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Fanfic / Reluctant Hero

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"It was an accident." That was what Zuko had said to his crew when he used an element he hadn't been meant to. He wasn't the Avatar. The Avatar was supposed to be in the Earth Kingdom, hidden by its walls. Unless the old Avatar had died long ago ... and had already been replaced sixteen years ago.
— Fanfic summary

In P.A.W.07's AU of Avatar: The Last Airbender entitled Reluctant Hero, Avatar Aang actually perished when the Fire Nation launched his attack against the Air Temples, letting the Avatar cycle proceed unimpeded. Nowadays, the current Avatar is a crippled shut-in, hiding behind Ba Sing Se's walls...

At least, that's what everyone thought. Until Prince Zuko manages to airbend in front of his crew during a training session. Oh dear.

Reluctant Hero contains examples of:

  • All for Nothing: Iroh's reaction when he realizes the Earth Avatar was long-dead when he laid siege to Ba Sing Se for the second time, meaning his son's demise was meaningless.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Shen, to his utter fury and embarrassment. People actually checks him out when he goes undercover in the North Pole and Jayendra ends up proposing to him.
  • Brainwashing for the Greater Good: Long Feng's idea is to make "Lee" forget everything about the Fire Nation to help him become a better student devoted to the world's needs. Arnook would rather keep this as a last resort.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Zuko would very much like to hate the entire Water Tribe, but Yue is just so nice he cannot help to be friendly with her.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: Right after Zuko decides to hide in the Earth Kingdom to avoid his destiny, a water-bender party sent to rescue the Avatar assaults his ship and absconds with him in tow for the North Pole.
  • Dangerous 16th Birthday: This is actually the moment when the Avatar's powers start to naturally unlock. Zuko developed airbending because he was reaching this age.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Jayendra and Pakku speculating about the identity of the Avatar's Uncle. Jayendra playfully suggests the Dragon of the West — Iroh's nickname — as a possibility, only for them to burst out laughing. Yugato also wonders if such an enlightened man would agree to join the White Lotus, unknowing that Iroh is already a member.
    • When the temples around the world are triggered — revealing the Avatar cycle resumed — the Fire Sages immediately conclude the Earth Avatar finally died and they need to find a newborn or toddler as his successor. The temples actually triggered because the Avatar — who's nearing sixteen years old — entered the Avatar State.
  • Driven to Suicide: To say Zuko took to finding out that he's the Avatar poorly would be a gross understatement. When he tried to stab himself, hundred of voices of previous Avatars swarmed his mind with encouraging, mocking, conciliating words with only one thing in agreement: to stop him.
  • Evil Counterpart: Princess Azula to Princess Yue, as acknowledged in the narration. Both are princesses, but from opposite elements. Yue is sweet, kind and gentle. Azula is everything but.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • The Fire Nation actively scorns the other elements, with Zuko's crewsmen constantly calling the North Pole residents "water barbarians".
    • The Fire Nation is also on the receiving end, with the Water Tribe considering them as bloodthirsty savages. Yugato's hatred for them is more rooted in his Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • Benders need to train their element, or they will become mad as their health gets worse and worse. Iroh saw a half-blood firebender actually refuse his own gift, and it wasn't pretty at all.
    • What is waiting for Zuko in the Fire Nation now he has been revealed as the Avatar: either he will be molded into a Living Weapon to crush the world in submission, or he will be made a locked up cripple to halt the Avatar Cycle in its tracts. The Water Tribe actually abducted the boy to save him from that.
  • Foil:
    • Yugato and Pakku, both Masters of their respective elements, members of the White Lotus and teachers to the Avatar. They contrast very much when it comes about Zuko: Pakku only cares about forcing the teen into the role he's fated to shoulder while Yugato genuinely worries about his pupil's well-being.
    • Azula and Yue. Seriously, their only commonality is their noble rank.
  • From Bad to Worse:
    • Zuko is already depressed and reeling from discovering he's The Chosen One, and the Northern Water Tribe decides it would be the perfect moment to rescue the Avatar from the Fire Nation by kidnapping him.
    • Sokka managed to stop a Zombie Apocalypse by working with Fire soldiers. Said soldiers are so impressed by his skill they decide to send him to the Fire Sages for more training in spirit-dealings.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: Pakku relentlessly beats his student to break his spirit and remake him into a "proper" bender. On the other hand, Yugato relies more on manipulation to make Zuko more at ease and accepting towards his destiny.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
    • When Shen decides to infiltrate the North Pole, he chooses to dress as a pretty girl and seduces Jayendra to contact Zuko. Unfortunately for Shen, the waterbender likes "Keemi" so much he decides to make "her" his bride.
    • Sokka teams with the Yu Yan Archers to appease an angry and powerful mountain spirit. Sokka does such a good job that they recruit him for the Fire Sages to not waste his spiritual talent.
  • Hearing Voices: How the Avatar's past lives make themselves known.
  • Hope Bringer: When they learn about the Avatar being found, the Air Nomads and Water Tribes immediately rejoice since he's their best chance to end the war.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager:
    • After dancing with Princess Yue, Zuko has a wet dream about her. He's mortified when he wakes up in a compromising position.
    • Sokka outright checks Suki out. She doesn't seem to mind.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Zuko would like nothing more than come back to his boat with his uncle nagging him to be more laid-back.
  • Interrupted Suicide: When Zuko attempted seppuku, his past lives disagreed quite strongly.
  • Irony:
    • The Fire Prince learns he's fated to stop the war his own nation is responsible for. This is the initial premise, by the way.
    • The dagger that Zuko used to try to kill himself when it was confirmed that he was indeed the Avatar was engraved with the words "never give up without a fight."
    • Sokka very emphatically doesn't care for spirits or the Fire Nation, only to find himself forced to work with Yu Yan archers — a Fire Nation unit — in order to stop a Zombie Apocalypse. As a result of stopping the Zombie Apocalypse, Sokka impress the Yu Yan archers so much with spiritual prowess that they recruit him for the Fire Sages to train his spiritual powers.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Zuko very much believes this. Since being the Avatar means his birth country will now try to kill or imprison him for life, the three other nations are trying to mold him into a Living Weapon and he's expected to go against his own family, he may have a really good point.
  • Karmic Death: A Fire Nation commander destroys a mountain's shrines as a show of superiority over the Earth Kingdom. He is then killed by the jianshi the shrines were holding back.
  • The Kindnapper: The Northern Water Tribe thought they were rescuing Zuko from execution or a life of abuse as a Living Weapon. Even now, they only want to ensure Zuko will bloom as a fully-realized Avatar. A shame they are doing it backwards.
  • Living MacGuffin:
    • Zuko, oh so much. Everyone wants a piece of him, and not always for altruistic purposes.
    • More generally, benders and spiritually-aware people are quite sought. Pirates actively practice Superhuman Trafficking and the Fire Army took Sokka in custody for talking to a Great Spirit.
  • Living Weapon: By virtue of using the four elements, the Avatar is this by default.
  • Mentor Archetype: A surprising amount.
    • Iroh is set up as one of those, but it ends up subverted because Zuko is abducted before they could properly settle in a master-student relationship.
    • Pakku and Yugato are charged to teach Water and Air bending to the new Avatar. If Yugato fits the compassionate, enlightened model, Pakku is much more the sadistic bent.
    • Aang is revealed to be one of those, but it becomes apparent only when Zuko has to flee the North Pole and relies on him to do so.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Northern Water Tribe wants nothing more than help the Avatar to restore balance in the world. To achieve this, they force a confused teen to assimilate their ways while isolating him from everything he knew and plan to wipe his mind clean when he struggles. Zuko ends up losing any trust in them, ravaging their city and escaping.
  • Not Helping Your Case: The Northern Water Tribe want Zuko to help them and end a long war. They fail to win Zuko over due to kidnapping him, forcing him to train, having the sadistic Pakku train him and constantly speak badly about his people.
  • Obliviously Evil: The Water Tribe don't mean to emotionally abuse Zuko and tear him away from his only living relative but they were trying to spare him a Fate Worse than Death and train him to turn the tide of a hopeless war.
  • The Obi-Wannabe: Yugato and Pakku do try to train Zuko in their respective but Pakku is a sadistic asshole and Yugato is ineffectual in helping Zuko. The moment he can, Zuko puts as much distance as he can from them which is a continent and counting.
  • Opposed Mentors: Pakku and Yugato don't stop criticizing the way each other tries to handle the Avatar.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The jiangshi on the moutain are a Chinese variation: they hunger for Life Energy, they can be neutralized by burying them in rice and have to stop when facing a salt or rice barrier to number the grains. Oh, and they hop as their way to go around.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Iroh belongs to the White Lotus, but isn't trusted for being Fire Nation. So he decided to go to the North Pole instead of contacting the organization when his nephew was revealed as a probable candidate for the Fire Avatar, starting a chain of events leading the local Water Tribe to learn the new Avatar was near and kidnap Zuko on the assumption he was going to be executed.
    • When Zuko reveals he heard Chief Arnook and his Masters discussing about mind-wiping him, Yugato tries to reassure the teen they would never seriously try to hurt the Avatar. Bad move, since Zuko hates being The Chosen One, and finally enters the Avatar State.
  • Rage Breaking Point: A Zuko already fed up by his mentor's treatment of him finally reaches his breaking at the bombshell that his mentors are considering brainwashing him with the help from the Dai Li Earthbending mentor. The teen enters the Avatar State in his fury, attacks his mentors when they attempt to get near him and creates a fire storm that nearly melts all the buildings in the Northern Water Tribe to escape.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Yugato is nothing less than supportive towards Zuko and does his best to help him in spite of his own bias for the Fire Nation.
  • Refusal of the Call: When his status as the Avatar comes to light, Zuko first thinks about giving himself to the Fire Nation then attempts suicide. Iroh manages to persuade him to go into exile instead, and the teen still refuses to use his newfound abilities for anything.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Fire and Air are the elements of freedom. Zuko creates a fire storm as cover for his escape and is able to leave due to Aang and Appa, an Airbender and Sky Bison.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After hearing that his mentors want to brainwash him, Zuko goes on a rampage and finally escapes the Northern Water Tribe to head south.
  • Serial Escalation: The failure of the previous three Avatars altered the balance between Material and Spirit Worlds to a much greater extend than in canon. To put it into perspective, if Avatar Aang had failed his mission in the series, the Four Nations would have fallen into the hands of an Evil Overlord. If Avatar Zuko fails, both worlds could fall into each other, which could easily spell the very end of the humanity as nasty stuff like the jiangshi would become commonplace.
  • Ship Tease: At least three potential pairings are Zuko and Yue, Sokka and Suki and Aang and Katara.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The Air Nomads managed to avoid being wiped out by hiding in the South Pole.
  • Succession Crisis: Zuko as the Avatar cannot become Fire Lord, his sister Azula is Ax-Crazy and their uncle Iroh is childless since his son Lu Ten's demise. Lieutenant Jee begs Iroh to find another wife and sire a heir to avoid a major clusterfuck in the near future.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Sokka finds himself helping Fire Nation's Yu Yan archers to stop a Zombie Apocalypse, and is not happy about it. However, the commander reminds him that jiangshi are everyone's problem.
  • Training the Gift of Magic:
    • Once a person has bending they must train or go mad, it ain't pretty when they don't.
    • People with spiritual awareness are so rare that the Fire Nation army tends to press-gang them for apprenticeship with the Fire Sages to deal with curses and evil spirits as such happens to Sokka.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The story has three ongoing plot threads: Zuko getting used to his training the Water Tribe, Sokka and Katara heading North and Iroh and the ship's crew planning Zuko's rescue.
  • Undying Loyalty: Zuko's crew to their Prince and his uncle. The boy being the Avatar doesn't matter, he's still their Prince and they won't let water barbarians hold him prisoner!
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Trying to stop a genocidal war and restore balance to the world is a very noble thing, kidnapping a distressed and confused teenager to forcibly shape him into a Messianic Archetype, less so. Water Tribe, we're looking at you.
  • You Are Too Late: Zuko's crew successfully infiltrate the Northern Water Tribe and are in prime position to rescue Zuko, only to find out that Zuko has already escaped and they have no idea where he's going.