A/N This is just a little oneshot I threw together whilst procrastinating. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender (or Legend of Aang as us Brits call it.)
All his life he has let words and names define him. Honour, status, what other people think. And all his life he has fallen so chronically short. All his life he has failed.
Zuko, son of Prince Ozai and Princess Ursa, Prince of the Fire Nation and rightful, true and deserving heir to the throne. That's what he wanted, strived to be.
He was never Zuko. It was Zuko-my-son or Zuko-the-Firelord's-grandson or Prince-Zuko. Just Zuko on its own was a naming privilege reserved for his mother and she was the only person ever to treat him as such. Everyone else had such high expectations.
So when he was younger, the first definition he tried to live up to was that which his sister easily filled: fire-bending prodigy, worthy. And no matter how hard he tried to push himself that bit further, he could never master the art as easily as she did. Instead of worthy he earnt disappointment.
He became Mummy's-boy-Zuko, Firelord's-failure-Zuko. Then that fateful night happened. Prince Ozai would have been perfectly willing, he knows that now. Ozai never really rated his son, it was the daughter he was proud of. Really, Prince Zuko should have died already, before this moment, at the hands of lightning just like this, at the hands of its caster.
Still he yearned to become the deserving heir, even if he was already technically Crown Prince. He went into a war meeting intent on going in as Firelord's-failure and coming out Firelord's-great-son but in that meeting he tried to be fair and just, failing to be cruel and ruthless as was expected of him. Instead of deserving he earnt frustration.
So then he tried for strong, powerful and all the things a son of the great Firelord should be instinctively. He was prepared to fight that General, perhaps he would have won. But his own father appeared and before he knew it he had earnt dishonourable instead of formidable.
Thinking over it in these last minutes, Zuko knows that it is quite the journey he has been on. So many crossroads, so many wrong turns. So many right turns.
After that he was the exiled Prince, stripped of his birthright. This could have been the chance he needed to become Just Zuko but he didn't want to take it. He still wanted honour and status, all those things he had been raised to believe he had a right to, he deserved.
Exiled-Prince-Zuko, scarred-dishonourable-Zuko travelled the world. He chased the Avatar up and down the globe in an attempt to regain these things he thought could just be awarded to him; like his honour would just return like that. Yet in this time, he lost him and also a part of himself. Instead of returning hero he earnt failure.
But his Uncle taught him a lot in their time together and even though they were close and Iroh a true father to confused-Zuko, he still held high expectations for the boy he saw as a son.
This Zuko strived to become a new man, a man worthy of his titles in his uncle's eyes. He also strived to make the perfect ginseng tea. He tried to gain acceptance among the people of another culture who were so different and yet so similar, all personally victimised by Firelord Ozai. And still, still he failed. They failed to see past the label, the name, Fire Nation. It was still part of who he was. Instead of good man he earnt outcast.
Then he found it. The redemption, honour and glory he had been so vainly searching for all his life. It wasn't what he wanted. It wasn't what he needed.
Zuko, Prince of the Fire Nation, son of Firelord Ozai and Princess Ursa, heir to the throne was no longer a naïve little boy. He had seen suffering, he had known suffering and he had seen how it was brought by men who were those things he had once striven to be. Princes and heirs, 'honourable' and strong men, they brought these happenings to fruition. They caused all this.
So he stopped caring what they thought. And no longer will he let words and names define him. Honour, status, what people think, what does it matter? Pain, suffering, justice, love: they matter. And so does he. Zuko, not the Crown Prince, the exile, the failure.
He shakes himself free. Free of judgement, free of oppression. He lets Zuko out and finally his father has heard him.
This is a defining moment if ever he saw one. Ozai's lightning is aimed for his heart, to kill the son who is such a disappointment but Zuko's uncle has taught him well.
He may not know it but Zuko will go on to make an excellent Firelord. For though he now no longer wants it, he no longer strives for it, he has unknowingly become that right and deserving heir.
For instead of being 'worthy' he learned perseverance. In the place of 'deserving' he learned kindness. Instead of formidable he learned mercy. Instead of 'returning hero' there was strength and instead of 'good man' he learned empathy and understanding.
And in freedom he has found the real Zuko who is all those things and all the things he once wanted to be. And he finally knows what it means to be happy.