Happy Holidays! For those unfamiliar with my work, this ficlet is a prequel to my larger story, Rough Seas (and I guess, by association, A Captain Born). It will not be 'feature length,' but I am looking forward to seeing where it goes. I don't think I'll be able to update quite so timely as RS, but I'll do my best. And as always, I promise this story will be completed at one point or another.

Other glorious news – there is some truly awesome artwork going on for Rough Seas, check out my profile for the links. You won't be disappointed.

Finally, this is going to be a very Zuko specific story – Suki and Jet might show up, but this is much more action, a lot less romance.

AN: You know how it goes, I don't own the characters.



Calm Before the Storm: Chapter 1

"Let him know that you know best,
'Cause after all you do know best.
Try to slip past his defence
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things you've told him all along…"

- How to Save A Life, The Fray

The Intrepid was an older ship in the Fire Nation navy, but still a proud member of the lethal Southern Raider fleet. It was a warhorse of a vessel, doing its time and asking for nothing in return. The big metal machine was currently moored in the harbor of the capital, underneath a moonless sky.

"You sure about this?"

"It's necessary. I'm not asking as Iroh, I'm asking this as your Master."

"Understood."

"Look after him, teach him the ways…maybe in a few years he can return."

"Do you really believe that?"

"I'm not sure what to believe any more. I'm just glad Lu Ten is far away from this place…"

"Agreed."

"It may be tough, but treat him like you would anyone else."

"You have my word."

"He's…" The aging man's voice cracked, "He's like a son to me."

The Captain chose to ignore the sentiment and asked, "Do the others need to know of his background?"

Iroh shook off his emotions and answered sternly, "No, if he wants to let them know who he is, that is his decision. It's time – he needs to chart his own course."

The Captain turned to leave, and the older man questioned, "There's one more thing."

"Yes?"

"His training. I know his confidence has been shaken…"

His friend was wise enough not to say anything, and Iroh continued, "But he must continue his lessons. He has—"

"You know what you're asking of me."

"Zuko is not like Zhao. I assure you."

There was a deep sigh, and the response, "I cannot make any promises."

The former Prince put a hand on his friend's shoulder and said, "Understood, brother, but I hope you can let the pain of your former student go, and perhaps find peace with a new one. Now, leave – I have a feeling Ozai is searching for him already."

There was an exchange of salutes, and General Iroh walked down the dock, hoping to Agni that he would see his beloved nephew again.

***

The topic of the quiet conversation, fifteen year old Prince Zuko, looked around his new 'accommodation' and sneered rudely. The dingy room, with bunks and hammocks at least three deep smelled of unwashed bodies and cheap fire whiskey. It was nothing like his palatial rooms – a literal wing of the Palace was devoted to himself and Azula…

He shook his head violently to force his thoughts to some other, less painful topic.

Looking around, he found an unoccupied bunk and threw the meagre belongings he had managed to grab on top of it. He had expected more of the Fire Nation navy – the Southern Raiders in particular, but seeing firsthand, he witnessed the fact that perhaps not everything was explained to his father. Everything here was worn down, faded...far different from the private quarters he had on other warships. It was almost as if time had passed by the Intrepid.

Painfully touching the cotton around his face, he looked to see if anyone was in the bunk room. There were a few sleeping souls, one large man snoring loudly in particular, and Zuko sighed deeply. Iroh had told him he could reveal his true identity as he chose, but it would be wise to keep his birthright a secret starting out. The Prince had no trouble accepting the advice. He didn't want to be himself right now, anyway…

His Uncle had also warned this would be a difficult time for him, but if he was to survive, this was one of the only places he would be safe to heal and recover. The Captain, Jeong-Jeong, was not only loyal to Iroh, but also a feared firebender. His uncle stressed he should continue his training.

However, at the moment, firebending seemed the last possible thing he would want to try…

There was no spark left in him.

"You!"

It had been so long since Zuko had been referred to as anything but, 'your Highness,' 'your Majesty,' 'Prince Zuko, or, 'Zuzu,' that he almost didn't realize he was being addressed.

"Yes?"

"Yes – Captain. There is a hierarchy on this ship, boy, and don't you forget it."

Zuko's upper lip curled up, unused to anyone giving him such a direction, but he didn't respond.

The man addressing him crossed his arms, and smiled bitterly, "Let's not forget who is doing who a favor here. This is my ship, and no one here gets a free lunch. Are you good at anything?"

"I…"

"You're young – you've got a strong back. Head up top and ask to speak with Chit Sang."

"Fine."

"Fine, what?"

"Yes, Captain."

Zuko uttered some expletives under his breath, but climbed the narrow staircase. The rough clothing scratched at him, and the entire side of his face was throbbing painfully, but he was determined to make something of himself. If he ever returned to the capital, he would do it on his own terms, and when he was ready to take back what was rightfully his – the Crown.

***

"Where'd you find him, Cap? Thought we were full up."

Jeong-Jeong looked at his first mate, Chit Sang, and answered, "Who? The Tatsu kid? Just doing an old friend a favor. How'd he do today?"

Chit Sang leaned back on an old chair and commented, "We're going to have our hands full with him."

"Why?"

"He's so full of piss and vinegar, it's like he's spoiling for a fight…nevermind that huge whatever on the side of his face," the hulking man trembled and continued, "And if that weren't enough, there's his whole 'I'm better than you' look that he's been shooting everyone all day. Honestly, I'm not sure how the other lads are going to like him."

"Hmm…" Jeong Jeong steepled his long fingers and replied, "Put him on duty with Hide."

Chit Sang's eyes widened, and he asked, "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

The Captain nodded, "Hide needs to be put in his place."

"Hide outweighs him by at least 3 stone."

Jeong Jeong blinked wisely and said, "Looks can be deceiving, Mr. Sang."

"Whatever you say, Cap. Anyway, where are we heading?"

"Back to the Southern waters. The powers that be want me to check in on Yon Rha's progress."

"Fine, I'll let the crew know. Should be nice down there this time of year."

"That'll be all," Jeong Jeong nodded, and Chit Sang knew he was dismissed, leaving the Captain to consider the recent addition to his crew. The older firebender had kept a stealthy eye on the banished Fire Nation Prince throughout the day. It was clear the young man was involved in a raging inner conflict. The Captain had heard eyewitness reports of the now infamous Agni Kai between father and son, and was sure it had to be ripping up Zuko internally. Raised as all royalty in the Palace were, the capital would've been a cold place – with high and unreasonable expectations. Jeong Jeong had watched as Zuko attempted to come to terms with doing manual labor and being bossed around throughout the day. He could literally feel the anger and tension rolling off Zuko. If he didn't learn to help control the teenager's emotions, there was a literal powderkeg that could explode on board.

Still, he knew the Prince needed to be brought to his absolute worst, to be completely broken, before the healing could truly begin. If Zuko wasn't beat into total submission, he would not be at the correct place where he could use his bending and the flame itself as a way to heal.

It would be an interesting couple of months, indeed.


AN:So far, so good?

I'm not totally digging 'the Intrepid' as a name for the ship. Any other ideas? It can't be the Blue Spirit, because I have plans for that ship already (it will appear later in the story).