Disclaimer: Avatar The Last Airbender belongs to its creators and Nickelodeon
Chapter 1: Disturbing Memories
A ten-year-old Prince Zuko lay in his bed onboard his small ship, staring at the large pennant of his nation. He did his hardest to fight back the tears that stung threateningly at the corners of his eyes. Gone, everything he'd grown up with was gone. His mother had disappeared only two weeks before. His cousin had died shortly before that. His Grandfather was dead, and no one seemed to know how or why. Finally, his home was gone.
Young Zuko remembered the events of nearly two weeks prior. The morning after Princess Ursa had disappeared he had rushed out into the garden. There, near the pond, stood his father, then Prince Ozai. He'd called out toward his father wanting to know where she was. He'd become overtaken by his emotions at the man's silence and ran at the him, repeating his question. Before he knew what was happening he was on the ground, a bruise forming on his temple from an ornate ring. Tears had pricked his eyes.
"Stop that sniveling!" Ozai had snarled with a glare at the boy. When Zuko failed at stopping the tears, he'd rounded on the boy. He shouted, "You weak failure."
Zuko saw the fiery hand coming at him, and had barely squeezed his eyes shut when a searing pain spread through the left side of his face. He hit the ground biting his lip hard enough to draw blood to keep the gut-wrenching scream from escaping, and earning more punishment. His hands covered the area of bloody, charred carnage that had been his face.
"Ozai, what have you done?" A deep, older male voice shouted.
He'd felt strong arms scoop him up, and felt the movement of the person as they ran with him. The same voice, though now in a soothing, worried tone told him to go ahead and let it out. That there was no shame in crying after what had happened. He knew that voice, and was partially comforted by the very presence of it. It was Uncle Iroh having just returned that morning, but a part of Zuko was saddened that it wasn't his father carrying him to aide.
He'd spent the next hours in the infirmary having healers tend to his face. That night he'd had to dawn his ceremonial funeral clothes and appear with his other family members at the state funeral for his Grandfather Azulon. He'd felt embarrassed as he saw people glance or even stare at the bandages on his face, but tried to keep his head held high for the pride of his family. He looked on in shock as the high sage crowned not his uncle but his father, Fire Lord. After the funeral, his father had grabbed his arm and dragged him to the throne room. Ozai's first act as Fire Lord was to banish his own son for his weakness and disrespect.
Now here he sat, waiting to be delivered to a port in the conquered territory of the Earth Kingdom. He was never to return to the mainland of his nation, the home that he'd been born in, the home of all of his family since the first Fire Lord, Ryu, founder of the empire. Was he to ever to set one foot on its soil again, he would be executed.
Zuko was shaken from his memories, thrown to the floor by a loud explosion and the lurching of the ship. He began to hear voices shouting through the halls, and he rushed from his quarters. He had to find his uncle, find out what was happening. He ran as quickly as he could, shouts and orders flying about him sailors rushing around performing their duties as he hurried toward the deck. When he finally made it he found the deck in chaos. The catapult had been raised, the crew operating it as fast as they could. Another group was trying to put out the fires on the hull from the explosion. He saw Iroh dispensing orders and ran to him.
Iroh scowled at the Earth Kingdom boats attacking them. These weren't actual naval ships, most likely belonging to marauders just looking for a target like this. The ship was small, similar in design to the early iron hulled ships. This class was standardly used as a scout for battle groups so it would generally have more than one of the larger battleships not too far off to protect it. He supposed it was another idea of his younger brother's to degrade the boy.
These marauders had somehow gotten their hands on blasting jelly and were now using it against them. The first volley had hit above the waterline on the port side, lurching the ship and causing some fires to result. The thing that worried him was that the explosion had been relatively close to the engine room. He was giving orders as quickly as he could, but turning he noticed his ten year nephew running to him. Before he could reach him however another violent explosion rocked the ship. He hung on to one of the catapult's legs as he watched with widening eyes as Zuko went tumbling to the other side to hit the rail. He began to sigh in relief, seeing Zuko rise to his feet, when he heard shouts from below deck and the abandon ship signal echoing through the communication pipes. The last hit had damaged the boilers. Soon sailors were bursting out on deck, and finally the ship gave one last lurching groan before the boilers exploded ripping apart the insides of the ship. Iroh was pushed by the explosion's force into the water.
Zuko felt the deck below him shudder, and then thrust up. He was falling through the night. He briefly saw one of the attacking ships with his undamaged eye, and feared how close it was. The cold water of the ocean suddenly clouded his vision, and he lost all sense of direction. He twist and turned, flailing for his life. Which way was up? He had to get back to the surface. His lungs were starting to burn from lack of air. A light, he saw a light. It was from the fire engulfing the ship's remains. He kicked and pulled at the water forcing himself up. At last he broke the surface air rushing into lungs as he gasped.
He was scared out of his wits as someone grabbed the back of his collar. He was ripped from the water by a large hand, and thrown onto a wooden deck. He was still coughing up a bit of water when another pair of hands grabbed him, pulling his arms behind his back. The coarse texture of rope met his wrists, and he began struggling, trying to get away. It was no use though. The person was bigger and stronger, and he was weak from the swim. Soon he was thrown to the side bound at the wrists and ankles, but he wouldn't let that stop him. He pushed himself toward the railing. He had no idea what he was going to do, but he'd do something. He was stopped by a heavy foot on his back.
Zuko turned his head to see an ugly man smirking down at him. He turned back out toward the wreckage, and shouted, "UNCLE!" He was cut off by a hard strike to the back of his head, and he fell into the darkness of unconsciousness.
Iroh thrashed in the water trying to ascertain what was going on. He saw a lifeboat with a few of the sailors, and swam toward it. He was praying to any spirit he could think of for his nephew to be safe, and hopefully among them. The others pulled him into the boat, and his eyes darted about from face to face. No, there wasn't any sign of him. Where was he?
"Have any of you seen Prince Zuko." He asked urgently. "We must find him."
One sailor sadly said, "I think I saw him go over the other side. There was an enemy ship near there. Sir, if he hasn't drowned, I'm afraid he may have been captured or killed."
Iroh closed his eyes, tears sliding down his face. He didn't think he'd ever be able to forgive himself for what had happened in the last five weeks. First his son had died while during his siege on Ba Sing Se, and now he'd let Ursa's son die or be captured. Was this his punishment for some past misdeed?
Iroh gasped as he woke, coming quickly to a sitting position. He gazed about him, and saw, under their own blankets, the three young people he'd come to travel with. He'd been having that same dream about that night too often lately. It had come almost nightly since the group had been at the swamp. He couldn't help but wonder about what he saw among the mists of that place.
A/N: Okay, A few explanations may be necessary for this. I'll explain how Iroh joined the gang in the next chapter, and what he saw in the swamp. As I think you can tell this will begin during 'The Blind Bandit.'