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They'll overthrow him when they're good and ready, put him back in his cell where he can get some real sleep or execute him and then he won't be tired anymore. Until then, he'll just keep… being Fire Lord. note 
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Zuko is captured and imprisoned by Ozai when he fails to escape in time after their confrontation in the Day of Black Sun. With that, everything changed.

When Ozai is defeated,depowered and imprisoned by the Earth Kingdom and Azula falling into madness, the Fire Nation has no ruler. In desperation, the generals and Zuko's own jailers release him from his imprisonment and install him on the throne.

Knowing that he was the literal last choice for ruler, Zuko decides to do his best in keeping the Fire Nation from falling apart until his generals finally overthrow him. Then he can finally rest.

Although keeping a nation that warred for a hundred years stable is easier said than done. Complicating things is the start of peace conferences, with the Avatar and Gaang acting as representatives for their respective nations and his Uncle Iroh, whom Zuko betrayed for his nation back in Ba Sing Se, who's now the Avatar's firebending teacher.

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TowardsThe Sun by MuffinLance is an Avatar: The Last Airbender Fanfic exploring a For Want of a Nail Season Four "Zuko never joined the Gaang, and he's really bad at being good" AU.


This fanfic provides examples of:

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     #-D 

  • 0% Approval Rating: Zuko believes this is the case with the palace staff due to their perceived “insubordination.” Iroh, however, starts off with low approval when he returns, which only proceeds to tank completely when he dethrones Zuko.
  • 100% Adoration Rating: The palace staff adore Zuko and are extremely protective of him. He doesn't seem to realize their coddling and very hands on and relaxed attitudes isn't insubordination but a sign of real love and respect rather than the fear induced loyalty his father and sister got.
  • Abusive Parents: Ozai, of course.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Zuko has no idea what Sokka's actual name is and is too embarrassed to ask since they've been fighting against each other for a while now. After listening in on Toph and Sokka's conversation, Zuko ends up calling Sokka "Ambassador Snoozles" when trying to address him.
  • Accomplice by Inaction: Captain Izumi realizes Zuko was right to not trust her to be loyal after she does nothing to stop the Agni Kai.
    • Toph in Chapter 18: "This is me, staying out of it"
  • Accusation Fic: It's very subtle but author was displeased that in canon, Iroh stayed in Ba Sing Se to run the Jasmine Dragon after the war instead of actually helping his teenage politically inexperienced nephew to rule their homeland by staying as an adviser. Iroh doesn't escape duty, here.
  • Adults Are Useless: Not for a lack of skill or good intentions on some of their parts, but there's a reason the Gaang are the ones playing ambassador for the other nations at the peace talks. As Sokka so eloquently puts it in Chapter 15:
    ...'willing' and 'capable' were alarmingly mutually exclusive at the national leadership level. Which, you know. Explained why a band of literal children had to end the war.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Just as Azula calls her brother Zuzu, Zuko is revealed to similarly call her Lala.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Zuko is mortified that Iroh told the Gaang about Zuko's Agni Kai with his father as its's deeply personal trauma. Sokka attempts to defend Iroh by stating he was trying to humanize Zuko to the Gaang. Zuko's reply haunts him.
    Zuko: How much more human do you want me to be, Water Tribe?
  • Balkanize Me: With Kuei missing and lacking any sort of line of succession, many Earth Kingdom generals maintaining order in hopes of forming their own countries once the confusion is settled. Which makes trying to actually negotiate a peace treaty a very annoying experience for Zuko.
  • Batman Gambit: Knowing Iroh would do anything to have Zuko forgive him, Zuko has his coronation as Crown Prince scheduled as soon as possible. Iroh wanted to delay the coronation for Zuko's frail health, but he insisted. Which was Zuko's ploy to get a public audience to rip Iroh a new one.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For:
    • All Zuko's servants and counselors wanted was for Zuko to stop overworking himself. Which happens when Iroh takes the throne from Zuko by force.
    • Fire Sage Fujio understandably wanted an adult in charge of the Fire Nation and for the nation's only hope to not work himself to death before reaching adulthood. He makes clear to Iroh that the Fire Sages support him whether he becomes Zuko's regent or take the throne himself. Which results in Zuko abdicating the throne and unintentionally triggering a civil war much to his horror.
  • Beware the Honest Ones: Sokka notes that Zuko's manipulations are dangerous because he's too honest and does it unintentionally. Which makes Zuko difficult to predict.
  • Book-Ends:
    • The story begins with Zuko being released from his cell to be made Fire Lord. After his defeat at Iroh for the throne, Zuko volunteers to return back to his cell.
    • The first chapter of the prologue is called Fire Lord. The last chapter of the prologue is called Crown Prince.
  • Bothering by the Book: Under Zuko, all of his servants rush to help him with everything regardless of his attempts to do things for himself. Under Firelord Iroh, the servants don't help Iroh until they're forced to, such as not opening doors until he's already waiting in front of them.
  • Break the Cutie: Zuko and Azula come pre-broken into the story from various psychological breakdowns. Things, unfortunately, get worse for both before they get better.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Azula already broke out of her chains and burned through the window bars when Zuko breaks her out of the asylum.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Zuko unconditionally welcomes Iroh back into the Fire Nation with open arms, understands why Iroh doesn't trust him and lets Iroh go through the palace un-monitored. Iroh repays this by making backroom deals with the Fire Sages to gain their approval to make himself Zuko's regent or take the throne himself. Iroh destroys whatever trust Zuko had by challenging him to an Agni Kai and taking the throne.
    • After having Iroh as Aang's firebending teacher and knowing of his wisdom, the Gaang (except Toph) thought it would be a great idea to have Iroh as Fire Lord. Seeing the less-than-peaceful transition in power in seeing Zuko broken and the nation hating Iroh has the Gaang lose faith in him.
  • Brutal Honesty: Zuko tells Captain Izumi that he doesn't trust her to be loyal to him. Izumi is offended but later realizes that he was right.
  • Bullying the Dragon: Sokka takes petty revenge on Zuko by doing things like stealing his food, followed by asking why he hasn't been set on fire yet.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Captain Izumi, to her horror when she realizes it, but Zuko makes note of how no one in the Fire Nation who had the political sway to resist seems to have made any actual effort to protest the war despite the real harm it was doing to the nation.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: When Zuko refuses being Crown Prince at the ceremony, he follows the declaration by publicly ripping into Iroh's choices of siding with the White Lotus' view on how to handle the Fire Nation and the damage that will occur by doing so.
  • Cain and Abel: Surprisingly averted by Azula and Zuko to their own shock. Azula admits that she never wanted Zuko dead and Zuko returns the sentiment.
  • Catch-22 Dilemma: Zuko will give reparations to the Earth Kingdom only if they formally surrender. The Earth Kingdom will only surrender if they get reparations.
  • The Chains of Commanding: The weight of inheriting the throne while trying to end the war without the Fire Nation being gutted in retaliation is slowly crushing Zuko.
  • The Chessmaster: Iroh. He wasn't a highly decorated General for nothing. He quickly reintegrates himself with the Fire Sages and the military elite when Zuko welcomes him back. It backfires when he dethrones Zuko. His manipulations cause the palace and Zuko to lose utter faith in him. Which results in Zuko turning his back on him and a civil war. Made worse by many interpreting Iroh's actions as playing The Long Game to remove all potential threats to his power by turning his family against each other.
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Zuko continues to refuse to listen to Iroh due to Iroh never taking responsibility as a prince even when Zuko is having a literal heart attack. Which results in Iroh challenging Zuko to Agni Kai to oust Zuko as Fire Lord. While Iroh saves Zuko's life, having to re-live the worst memory of his life emotionally destroys Zuko. Zuko's relationship with Iroh is destroyed and ruins Iroh's credibility as Fire Lord.
  • Culture Clash: Comes up repeatedly between anyone from separate nations.
    • The servants like Zuko because he allows them to speak their minds and be informal with him. Which leads to the servants doting on the overworked lad. To born and bred royals like Zuko, Iroh and Azula, this breakdown of royal protocol and social hierarchy is an insult to Zuko because it means they don't take Zuko seriously. While Zuko doesn't care how the servants treat him as long as they do their jobs, Iroh takes it as affront and insult to a young ruler. The reinforcement of social hierarchy and protocol Iroh's rise to power is seen as a return to order in his eyes and the return of oppression inn the eyes of the servants.
    • One of the more minor examples is that Zuko and his council are furious at the idea of someone invading their territorial waters while Sokka doesn't understand how someone could rule an ocean or why they'd want to but understands the idea of different tribes having their own fishing grounds.
    • None of the Gaang, Sokka in particular, understand how horrific the idea of having their bending removed is to firebenders. They consider firebending a gift from the sun god and part of their soul, making its removal a Fate Worse than Death while the Gaang sees it as a way to make sure Ozai won't be a threat again.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Zuko vs Iroh while Zuko is having a heart attack. The fight was short.
    Uncle took him down gentle as an owl-cat scruffing her kitten.
  • Curb Stomp Cushion: Zuko had no chance of winning the Agni Kai against Iroh but props goes to him for fighting despite a literal heart attack and suffering a Psychosomatic Superpower Outage.
  • Cuteness Overload: Sokka can't handle the sight of Zuko napping on Appa while covered in turtleducks, or as he calls it "Zuko-and-Fluffy-Animals Cuteness Overload Happy Funtime Hour."
  • Darkest Hour: Zuko hits absolute rock bottom after the Agni Kai. All his efforts to hold the Fire Nation together dashed due to Iroh taking the throne from him. Absolutely no one has his back. Iroh, the one person Zuko unconditionally trusted, has betrayed him. Zuko manages to pull through his personal despair when he manages to spite Iroh in front of the whole nation.
    • In turn, Zuko unwittingly causes the Gaang and the Fire Nation to suffer their own darkest hour. Thanks to Zuko publicly calling Iroh out and abdicating the throne, a civil war breaks out. They have failed in their attempts to ensure peace and get war reparations through their own hubris. All they can do is hope to recapture Zuko in hopes of quelling the ensuing rebellion.
  • Death Seeker: Zuko is passively suicidal after his imprisonment, not caring whether he lives or dies as long as the Fire Nation remains intact.
  • Deconstruction Fic:
    • The series end is deconstructed. Zuko isn't just going to surrender the Fire Nation colonies just because Aang asked. Zuko has to carefully tread the politics of demilitarization and reparations while at the same time trying to protect his country from being torn apart from a world justifiably angry with them.
    • This fic heavily deconstructs Iroh. Once Zuko finds out that Iroh was in the White Lotus the entire time, he feels betrayed and horrified. Had Iroh been caught during the hunt for the Avatar, Zuko and the crew of the Wani would have all been executed along with Iroh as accomplices. When Zuko reflects on the lotus tile incident, he feels like he was being mocked. Furthermore he was deeply hurt that Iroh never trusted him and let him continue on a Snipe Hunt when Iroh knew there was a different way.
  • Destroy the Abusive Home: The Fire Nation capital palace was and still is a place of pain for Azula. It's where she and Zuko were both abused and pit against each other by their father. After the most recent batch of familial betrayal due to Iroh, Azula decides to fulfill her greatest desire and attempts to burn down the place. She doesn't succeed but its not for a lack of trying.
  • Determined Defeatist: Zuko is certain that his council and the Fire Nation military will depose him and have Zuko either executed, re-imprisoned or exiled once the situation stabilizes. He is determined to be the best Fire Lord he can be despite that.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Chapter 14 for Zuko. Bring tissues. Zuko crosses it when Iroh challenges Zuko for the throne after his horror over Ozai's fate causes Zuko to have a heart attack. Having to relive his worst memory at the hands of the only adult he unconditionally trusted during his most physically vulnerable moment breaks Zuko. After having all his efforts to bring peace rebuffed and his Parental Substitute betray him, Zuko finally gives up. After the Agni Kai Zuko bounces between Laughing Mad, apathetic depression and passively suicidal.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Most of the Gaang supported the idea of Iroh taking the throne from Zuko and becoming Fire Lord. They, especially Iroh, didn't consider what it would happen if they succeeded.
  • Divine Right of Kings: The Fire Lord is considered the Will of the Sun God Agni on earth.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When Azula hears Zuko go Laughing Mad, she chides him for not making his laugh creepy enough.
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    • When the servants realize that Iroh intends to use them as bait to sedate the homicidal Azula, they let Lady Huian deliver the food. Who immediately warns Azula of Iroh's plans which allows Azula to fight back.
    • Zuko spent most of the prologue being mocked by the Gaang, undermined by Iroh and later outright ousted from power. During his coronation as Crown Prince he publicly calls them all out, warns his people against them and walks away while accidentally inciting a civil war.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point:
    • Iroh completely misses the subtext behind why the palace staff are so relaxed around Zuko but formal with him.
    • Iroh told the Gaang about Zuko's traumatic Agni Kai in an attempt to humanize a despised enemy. Sokka belatedly realizes after Zuko gives an Armor-Piercing Response that it didn't actually work as they still couldn't empathize with him.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Zuko's most healthy relationship is his acquaintanceship with Toph. Zuko and Toph respect each other's skills with Toph currently the only person in his life with these three characteristics: honest, polite, and not mentally unstable.

     E-L 
  • Eaten Alive: Zuko theorizes that Kuei was probably eaten by his pet bear once they left Ba Sing Se.
  • Embarrassing Nickname:
    • Having Toph call him Snoozles was bad enough for Sokka. But Zuko calls him "Ambassador Snoozles" because he didn't know Sokka's name was humiliating.
    • Azula promises to reconsider her stance on fratricide if Zuko ever calls her "Lala" in public.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: Azula believes that Iroh was playing The Long Game to have revenge on Ozai. Since Iroh knew he couldn't beat Ozai, but he trained Zuko. He took Zuko from his father and from Azula and played the caring uncle. Iroh then had Aang take out Ozai while Zuko took the position as Fire Lord. And then Iroh broke him, just because he could. Because he's Ozai's son and Zuko outlived his usefulness. While Azula is wrong and Iroh genuinely loves Zuko, Zuko is so shaken that he doesn't know what to believe.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Azula may be ruthless but she's not wasteful. She considers Zuko's banishment a waste of his loyalty and Zuko notes she never kills unless absolutely necessary, as her conquest of Ba Sing Se was the most bloodless in the entire war.
  • Exhausted Eye Bags: Zuko has these throughout his reign as Fire Lord due his constant overworking and lack of sleep.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Ozai's fate of having his bending taken away is nothing sort of sacrilege in the eyes of the Fire Nation, who see firebending as a blessing from the Sun God Agni and a part of one's soul. In their eyes, Aang tore out Ozai's soul and called it mercy.
  • Finger Snap Lighter: Zuko forms fire daggers when he learns of Ozai's fate. It's the first and last time he firebends before his Psychosomatic Power Outage causes him to lose his bending completely.
  • For Want of a Nail: Zuko having been unable to escape after confronting Ozai changes more than a few things:
    • Iroh became Aang's firebending teacher instead.
    • Suki does not join the Gaang and is still stuck in prison, as is Hadoka.
    • The Gaang do not trust Zuko at all.
    • Since Zuko never joined the Gaang, he never went with Aang to meet the dragons and fix his bending. As such he can barely even use his bending.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Azula sees herself as the Responsible sibling having to look after Zuko, her naive and trusting Foolish Sibling. In reality, Zuko is the Responsible Sibling who buckles down to rule their nation and take care of her. While Azula cracked on her first day after her friends refused to continue to take her abuse. She throws tantrums by setting things on fire and attacking Zuko with lightning. Which Azula did so frequently that Zuko developed electrocution-based health problems.
  • Get Out!: When Aang tells Zuko and his council that he took Ozai's bending, they are so horrified that Zuko immediately demands that Aang leave the palace.
  • The Ghost: Ozai is never present but the weight of his actions and his imprisonment is felt by everyone.
  • Go Through Me: Captain Izumi throws herself in front of an unconscious Azula to protect her from Aang in fear that Aang would take her bending. Aang is horrified that someone sees him as a monster for trying what Aang believed was a nonviolent solution.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Iroh is still Zuko's wonderful kindhearted retired Uncle with a love of tea, but he is also still the Dragon of the West, an extremely skilled General and tactician, and grew up in Azulon's court, with all the views on how to rule that comes with such an upbringing.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Sokka, before the Gaang arrived for the peace talks, believed putting Iroh on the throne would be great. And then it happened.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: Both Zuko and the Gaang both want the war to officially end and start an age of peace. Unfortunately they both have very different ideas of what peace looks like and different people they want to help and protect.
  • Grew a Spine:
    • After confronting herself on her Bystander Syndrome, Izumi attempts to make a stand by protecting Azula from Aang.
    • Zuko recovers from his Despair Event Horizon by publicly confronting Iroh and ripping him a new one in front of an audience.
  • Heart Trauma: Zuko develops electricity-induced arrhythmia due to having to tank Azula's lightning attacks. His weakening firebending barely allows him to redirect lightning, not being able to protect himself. His arrhythmia combined with his poor condition due to his imprisonment, poor sleep habits, poor eating habits and terrible lifestyle altogether lead to it Zuko endangering his life in critical moments.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity:
    • Zuko has a terrible reputation outside the Fire Nation with the rest of the world only seeing him as the next Fire Lord, with Earth Kingdom generals outright refusing to read the letters he sends regarding a ceasefire.
    • Iroh has a poor reputation withing the Fire Nation for being a traitor, which only worsens when he dethrones Zuko and the latter accidentally implies Iroh will kill him for disagreeing with the new regime.
    • Aang was already a boogeyman to the Fire Nation. Taking away Ozai's bending and helping depose the popular Zuko in favor of Iroh doesn't help improve his image.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Zuko's has no sense of self worth or preservation. He considers it a fact of life that he's only Fire Lord until the council has no more use for him and apparently made peace with the notion that “no more use” may very well mean his death at someone's hands or a lifetime back in his prison cell if he doesn't work himself to death first. He doesn't care. His council, Uncle, and servants on the other hand, care quite a bit when he admits this out loud.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Zuko starts feeling pain in his arm during a botched reparations meeting. After completely horrified with the Gaang with the revelation of Ozai's fate, starts feeling cold then hot as he suffers a heart attack. Zuko survives the heart attack when Katara heals him after the Agni Kai.
  • Honor Before Reason: There are rules about what you can and cannot do to the Fire Lord. So when Iroh is faced with his nephew having a literal heart attack in front of him and refusing treatment instead of just say holding him down and forcing Katara to heal him Iroh instead challenges Zuko to an Agni Kai so he has the political power to order him to rest. Which leaves him with a living nephew who now cannot trust him and an entire palace of people who resent him.
  • Hope Bringer: Zuko is the first kind Fire Lord within living memory and willing to work himself to the bone trying to fix their nation after Fire Lord Ozai's defeat. With all the freedoms Zuko was willing to give citizens, trying to convert the nation to a peacetime economy and prevent the other nations from tearing them apart. The citizens love Zuko. So when Iroh inadvertently crushed their hopes by overthrowing Zuko. They don't get mad. They rebel.
  • Hourglass Plot: Both Zuko and Azula attempted to capture the Gaang to prevent rebellion against Fire Lord Ozai. Now the Gaang have to capture Zuko and Azula to prevent rebellion against Fire Lord Iroh.
  • Ill Girl: Zuko's poor health from his imprisonment, stress and Azula literally endanger his rule and shape the course of the politics.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Zuko has no idea that "visiting sick relatives" means someone fled the capital for disagreeing with the regime. After many servants flee after Iroh's ascension as Fire Lord, Zuko believes there's a epidemic ravaging the countryside. He sincerely wishes his servants' relatives well.
  • Innocently Insensitive: The Gaang have no idea about the horrors Zuko has gone through since the eclipse, making a number of their actions come across as exceedingly cruel.
    • Being blind, Toph is one of the only people able to forget that Ozai burnt half of Zuko's face off, and takes a few minutes to understand why Zuko's heart rate spiked when she made a crack about spicy food burning her face off. She realizes her mistake and tells him he can make as many blind jokes about her as he wants in return for any burn ones she makes.
    • Aang is very confused as to why his choice of sparing Ozai by taking his bending instead utterly horrifies Zuko and his court.
    • Katara has a habit of popping her waterskin's cork when nervous, and thinks no one can hear it when she does so under the table. Zuko has an immediate flight response towards the sound and excellent hearing. Toph eventually has to point out Katara's been giving him mild heart attacks since they arrived.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Azula still has her Villainous Breakdown resulting from Mai and Ty Lee's betrayal, the key difference being that instead of covering an escape, they were instead caught trying to break Zuko out of prison.
  • The Insomniac: Zuko rarely sleeps as he's so busy keeping his country from falling apart that he frequently works through the night.
  • Insult to Rocks: Zuko jabs at the Gaang's poor navigational skills by pointing out their sense of direction improved after they added a blind girl to their team.
  • Invented Invalid: “Visiting sick relatives” is palace code for a servant who had to leave because it was no longer safe for them to remain in the palace. Quite a few servants begin their visits after Iroh is crowned Fire Lord.
  • Ironic Echo: Like in canon, Iroh assures Zuko that he sees him as a son. Unfortunately, this comes immediately after their Agni Kai so Zuko interprets it as Iroh viewing him the same way Ozai did.
  • Jerkass Realization: Toph has a moment when she learns just how bad Zuko's burn scar is and remembers that she made a joke about burning her face off.
  • Just Got Out of Jail: The story begins when Zuko is released from his Tailor-Made Prison by his own guards.
  • Laughing Mad: Azula obviously but also Zuko after the Agni Kai. People find the laugh rather creepy.
  • Licked by the Dog: Appa loves Zuko, who in turn develops a habit of napping with him by the turtleduck pond.
  • Literal Metaphor: Zuko's arrhythmia makes any heart metaphor painfully literal.
    Zuko's heart skipped a beat. In… kind of a literal way.
  • Literal-Minded: Zuko doesn't really DO rhetorical. Or double meanings for that matter.
  • Living Lie Detector: Toph. Especially notable here because her bending allows her to get a much more accurate view of Zuko's psyche, which makes her super protective in her own way.
  • The Long Game: Azula believed Iroh's usurpation of Zuko was a plan coming to fruition.
    Azula: You knew you couldn't beat father, but you trained Zuko. Poorly, I might add. You took him from father and from me and you played the caring uncle. Set up the child-Avatar to take out our father for you. Set up Zuko to take his place. And then you broke him, just because you could. Because he's father's and you made him yours, and you didn't need him anymore. One last backhand to your brother. I can understand that.
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     M-Q 
  • Machiavelli Was Wrong: Being a product of Azulon's court, Iroh believes that it is both necessary and respectful of servants to fear their Fire Lord. He is aghast that the servants' informality and open affection toward Zuko, seeing as a major disrespect toward a young ruler. The servants' fear of Iroh after his coup against Zuko is seen as a return to proper order. Which would have worked...if the servants hadn't experienced hope and kindness during Zuko's short reign. Iroh being a return to form just moves them to hatred and outright rebellion.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Deconstructed with Zuko and the Gaang:
    • With Zuko: the formerly imprisoned Zuko is made Fire Lord after Ozai is captured and Azula goes crazy. Despite Zuko's royal training, he was never taught how to delegate and in middle of the unenviable situation of trying to change a century-long wartime economy to a peace economy, trying to get peace treaties with other nations that hate them and fix his father's mismanagement. Which leads to Zuko working himself to the ground and putting his health on a downward spiral.
    • With the Gaang: With most of the Earth Kingdom generals refusing to leave the country, the Earth King missing and the Water Tribe leadership either too far or captured, the Gaang have to represent their respective nations in the peace conference Fire Lord Zuko is holding. They have no experience in politics and their hatred toward Zuko hinder any attempts to make any concessions on either side. In the end they outright fail to get any concessions and accidentally undermine their own desires for peace when they trigger a coup which results in civil war.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Azula shoots lightning at Zuko constantly, which has resulted in him having lightning-induced arrhythmia and all the heart problems that come with the condition. Zuko doesn't care, he has things to do.
  • Man in the Iron Mask: Zuko was thrown in a dark, small jail when he was captured after his post-eclipse Heel–Face Turn. Ozai had Zuko jailed instead of executed with the implication that he wanted Zuko to waste away and die in jail. And to be able to gloat to Zuko's face. Ty Lee and Mai attempted to break Zuko out of jail but failed. Ultimately it was Zuko's jailers who release him to take the throne. Zuko was the only royal left after Ozai's defeat and capture by the Avatar and Azula going insane.
  • Morton's Fork: Zuko finds out that the Earth Kingdom province Ozai burned down was a major food producer. Zuko wants to send food aid to the province to avoid a major famine if the Earth Kingdom surrenders. The Gaang and Iroh want Zuko to send the food aid regardless of the Earth Kingdom's hostility towards the Fire Nation. Which would bankrupt Fire Nation farmers and give them no guarantee that the Earth Kingdom wouldn't renew hostilities.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Zuko would be the first to admit the serious wrongs the Fire Nation committed against the world. That said, as Fire Lord, he will do everything to protect his people’s best interests to prevent them from getting screwed over.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • The Gaang constantly shoot down Zuko's various proposal and attempted concessions without letting either side explains themselves. Now the Earth Kingdom is not getting any relief, the war prisoners still aren't free and they undermined any chance of Iroh ruling peacefully.
    • Congratulations Iroh, you finally got your nephew to rest. He now cannot trust you and you've gained the ire of the entire palace who view you as a pro-Avatar traitor, to say nothing of what the potential resulting rumors will do to your attempts to rule.
    • After publicly calling out Iroh, Zuko tells him that he plans to visit his sick relatives. By which he means Azula, who was locked away in asylum. Everyone else believes that Zuko was using the publicly accepted code for "I've pissed off the ruler, I need to get the hell outta here." Which destroys any credibility Iroh had left and kicks off a civil war.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Zuko is loved among his palace servants and his counsel for being kind and forgiving in spite of his hot temper and firebrand personality. Zuko ends up going personally to the clerks' office so he can thank the Head Clerk for making graphs for the projected trade research in a week's time. Despite being displeased at his servants' informality towards him, he allows it to continue.
    • Due to his upbringing, Iroh tends to treat servants as furniture or pawns and enforces strict adherence to social hierarchy and formality.
    • Azula sees the servants as mice figuratively and literally in her delusions.
    • Sokka gets the servants' bad side in his frequent badmouthing of Zuko and casual disregard towards them. Despite their enmity, the servants are forced to be nice to him when Iroh comes into power.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: When Zuko is released from prison after his father's defeat and his sister's insanity to ascend as Fire Lord, he tries his very best to keep the nation from falling apart. Zuko works to transition the economy from war to peace, negotiate a peace treaty with reparations and tries to protect his nation's best interests. It gets him abused by Azula, belittled by the Gaang, worked to near death and betrayed by his uncle.
  • Nominal Importance: Toph mentally comments on Aang's insistence on finding an pacifist way to take down Ozai being a result of this. She also notes the hypocrisy of him not seeming to care about all the foot soldiers the rest of the Gaang were killing during the battle, just Ozai, because he could put a name and history to his face. Toph herself feels knowing about Ozai only lessened his right to live.
  • No-Sell: Unlike everyone else, Zuko easily ignores Toph's Slasher Smile, citing that Azula "had more teeth in her smiles at two than Toph did at twelve".
  • No Social Skills: Zuko's people skill were sub-par to begin with, then he got shut up in an isolated cell for months.
  • Not Me This Time: Iroh's reputation as The Chessmaster works against him after he usurps Zuko. Azula believes it was a long-term revenge plan on Ozai and many people are starting to believe her. After Zuko's public denouncement of him, it sinks any chance of Iroh reigning in the angry populace.
  • Not So Different: Iroh isn't above his Royally Messed Up family. Events prove that Iroh can be just as ruthless as Azula and Ozai, and just as an abusive father figure as his brother. Iroh didn't even mean any of it intentionally.
  • Not Used to Freedom: Having spent several months in an isolated, small, pitch black cell really messed with Zuko's head. Zuko figures that he will go back to jail eventually and is content with working himself to death in the assurance that he can rest when he's re-imprisoned. Once forced out of position as Fire Lord, Zuko has no idea what to do with his newfound freetime.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In-Universe regarding Aang being able to take away people's bending. Many of the palace servants and later the entire country have no idea how Aang's energybending works and unsure whether Aang needs to touch people to take away bending. Due to the Fire Nation's spiritual importance on firebending, they see it as Aang ripping out part of people's souls regardless. With public knowledge that the Avatar supported Iroh's usurpation of the popular Fire Lord Zuko, Aang is terrifying regardless. What little they know of the Avatar further demonizes him.
  • Oblivious to Love: A platonic variant, Zuko doesn't understand that his servants' casual affection and treatment of him is out of genuine concern and adoration of him.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations:
    • When Iroh takes the throne from Zuko and tries to talk to Zuko about it in the aftermath, he promises Zuko things that Zuko takes for something else entirely. Iroh promises to abdicate the throne once Zuko turns eighteen and feels like he's ready (Meaning if Iroh deems him ready). Zuko can take as much responsibility as he's comfortable (Iroh will decide what Zuko can and can't do). Zuko is welcomed to every meeting (which Iroh will run). Zuko's free to speak his opinions (unless they don't match Iroh's). Iroh believes he's being generous by making Zuko his heir and giving free reign to decide if he wants to take power or not. Zuko feels that he's getting it rubbed in his face that Iroh is calling all the shots.
    • At the end of his epic Calling the Old Man Out speech during his Crown Prince coronation, Zuko caps the speech by saying that he has sick relatives to visit. Zuko is being completely literal as he plans to visit Azula in the mental asylum Iroh locked her away in and break her out. What everyone else hears is the figurative meaning of visiting sick relatives: Zuko is leaving the capital because he fears Iroh will kill him if he stays for disagreeing with Iroh's regime. Since Zuko was loved by the public for being the only nice Fire Lord within living memory, he's unintentionally telling the public to not trust Iroh. Which kicks off a civil war.
  • Only Sane Man: Toph is the only one to understand how stressed and psychologically damaged Zuko is, along with being the only member of the Gaang to not shoot down all his proposals without explanation.
  • Passive-Aggressive Kombat: Zuko manages to hurt Iroh with a remark after all the hurt Iroh inflicted on him:
    Zuko: You said you thought of me as your son.
    Zuko: Thank you for the lesson, ''father.''
  • Persona Non Grata: Zuko attempts to ban Aang from the Fire Nation until Aang understands the magnitude of what taking away Ozai's bending actually means to firebenders.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: Azula stays in Amigara asylum that Iroh forced her in because she had no where to go and all her family and friends abandoned her for all she knew. Seeing Zuko attempting to break her out moved Azula to finally escape.
  • Poor Communication Kills:
    • Everyone suffers from this to varying degrees but most pronounced with Iroh, who is frankly terrible at being open with what he's doing and why. Most noticeably, he doesn't properly explain beforehand why he challenged Zuko to an Agni Kai so the whole thing is seen as Iroh deliberately playing his family against each other so he can take the throne, rather than only doing so temporarily out of concern for Zuko's health. Even afterwards, Iroh merely apologizes without explaining he was worried Zuko would work himself to death.
    • Similarly, the Gaang constantly shoot down Zuko's proposals but almost never tell him why, such as Katara and Sokka being outraged that he's keeping enemy leaders as political prisoners but not telling him their father is one such prisoner. Or Sokka arguing against the Fire Nation "owning" the waters around their territories because it's not a concept he understands.
    • The Gaang arrives seeking peace because the Earth Kingdom's generals have been throwing out Zuko's letters regarding a ceasefire without reading them first.
  • Prolonged Prologue: 18 chapters of political intrigue and it's only Book Zero.
  • Psychological Projection: Katara deeply loves her father and wants his safe return. Thus she is repulsed that Zuko doesn't want his father back and would let the Earth Kingdom continue imprison Ozai to prevent a power struggle. Katara uses this to justify her already negative view of him. She later takes Zuko's refusal to release enemy leaders (of which her father is one) as a personal slight rather than the national security concern it actually is.
  • Psychosomatic Superpower Outage: With Zuko being captured before he could join the Gaang in his post-eclipse Heel–Face Turn, Zuko is barely able to bend due to losing his anger that fueled it. Then Iroh challenges Zuko to an Agni Kai to dethrone him. Faced with his beloved uncle betraying him and forcing to relive the worst memory of his life causes Zuko to lose his firebending completely.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Iroh wins the Agni Kai and becomes Fire Lord in Zuko's place. Iroh loses his relationship with Zuko, the trust of the Gaang and the faith of the palace and the nation. Worst of all, he's stuck in the position he never wanted.

     R-Z 
  • Reality Ensues:
    • The only reason that Azula was able to take her position as Fire Lord was due to Ozai changing the law to make 14 the minimum age to become Fire Lord. Neither Azula nor Zuko would be considered legal adults in the rest of the Fire Nation. They are both considered too young to be ruling without a regent. In fact, the Fire Sages try to make a deal with Iroh to become Zuko's regent or take the throne so an actual adult is ruling the country instead of a child working himself to death.
    • Those Fire Nation ships Aang took out while channeling the Ocean Spirit in Season 1? This story confirms that he killed over a thousand soldiers doing so.
    Aang: I know I kind of… broke a few of your ships. At the North Pole.
    Zuko (thinking): Sent over a thousand people into graves of steel and salt, yes.
    • An entire war isn't won simply because you beat the enemy's leader. It takes Zuko all but literally spelling it out for Aang to understand that the Fire Nation only started withdrawing troops and ending the war because Zuko declared a ceasefire and ordered them back, not because he beat Ozai.
      • So far as anyone is concerned, the Fire Nation won the war. The Water Tribes are a non-factor, the Air Nomads are functionally extinct, and the Fire Nation controls more of the Earth Kingdom than the Earth Kindom does. And no, Zuko isn't going to give up the Fire Nation colonies simply because Aang asked.
    • While Ozai was stopped from burning down all of the Earth Kingdom, he still wiped out a considerable amount of farmland. As it was just before the harvest, the nation is now facing a serious famine.
    • With Kuei going missing and not telling anyone where he went as he went Walking the Earth, many people believed that he was eaten by his bear once his bear got hungry. A Sheltered Aristocrat that never had to fend for himself or his pet is very likely to be dead.
    • A bunch of politically inexperienced teens have to draw a peace treaty on behalf of their nations during a peace conference with the Fire Nation. A lack of communication and understanding on both sides leads said politically inexperienced teens to completely botch any peace in the short and long term.
    • During Zuko's Agni Kai against Iroh, many of the palace staff notice that he didn't firebend at all and wonder if the Avatar Depowered him. While Aang didn't, the lack of public knowledge of how energybending works makes the unpopular Avatar a convenient scapegoat and boogeyman.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Zuko is the first Fire Lord in decades to openly care about his people and their safety over personal ambitions. He actively engages with his staff in the palace, working with and listening to them to find the best ways to help the nation recover.
  • Reflexive Response: When Katara pops the cork on her waterskin, Zuko dodges to the side before he even consciously realizes what the sound is.
  • Refuse to Rescue the Disliked: When Zuko has a heart-attack in the middle of the reparations, Katara initially tries to refuse to help him. Toph attempts to non-verbally call Katara out by socking her in the arm, Katara freezes her own feet to the ground. Had not Iroh made her, Katara would have been content to watch Zuko die.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Zuko doesn't want to be Fire Lord, and doesn't believe anyone else does either. He's just going to keep doing his job until he literally can't. When presented with being named Crown Prince after Iroh takes over, he realizes he doesn't care about being in charge anymore.
    • For that matter, Iroh would have be happy to sit back and remain an elder advisor to his nephew if it were not for Zuko's refusal to take care of his precarious health.
  • Redundant Rescue:
    • Zuko's a victim of this twice:
      • He ends up being captured when he attempts to break Iroh out of jail only to find that Iroh already escaped.
      • When he goes to break Azula out of her mental asylum, Azula had already loosened the window. She didn't want to escape since she had nowhere to go. At this point Zuko bemoans he fact that no one he attempts to rescue actually needs him to escape.
  • Rejected Apology: After the Agni Kai and ousting Zuko from the position of Fire Lord, Iroh gets on his knees and begs for Zuko's forgiveness. Zuko doesn't remotely forgive Iroh for undermining him, undoing his efforts as Fire Lord and making him relive his worst trauma. He doesn't even think that Iroh is being sincere.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Fire Lord Zuko's respond to the Gaang's arrival to give them the palace's best hospitality, give them the rooms they want so they can feel safe, have his servants cater to them and try to be a good host. The Gaang's response is to be constantly rude to Zuko's face (all of them), constantly accuse Zuko of poisoning them (Sokka), threatening to attack Zuko thinking that he wouldn't hear (Katara), making impossible demands (Aang) and be rude to all the servants (the original Gaang). Toph even points out that Zuko is lying when he's trying to say it was nice to have them.
  • Sanity Slippage: Neither Azula or Zuko are in a good place mentally, and the arrival of the Gaang only makes things worse. By Chapter 15 Azula is actively hallucinating and two chapters later Zuko starts disassociating.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • After Iroh defeats Zuko in the very one-sided Agni Kai, all the servants who called out Iroh leave "to visit their sick relatives" in fear of Iroh executing them.
    • Zuko turns his back on Iroh and walks away when he refuses to reinstated as Crown Prince after Iroh usurped him.
  • Selective Obliviousness:
    • After overthrowing Zuko as Fire Lord, Iroh mentions how things have returned to normal regarding the servants, not realizing things changed because the servants adored Zuko and think Iroh is just as much a tyrant as Ozai and Azulon.
    • Zuko thinks his servants are insubordinate because they detest him when they're actually trying to make him rest because they adore Zuko and can tell he's literally working himself to death.
  • Seriously Scruffy: Zuko lets his self-care go as he's too busy rebuilding his nation. The only reason he isn't worse is due to the efforts of his servants.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!: When Zuko calls out Iroh for never informing him that he worked for the White Lotus, Iroh tries to insist Zuko was still too obsessed with pleasing his father, only for Zuko to retort that he was obsessed because he thought he had no other options.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Iroh has Azula's food and tea drugged with sedatives to forcibly transport her to a mental asylum. While Azula didn't touch the food, she eventually succumbed due to drinking the tea.
  • Spanner in the Works: Iroh's plan to subdue Azula to get her into a mental hospital would have gone off without a hitch, had Lady Huian not warned her ahead of time.
  • Spare to the Throne: Zuko, having been The Unfavorite his entire life and only crowned because of Azula's breakdown views himself as “the nation's fallback heir”.
  • Spotting the Thread: Old Sakura warns her employee Shenji to stop using Earth Kingdom curses as it'll immediately out him as a halfbreed and see him burned. Shenji also keeps his head down so people won't notice his green eyes, something almost no one in the Fire Nation has.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • Katara wonders why they are even bothering to negotiate with Zuko. They could kill or imprison him and replace him with Iroh.
    • Toph notes that Zuko could kept his mouth shut and accepted becoming Crown Prince again to protect the Fire Nation from the influence of White Lotus. As Iroh's heir, Zuko would still have influence to fix things. After all what Iroh and the Gaang put him through, Zuko refuses to even consider it.
  • Sure, Let's Go with That: Shenji, a young man working at a food stall, goes along with the idea he's a halfbreed who decides to visit sick relatives after Iroh takes the throne. In reality, he's a young Dai Lee spy and needs to report recent events back to his superiors.
  • Swapped Roles: The Gaang have to chase down and capture Zuko before his actions inspire people to rebel against the Fire Lord. Sokka is painfully aware of the sheer irony of their situation.
  • Take a Third Option: Zuko could do nothing and watch Iroh ruin the Fire Nation. Or he could try to fix things as Iroh's heir while always fearing Iroh's wrath. Zuko then realizes he has a third option: he could do nothing. Nothing meaning Abdicate the Throne.
  • Taught by Experience: Zuko knows more about the world outside the Fire Nation than any of his soldiers or his generals due to having spent years traveling the world searching for the Avatar, including knowing about towns that aren't on the official maps and which technically enemy ports would look the other way if Fire Nation ships were onloading troops rather than offloading.
  • Thicker Than Water: While their relationship is deeply flawed from a lifetime of abuse, Zuko and Azula love each other dearly and would go to great lengths for one another.
  • Trauma Button: After being traumatized by Iroh, both Zuko and Azula develop distastes for tea.
  • Truth in Television: The Japanese work ethic is notorious for its extreme focus on productivity, even if at the expense of the individual, leading to cases of karoshi, or work-related death, to which Zuko nearly succumbed (compounded with lightning-induced arrhythmia.)
  • Unintentional Backup Plan: At the end of his Calling the Old Man Out speech during his attempted coronation, Zuko leaves the stage after telling Iroh that he's going to visit sick relatives. Zuko was afraid that people would go after him while he breaks Azula out from the asylum. Everyone failed to realize that Zuko meant that literally until it was too late.
  • Unreliable Narrator: EVERYONE. The fic takes great lengths to establish how each character has contrasting views and values which have a large effect on how they perceive and react to situations.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Zuko is really bad at being good and has no clue what his actions in Chapter 18 started.
    "Sokka was starting to be a little afraid that not only was he right about Zuko's evil mastermind abilities, but that they were completely unintentional."
  • The Usurper: In desperate attempt to save Zuko's life after the pressure from being Fire Lord stress Zuko's frail health to the point of a heart attack, Iroh challenges Zuko an Agni Kai for the throne. Due to Zuko's popularity for being the only kind Fire Lord within living memory and Zuko's effectiveness as a ruler, it ignites a civil war.
  • Wham Episode:
    • Chapter 14: Iroh challenges Zuko to an Agni Kai for the throne.
    • Chapter 18: Zuko refuses to made Crown Prince again and unintentionally starts a civil war.
  • Wham Line:
    • From the aforementioned Chapter 14:
    Iroh:"Fire Lord Zuko. Under Agni's sight and before the court, I challenge you for the dragon throne."
    • From Chapter 18:
    Zuko: I've already been Fire Lord. I won't be a prince again.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Fire Sage Fujio implictly rebuked Iroh for not pressing his claim against Ozai to begin with in spite of the shady way Azulon died.
    • Many of the servants vocally chastised Iroh for not doing anything to help his nephew.
    • Toph calls out Katara for both giving Zuko minor heart attacks by figeting with her waterskin and for refusing to heal him while he's having a major heart attack.
    • Azula and Zuko each call out Iroh for dethroning Zuko.
    • Zuko rips into Iroh for actively committing treason while traveling with Zuko, something that'd have gotten everyone on the ship executed, and for keeping secrets that left Zuko feeling hopeless and trapped when Iroh knew of another path he could have taken.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?:
    • Both Toph and Zuko are frustrated with Aang's refusal to kill Ozai when Aang had inadvertently killed many Mooks in battle and drowned thousands of soldiers in the Siege of the North.
    • The servants and guards are horrified when Iroh commands them to act as bait for Azula. The servants drag their feet on helping him while the several guards died in the crossfire in the ensuing fight.
    • Zuko pointedly asks how many guards were killed when Iroh tried to force Azula into an asylum. When Iroh tells him how his son's death that he finally realized how the war hurt the world and the Fire Nation. Zuko wonders why Iroh wasn't moved by the deaths of the many soldiers under his command.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: The war is finally over, yay! Now a bunch of kids with no political knowledge are playing ambassador trying to hash out a peace treaty with recently crowned new Fire Lord Zuko, who they don't trust. Not yay.
  • Workaholic: Zuko doesn't know how to do things in halves. The palace staff are desperate to get him to rest anyway they can before he kills himself from overworking.
  • You Can Keep Her: Sokka attempts to intimidate Zuko by bragging how they have imprisoned Ozai. Zuko is more concerned on how they are imprisoning Ozai to make sure he's stays imprisoned. Sokka's later attempt at ransoming Ozai also falls flat.

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