Zuko always knew his father didn't like him all that much, at first it was because of his bending. When he turned 4 and still couldn't throw even a spark, everyone thought he would be a non-bender. But when he turned 6 and presented as an omega, it was like he stopped existing altogether. Of course, that his little sister presented as an alpha really wasn't any help.
It was tradition in the Fire Nation to test all kids at their 4th birthday to see if they would be fire-benders or not. Some children developed their gift as young as 3 year old, while others, late bloomers, didn’t throw sparks until they were 5. However, by the age of 6 every child with the gift of bending was well into their training. Nonetheless, since Azula managed to burn an entire room at age 3, it was only logical that he, the first-born, should have managed something similar, and if by now that he was 5 and long overdue in that aspect, the only explanation was that he was a non-bender, and therefore not an eligible heir for the throne.
One would think that after throwing a temper tantrum so bad that you literally destroyed an entire room, your parents would ground you. Zuko knew that’s what would happen to him if he tried to do something like that. But only his mother seemed upset about all the destruction, his father actually seemed rather happy about it.
As it was, he knew he was just a disappointment in his father’s eyes. He was way too small, too scrawny to be a proper heir, but now he couldn’t even bend. Or at least, that’s what he thought, until he heard his father talking to his trusted generals, about finally having an heir for his throne, and what a relieve it was that it wasn´t him. Never mind that Lu Ten, as a fire-bending Alpha and the first-born of Uncle Iroh, was the heir to the Fire Lord’s throne.
Well, it was fine, he never actually wanted to rule, it never appealed to him in the first place, not like it did for his sister. And that should have told them what would be their secondary gender from the beginning. Still, it was a surprise when the court performed the second traditional test, the test to determine your secondary gender, when he was 6. Everyone was tested that young so their parents could adapt the upbringing of their children to fit their genders, and prepare them for adult life and the changes that puberty would bring.
Alphas were prepared to lead armies, to fight, to protect (even if there weren’t that many Alphas that filled that role nowadays), and they were taught about rut and Omegas and mating.
Omegas were prepared to care for the children, about housekeeping, about healing people, about their heat and pregnancies and mating.
Betas, on the other side, could do whatever they wanted. They didn’t have to worry about heats or ruts unless they were mated to an Omega or an Alpha, and even then, it was only sex for them. And while Alphas where the ones that became soldiers, and leaders; and the Omegas the mothers, cooks and healers; the Betas could be anything, from a high ranking general to a singer and everything in between.
Alphas had their first rut at 13, and then had one every year; Omegas had their first heat at 16, and then had one every year; and Betas just grew up without any worries. No-one knew why the age difference between Alphas and Omegas, some people thought it was to give the Omegas time to grow before a pregnancy, while others thought it just meant that Alphas were superior and thus developed earlier.
So, Zuko was rather hoping he would be a Beta, but of course he presented as an Omega. After his initial disappointment, Zuko thought it would be ok, that way he wouldn’t be a disappointment to his father, since omegas weren’t supposed to lead or fight, it wouldn’t matter that he was small for his age (his sister was taller than him already). He couldn’t be more wrong.
“An omega who can’t bend?” his father asked his court, looking at him with a sneer. “What a waste of space, you should have died the day you were born and spare us wasting all this time on you”. And then he left the room, Azula trailing behind him and snickering as if he had said the funniest joke ever.
His mother hugged him and dried his face with her handkerchief, and that’s when he noticed he was crying. After that, his life just got more complicated as he grew up. His sister’s bulling only got worse, and her friends Ty Lee and Mai, while not sure if it was alright to treat him like that, were too scared of Azula to help him out, especially after she presented as an Alpha. The court didn’t take him seriously, the generals only threw him nasty glances and smiles as he got older, and his father mostly ignored him. Only his mother, and his Uncle Iroh and cousin Lu Ten (when they were present) treated him with love.
But even like that, it was fine, he could take it, he wasn’t weak even if he was an Omega. At least, it was fine until Azula got into her first rut and he had to spend a week in hiding, with the help of his mother and Uncle (Thank Agni), because Azula suddenly wanted him as her mate, and then everything changed.
Siblings mating each other wasn’t uncommon, actually it was usually the first mating choice in noble families that had Omega and Alpha children, with cousin couples coming second (And he was going to mate with Lu Ten when he had his first heat, but his beloved cousin had died). He never thought Azula would want him as a mate, by the way she treated him he always thought she hated him, but most matings weren’t about love, but about ownership (just look at his parents), and so he shouldn’t be so surprised. But he didn’t want to mate Azula, he wouldn’t live past 20 if he did, and he just knew their children would either suffer or become as cruel as her.
He thought his father wouldn’t allow his heir mate with him, the disappointment that he was, and risk having worthless grandchildren, and for a while thought he was safe. But one day, after Azula’s rut had finished, his father asked for his presence in the throne room. It was unusual, but he didn’t think any of it, maybe he was going to tell him he was going to be mated with one of his generals. That way Azula could mate with someone “worthy” of her, and really, even Zhao was better that Azula. But no, when he got there he saw her mother’s crying face, Azula’s smug one and his father looking at him with cold eyes.
“It appears you are actually worth something” he said. “You wouldn’t be my first choice as a mate for my heir, but as Azula told me, even if you are a disappointment, you still have Fire Lord’s blood, so your children could be good enough heirs if they take after Azula,” he smirked at that, probably thinking the same thing Zuko did “but don’t worry, if any take after you, well… let just say that young children are prone to have little… accidents” he finished, cruel eyes piercing into him, as if daring to contradict him. And as horrified as he was at the moment, Zuko was anything but stupid, and he knew when to keep his mouth shut, his life as the Omega son of the Fire Lord had seen to that. Satisfied that his son wouldn’t argue, at least he knew his place, Ozai continued talking.
“Since you still have a year until your first heat, your mating will be postponed until your 16th birthday, but since you didn’t answer to your Alpha’s call when she was in rut, as is your duty, you will be punished by her as she sees fit”. He finished, now looking at Azula and giving her permission to talk and say what kind of punishment he deserved.
“Well, father, the usual punishment for misbehaving Omegas is burning them, isn’t it?” She Asked with fake sweetness, and waited until their father nodded to continue. “But since he’s still a part of the royal family, he should be able to defend himself, so what about Agni Kai?” She said, cruel smile in place, knowing he wouldn’t be able to defend himself as he couldn’t bend.
“Sound good” their father told them, an equally cruel smile in place “Look Zuko, what a considerate Alpha you have, she will let you try to defend your honor” At that, his mother whimpered, unable to remain silent anymore.
“Ozai, please” she said “You know he can’t bend, he wouldn’t be able to do more than stand in front of all your court while Azula burned him again and again, she could kill him!”
“I believe you have interfered enough as it is, Ursa” He answered, visibly angry as he turned to look at her. “I know you and that pathetic brother of mine were the ones to help him hide, and so you too will receive a punishment for your actions” He sat up from his throne and walked to her.
“Father, please, don’t hurt her” Zuko said, trying to go with her mother, only to have Azula grab him painfully and stop him.
"Zuko, please, my love, listen to me. Everything I've done, I've done to protect you. Remember this, Zuko. No matter how things may seem to change, never forget who you are." Said his mother, tears in his eyes as he looked at the person he loved the most.
“Now, Zuzu, let’s leave the adults speak, shall we?” she asked, and dragged him out of the room, the doors closed immediately by the guards outside. And his mother’s pained screams could be heard through the doors.
“Guards, escort Zuko here to his rooms and stay there, he has an important event later at sunset, wouldn’t want him to be late, so bring him to the Arena” She said, leaving him with the guards. “Bye, Zuzu, see you later” she smirked and went down the hallway, no doubt to dress up in the traditional attire for the duel, even if it wouldn’t be a duel, more like a massacre because he doubted he would survive this. Maybe that was the plan all along, they just needed an excuse to kill him.
So the guards took him to his room, where his maids waited for him to dress him up. Usually, males went bare-chested to this duels, but since he was an Omega, that wouldn’t be proper, so he was dressed in the female attire (which was basically the same loose pants, only with a shirt). Usually, only Alphas and the occasional Beta fought in this duels, since Omegas weren’t thought fire-bending for combat, just so they could control it and for some chores at home. So, even if he could bend, he would be equally screwed. At this point, he only worried for his mother and uncle’s fates, since he already knew what would happen with him.
After a while, he was ready and the guards came to take him there, apparently, everyone was aware of what would happen, because he caught some of them sending him pitying looks. But he didn’t want to be pitied, so he just ignored them and kept on walking. When they arrived to the Arena, he could see that every person in court and every noble was there, but for two people: his mother and his uncle; and he started to worry again.
Fire Lord Ozai stood up from where he was sitting, and everyone shut up. “We are here today to witness an Agni Kai between Prince Zuko and Princess Azula” he started, and many gasps could be heard. They now knew for sure that they were there to witness, not a duel, but a murder. There was no way a non-bender Omega could survive Azula’s viciousness while fighting, even her teachers were afraid of dueling her. “Princess Azula, as you all know, is a very powerful Alpha” he stated, obviously proud “and as she turned 13, she already had her first rut. And as an Alpha, she had the right to choose her mate, but said mate didn’t respond to her call, ignoring his duty” He continued, now looking at Zuko with contempt. “Therefore, Princess Azula had the right to choose the punishment for her Omega, and as the merciful Alpha she is, she will let him fight for his honor in this Agni Kai duel”. At this point, everyone was silent, all knowing this wasn’t happening because of mercy. Some actually looked sick, some looked indifferent, while others lamented the loss of a young Omega, before he actually had the chance to go into his first heat. But it wasn’t their place to argue with the Royal Family of the Fire Nation.
“But he wasn’t alone in this, my own brother, Prince Iroh, helped him avoid his duty, and as punishment, he is vanished from the Fire Nation until he manage to capture the Avatar, and only then will he recover his honor and will be allowed to return. His ship will part shortly after sunset.” He said, a fake sorrow coloring his voice. Of course, he would be only too happy to get rid of the only person who could easily take his throne from him. “But those are not the only bad news” he continued “for the Princess Ursa, my beloved mate, have committed suicide when she heard of what was happening” he said, a saddened whisper going through the crowd.
“Mother, no!” Whimpered Zuko, right before he was pushed to the center of the Arena by the guards.
“Sorry, kid. Nothing personal, just following orders” Said one, looking upset. Meanwhile, Azula walked to the center of the Arena, facing him and stretching, before coming closer and adopting the traditional position to start a duel. He tried to copy her, but he knew it didn’t look right, her mocking face confirming it.
“Are you ready Zuzu? The sunset is almost over, let’s finish this quick and return to our merry lives, why won’t we?” She asked, her manic smile just managing to scare him even more. “Don’t worry, Zuzu, I’ll just burn your pretty little face, so no-one else will want you, and then you’ll be mine and do everything I say” she whispered, just loud enough for him to hear, her smile just growing crazier when he couldn’t suppress a whimper.
Ozai just watched his children, fully aware of what was happening between them. He only smirked, amused at his daughter’s way of controlling her future mate, and raised a hand to demand silence. “Now, begin!” He shouted, throwing a fire blast to the sky to indicate the start of the duel.
Azula smirked and threw blast after blast at Zuko’s feet, making him flinch and walk backwards to try and avoid the fire, until he lost balance and fell backwards, hard. Then she walked to him and looked at him from where she stood, cruel eyes laughing at him.
“Is that all, Zuzu? Well, what a disappointment you are, I thought you will fight harder to keep your honor, but maybe you just don’t want it, hmm?” She taunted him, raising her fist and aiming it at his face. “Say good bye to that pretty face, Zuko” She said and pushed, fire surrounding her fist and moving towards him, fast. There was no way he could avoid them, so close from him, but he still tried to protect his face and raised his arms, and something strange happened. He could feel as if something really heavy was moving towards him, and his first impulse was to push back, and so he did. The flames twisted sideways and still burned part of his neck and his left shoulder, but the rest flew hard and fast towards Azula, who was pushed back and fell, not expecting an attack from a non-bender Omega.
Everyone was shocked, the only sound being Zuko’s cries of pain from the ground, his burns being quite serious. Just then, smoke quickly started to fill the Arena, creating a panic as visibility was lost. Zuko, still on the ground and losing consciousness, could hear his father shouting for the guards to do their job and apprehend whoever was interrupting the duel. He could hear Azula shouting and running towards him, but a big silhouette appeared in front of him. The last thing he saw was that silhouette throw Azula back into the smoke before turning to him and picking him up. He whimpered, scared of the unknown figure and in pain, before everything went black and he couldn’t hear anything anymore.