Second in Line

Summary: One-shot – "If I had been born as the second child, would you have loved me then?" Zuko has a few questions for his father.

Author's Notes: This takes place after the show ends. I think that Zuko should have rubbed in his victory over Ozai a bit more. Considering what he went through to get there, it only seems fair. Also, Zuko might seem OOC but he's really not if you think about it. He's grown up a lot from the angsty teen we saw at the start of the series, and now that he's emotionally stable I think he's able to think more clearly and see things from an objective point of view.

Disclaimer: I do not own any characters featured in this story. They all belong to Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko.

Second in Line

"If I had been born as the second child, would you have loved me then?"

The question is asked so frankly and passively that for a moment Ozai wonders if Zuko is joking. But, no, the boy in front of him is still and serious as he patiently waits for a reply.

But Ozai doesn't have an answer. Zuko is not his second child and to think of him as the second born instead of Azula is… strange.

So, instead, he asks, "Why do you want to know?"

"I'm trying to figure out why you hate me," Zuko explains calmly like they are discussing the weather. "I thought at first it was because I am not a prodigy like Azula, but then Uncle told me that maybe the reason you loved her more was because she was born as the second child like you. Is that the reason? Is it because I was born first?"

Zuko's eyes are calmly asserting and his face easy and relaxed. He is not very expressive as he prods his father's mind like a child with a stick. It unnerves Ozai to see his usually emotional child so controlled. He realizes, abruptly, that Zuko is no longer a child but is in fact a man now. And he deserves an adult answer.

So Ozai gives him one.

"Yes. The reason why I loved Azula first and so much more was because she was the second child. But that's not all. I love her more because she is a prodigy and—"

"—born under a lucky star, I know, I know," Zuko interrupts, looking like he's trying not to roll his eyes. "You've told me that before. Many times. And that's not what I'm asking here. I'm trying to figure out what made me so unlovable. Was it really only because I was the first born?"

Ozai takes a moment to ponder this question as well. He never thought about his reasons for hating his only son but now he realizes that Zuko's explanation is probably accurate. He had always resented his brother for being the firstborn, and it seemed like that resentment had been passed down onto his firstborn son. But, at the same time, it feels like there is more to his hate than that but he cannot figure out why.

"Yes. I suppose that is why I hated you," he answers slowly.

Zuko nods like he had been expecting that. "Thought so. You know, Uncle told me that you were a lot like me when you were younger. In that you were also always trying to gain your father's love and approval. Didn't ever occur to you that you were treating me that same way you were treated?"

And that's when Ozai realizes where the rest of his hate comes from. The more Zuko had tried and tried to gain his love, the angrier he always became because it reminded him of himself when he was younger. He was just like his father.

Zuko seems to read the answer on his face because he laughs and shakes his head. "You didn't even realize you were doing it did you? You were just subconsciously acting like your own father."

He remains silent.

"I suppose I couldn't have both, could I? Your love and the throne," Zuko continues on, tapping his fingers against his bent knee. "You know, a year ago, I probably would have chosen the first. But now… Now I would choose the throne."

"Then you are repeating the cycle too," he points out.

But Zuko shakes his head. "No, I'm not, actually. See, you chose the throne because you couldn't get your father's love. I chose the throne because I don't want your love anymore."

That throws him off a bit. "Why?"

"Because it's dangerous," Zuko says simply. "Your love is poisonous and to be infected would mean my eventual death. You loved your father and you killed him. You loved my mother and you drove her away. You loved Azula and it destroyed her mind. To be loved by you would hurt me in some way. That is not something I want."

Zuko suddenly glances up at him and for the first time there is a hint of emotion in his eyes. They are mocking and scornful, and with a jolt Ozai realizes that they look just like he did right before he killed him own father.

"I don't want nor need your love anymore, father. I have people who love me now, and their love does not hurt me," Zuko says softly. A mocking smile forms on his lips as he looks Ozai up and down. "And you… You have the memories of love, yes? And that should be enough for someone like you."

"You hate me then," he summarizes simply, feeling something horribly hot rise in him.

"No," Zuko corrects again. "I feel nothing for you anymore. Well, actually, that's not right. I am grateful to you for giving me life, and for making me the first born. If I had been second in line then I may have ended up like Azula… or maybe like you."

Zuko laughs and gives another mocking smile. "And who really wants that?"