Chapter 1:

Home Again and Leaving

It had been a lone time since he'd been home. Things had changed; time had taken its toll. No one had told him, and it was too late now. He was finally coming home, but there was no longer anything worth it to him. Things had changed too much, and he had been replaced.

Prince Zuko made his way to the front of the battered ship. He could see smoke rising from distant volcanoes, and could feel the excitement in the country. Zuko stopped day dreaming long enough to walk back over to his hostage's cell. "Don't try anything. We're too close now anyway; there's no where for you to run to," the homesick prince said viciously. He got no reply from his captive. He walked back up on deck and waited anxiously for the huge ship to dock. It had been a long time since he'd walked on these shores, and it was worth every second of waiting in his eyes.

One of the soldiers came up to Zuko, and said they were ready to dock. Zuko nodded to show that he had heard, then went right back to staring at his home. It looked the same for the most part; the same brutal charm, the same mob of excited people. Uncle Iroh was nowhere to be found, but Zuko was sure he would be there. He couldn't just stay on the ship forever.

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Aang looked through the cold steel bars of his cell. All he could see through the tiny window on the opposite wall was smoke and water. Not very reassuring. He assumed they were in the fire nation now, since everyone had abandoned him down here to go up on the top deck. He knew it would be futile to try to escape, and he didn't have any ideas on how to escape anyway.

Finally, a few of Zuko's soldiers came down to Aang's cell. They took him out and tied his hands together. While they were leading Aang up the stairs, someone came down and met them halfway up. "The Fire Lord is not going to let us dock!"

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It was hopeless. Zuko knew that his father changed his mind a lot, but this was a little extreme. There was no way Zuko could give up and just leave, and yet there was nothing he could do. If Ozai wouldn't let them dock, they would have to turn around and leave.

Aang was confused. Why wouldn't the Fire Lord want him? He was, after all, the avatar. With some time and training, he would be a great threat to the Fire Nation and their plan for victory. It seemed impossible that Ozai would just turn away the avatar, and continue with the war. Once Aang was more powerful, the Fire Nation wouldn't be strong enough to recapture him. Zuko had told Aang that his father wasn't the most trustworthy person, but this was insane!

The whole crowd of people waiting for their prince's arrival was getting impatient. They couldn't see why the Fire Lord was doing such a cruel and foolish thing. This was his only chance at the avatar, and he was acting like it didn't mean a thing to him; like he could just go one with whatever he was doing and forget about this soon-to-be-deadly threat. It didn't seem right to them, but they began to forlornly depart and go home.

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When Uncle Iroh woke up from his nap and came up to the deck, he immediately remembered what had happened, and he wished he had told his nephew sooner. He walked up to Zuko and hesitated, then broke the news. "Your father wrote to me about a month ago. I didn't really believe what he said, so I didn't tell you anything. I thought it would be a cruel thing to do in case the Fire Lord was just trying to upset you."

"WHAT DID HE SAY?!?!" Zuko shouted impatiently.

"He...um...I don't know quite how to say this. He sort of ...replaced you. He has a new son to take the throne after him, and he said he doesn't need to worry about the avatar, since the comet is due in a month or so."

Zuko walked away and went down to his room. Iroh instantly knew he had made a huge mistake by not telling this to Zuko earlier. He told the ship's crew to turn around and head somewhere tropical.

A/N: OK, just so everyone knows –

Iroh didn't forget to tell Zuko about the replacement thing. He didn't want to upset Zuko, because he thought it was just a cruel joke to keep them from coming back. He's not that forgetful.