How could so much have changed in three years? Zuko absently ran a hand along the ridges of his scar.

"I want my destiny," Zuko had told his uncle.

"Is it your own destiny, or is it a destiny that someone else is trying to force on you?"

Zuko pulled his hand away and began to pace.

He used to think that if he could only bring his father the Avatar, he could somehow erase the shame of his scarred and exiled existence and return to the life he used to have.

Weeks ago, in the crystal catacombs of Ba Sing Se, he had to make a choice – join his sister in capturing the Avatar and finally taking Ba Sing Se or be marked a traitor and continue his fugitive life, abandoning all hope of ever winning back his honor.

It seemed an obvious choice; but at the moment he was to claim his prize, his uncle – the only family he had left who truly cared for him – turned against him, allowing the Avatar to escape.

Once again, Zuko was haunted by the images from his fever dream – the blue dragon whispered sweet promises into his ear, beckoning him into the darkness. The red dragon cried out in pain, begging him to turn away. He saw the Avatar sitting on a tree limb above him, talking about his friend Kuzon. How could an air nomad be friends with someone of the fire nation? We were enemies! ...Weren't we?

When he finally came home, his father welcomed him, proud of him for killing the Avatar; but it was a lie. The Avatar wasn't dead. His sister intended to discredit him and have him fall out of his father's good graces once again.

Out of fear and desperation, Zuko hired an assassin, and that's when everything fell apart.

"I have everything I always wanted, but it's not at all how I thought it would be.

"For so long, I thought that if my dad accepted me, I'd be happy. I'm back home now, my dad talks to me. He even thinks I'm a hero! Everything should be perfect, right? I should be happy, now, but I'm not. I'm angrier than ever, and I don't know why."

"Who are you angry at?" Mai had asked him.

"I'm angry at myself!"

"Why?"

"Because I'm confused. I'm not sure I know the difference between right and wrong anymore."

Then, he learned about his great-grandfather Fire Lord Sozin and his friendship with Avatar Roku, before he betrayed him and left him to die.

He learned that his mother, his dear mother, was Avatar Roku's granddaughter, making Zuko the direct descendent of both.

"Born in you along with all your strife is the power to restore balance to the world."

Balance, Zuko realized, and he stopped pacing. He looked into the calm glow of the lamp by his bed.

That was what he sought, not this turmoil and political intrigue that drove him farther and farther away from his uncle and himself. He wanted the peace he had before his mother left.

That's not what his father wanted. At the war meeting, Zuko heard from his father's lips the same merciless power-hungry words he read in Sozin's scrolls.

When General Shino asked for more forces to subdue the rebellions in the Earth Kingdom, Zuko's father asked Zuko if that would stop the rebellions.

Zuko had lived among the people of the Earth Kingdom. Some were kind to him and his uncle. A part of him was actually glad to hear about them fighting back. He had hoped his next words would've advised his father to give up this senseless battle with them. It was their land. "The people of the earth kingdom are proud and strong. They can endure anything as long as they have hope."

The tone in his father's voice had sent chills down his spine. "Yes, you're right. We need to destroy their hope."

Zuko had realized his mistake too late. "Well... that's not exactly what I..."

Azula supported their father. "I think we should take their precious hope along with the rest of their land and burn it to the ground."

No! he'd thought, but he dared not speak out, not after what had happened the last time he'd spoken out.

Zuko was loyal to his nation. All his life, he was taught that the Fire Nation was sharing its wealth and knowledge with the world; yet everywhere he went, he began to see the price the other nations paid for that "generosity" – a girl lost her father, a boy lost his brother, and many of them lost their homes. What good were they doing?

Zuko punched at the lamp, and it went out, leaving him in darkness.

The people of the Earth Kingdom took him in when his uncle was ill, when they were short on coins and hungry. He owed them. He owed all the other nations for the war they'd visited upon them. He was beholden to them, just as the Avatar was.

"Yes, you're right, Azula. I will use the power of Sozin's comet to end the earth kingdom, permanently."

Zuko closed his eyes and began undoing the strings in his armor.

"I will be the supreme ruler of everything."

"Without you, all my plans are suddenly possible. ...I wiped out the air temples."

Zuko placed the last piece down on its stand. "When does it all end...?"

Through the slats of his window shades, he could see the glow of the moon and remember how close they'd all come to nearly losing that light because of General Zhao's greed and hatred, the same greed and hatred that had taken hold of his great-grandfather and his father.

Zuko rubbed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and dropped onto his bed, faced up, staring into nothingness. "What should I do?" he asked no one in particular.

Zuko had drifted off to a restless sleep, filled with memories of his mother, his cousin Lu Ten, and his uncle. They were happy memories, wonderful memories, but that's all they were, memories.

All those years spent crisscrossing the globe, always on the ocean, port after port after port, far from the comfort of his own bed, his own room. He dreamed of the day he'd return home, return to the life he once had, but time was like a river ever flowing onward. He could only fight the current for so long.

It will never be as it was.

That thought was like an icicle in his heart, slowly melting as he accepted the truth.

All that matters is the here and now.

He had to let go. He had to move forward.

"No matter how things may seem to change," his mother's voice echoed in his head. "Never forget who you are."

Sunlight peeked through the blinds into Zuko's yellow eyes.

He sat up in bed, taking in his surroundings, the familiar shades of red and gold. He'd just gotten reacquainted with them. Could he leave them behind again so soon?

Azula's words echoed in his mind. "You're not a traitor."

No, he told that thought. I won't betray my nation, but I can't stand by and watch it destroy itself by continuing this senseless war.

Zuko stood and walked over to the chest that lay at the foot of his bed. He opened it and pulled out a picture of his mother, which he sat on top.

Taking a breath, Zuko knelt before it.

He could feel the heat of the sun on his back, and it gave him the strength to say the words he truly felt. "I know I've made some bad choices, and I would undo them if I could; but I know now that I can't bring back the past." He took a breath and swallowed the tears. "Things changed, and I forgot who I was, but I remember now. I know my own destiny. Today, I'm going to set things right."

To save the world, he would have to ally with someone loyal to the world.

He looked into the painted eyes of his mother. "I'm joining the Avatar."