This is a special gift for my dear friend Avocado Love, because of the kindness and support she has shown me throughout our colleague-hood as fellow fiction writers. She has taught me so much and someday, I look forward to buying her books.
I have to say, her work "Another brother" far outstrips my own, and I hope you read this. Updates will be slightly more sporadic because I'm in law school and Ava has threatened dire and cruel punishments if my grades tank. So expects updates on a monthly basis till Dec 18th and then updates will come much swifter.
So this is a story of Lu Ten (and wittle Zuko) as they traverse the world far away from the protection of the royal family. Some familiar canon characters will be shown but this is an origin story and far before the time in canon. For reference, this is eleven years before Aang has left the iceberg.
I Just Can't Wait to be King
I'm gonna be the mane event
Like no king was before
I'm brushing up on looking down
I'm working on my roar
"Mom, I had a great day in school today. I finally mastered the fifth set of the Dragon katas. In a year, I'll be ready to be named a master," twelve year old Lu Ten said brightly, as he ran into the royal apartments.
He didn't expect to get an answer anymore. The portrait of his mother was beautiful but talking to it wasn't the same as talking to his mother. "I miss you," he said softly, before sitting down and allowing a slave to serve his lunch. "I really do." He wondered if a letter would come from his father, so far away at war. Dad was busy and even though he sent lots of presents, he wasn't home much. Wars had to be fought, after all and battles didn't care about birthdays or holidays. Actually, neither did death. Welcome to the life of his family.
"Cousin," a small voice said, from under the table. "You're home early." Lu Ten smiled and peeked below the table cloth, to see the smiling face of his cousin, Zuko, who was happily playing under the table. "Why are you still talking to Aunt Lien? I thought she went to Agni."
Lu Ten motioned for his cousin to rise and placed him on his lap. "Agni will give her the message for me," he explained, hiding the wince in his voice. His mother was gone, and nothing would bring her back. "And what are you doing under the table? Shouldn't you be napping?" he asked. At least he had his cousin to keep life interesting.
"I hate napping. It's boring," Zuko confided, his small hands threaded into Lu Ten's shirt. "I much prefer to spend time with you. You're the most wonderful cousin in the world, and…my only cousin, but still the most wonderful one." He was so adorable sometimes.
"Well, if you don't tell Azula, I'll say you're my favorite too," Lu Ten said, giving him a friendly tickle, giving him a hug.
"Zuko, there you are," Aunt Ursa said, striding elegantly into the room. "You naughty boy, I should put you in the corner, hiding from me and bothering your poor cousin." She looked so much like Mom that Lu Ten had to force himself to look at his food. "And welcome back, my dear nephew. You look nice and sweaty. Did you have a good practice?" she asked.
"Yes, Auntie," Lu Ten said in a firm tone. "I finished my lessons for the day. May I go boating after lunch? I want to try out my new steam ship and it's a perfect day." He was a man of twelve already and he needed some fun. Sets were all well and good, but he needed something much more interesting. He needed to get out of the palace before he lost his mind. His mother was gone and focusing on it would only make the pain worse.
"All right, but only within the cove. There's a storm brewing out in Ember Island and I don't want you to get swept up in the current," Aunt Ursa said, giving him a kiss on the forehead. "You are dear to me, you know."
"You don't have to do that," Lu Ten sniffed, trying not to seem too babyish at how much he enjoyed the attention of his aunt. "But I'll be careful." He was a man; he could handle a simple boat trip without a major production.
"Can I come too?" Zuko piped up. "I have to protect Lu Ten from all the monsters." He cuddled up to Lu Ten sweetly. "Right?" He was a charmer, Lu Ten found it hard to resist him.
"What would I do without you?" Lu Ten said, patting him on the head. "I'll be careful, I promise. I wouldn't mind bring him along as my little cabin boy."
"No dear, you're too young. Maybe when you're older," Aunt Ursa said, patting her son's head. "You must get some rest, so you can grow up to be big and strong like your wonderful cousin."
"It's not fair," Zuko mumbled furiously as his mother gathered him up in her arms. "You never let me have any fun." He didn't know how lucky he was to have a mother who cared about him. Something he would never have, unless Dad took a second wife. Lu Ten had already vowed that would never be happening. No one would ever be allowed to replace his mother.
"Fun is for big people, I suppose. I'm going to go get bathed and changed to go out," Lu Ten said, bowing to his aunt. "And Zuko, I promise I'll play with you as soon as I get home."
"All right, and make sure you get scrubbed behind your ears, you could plant potatoes behind there," Aunt Ursa said, giving him a light swat with her free hand. "If I catch you with dirty ears again, I will bath you myself."
"Aunt Ursa, I'm not a child," Lu Ten growled, rolling his eyes. "I'm going to be Fire Lord someday; no one will care if I have dirty ears." He wanted to thank her, but that would be admitting he needed her help.
"Lu Ten, please watch your tone," Aunt Ursa said sternly. "I will not have you speaking back to me. I know you want to go out past the cove, but I have made my choice, you will abide by it or I will write to your father."
Lu Ten sighed and nodded. "Yes ma'am," he said, bowing again. It wasn't worth arguing with her, she would win and then make him feel sorry for angering her. "See you at dinner," he continued, leaving the room. He wished he could have hugged her, but he couldn't do that. Aunt Ursa was wonderful, but she wasn't his mother. His mother was dead and no one could take her place, no matter how hard she tried. He stalked through the halls, feeling horribly angry at everyone and no one in particular.
"And where are you going?" a soft voice asked, as Lu Ten turned the corner. "You look like you're about to scream. I thought you'd be enjoying yourself and going sailing on such a fine day?" Uncle asked, walking to visit the royal apartments.
"If you can call it sailing. Aunt Ursa said there's a storm out to sea so I'm supposed to stay within the cove and be back before dinner," Lu Ten said mournfully, bowing to his uncle in greeting. "She treats me like such a baby. I'm almost thirteen, you know! Grandfather was fighting battles when he was my age. If I am supposed to be Fire Lord someday, I should be given more freedom!"
"Quite right, and both your father and I knew the battlefield well by the time we were your age, Lu Ten. I agree, you should practice sailing in the open ocean. It's important for the heir to the throne to know how to handle a ship, someday you may command the entire navy," Uncle said, patting Lu Ten on the head.
"Aunt Ursa will never let that happen," Lu Ten said mournfully. "Ever since Mama died, she would tie me to her obi and lead me around like a baby."
Uncle gave him a kindly smile. "Well if you won't tell her, I won't either. It will be our little secret, a bargain between men of honor. I'm sure a big boy like you can command a ship in and out of the harbor before the storm hits," he said, giving him a firm nod of a man speaking to another man.
"Uncle, you're the best," Lu Ten said, hugging his uncle tightly. "Thank you. I will be careful and live up to your trust." Finally, someone who was treating him like an adult and not like a nursemaid's charge.
"My boy, I have a good feeling about this trip. I had your ship packed and there's a rucksack for you to use, has some basic emergency supplies. Try not to use it unless you really need it. Test your skills as if you had to ration your supplies," Uncle directed, patting his head. "And if you get caught, I promise I'll try and get you out of trouble."
Lu Ten smiled and bowed deeply. "Thank you, uncle. Have the servants loaded up my boat for the fuel capacity and I'll make you proud," he said softly. He wished his father was here to cheer him on. Zuko and Azula were lucky to have Uncle Ozai and Aunt Ursa around. When he grew up and married, he wouldn't go off to war and leave his kids behind.
But he also wouldn't nag them to death!
Lu Ten's ship was perfect. Father had given it to him for his last birthday and he had to admit, it was the pride of the royal navy. A one man ship, it had enough fuel capacity to travel to the Earth Kingdom and back, and even had a small sleeping quarters. "Is it all fueled up?" he asked, stepping aboard. The sea was a perfect shade of blue, mirroring the cloud free sky. Aunt Ursa had been silly to worry about storms, the weather was perfect.
"Yes, my lord. It's all ready for you, and her highness even sent you a lunch and an extra cloak," said Captain Zhao, bowing deeply. "A safe voyage to you. Her highness reminds you to remain within the cove and to come home before dark. His highness wishes you luck."
Lu Ten hopped onto the boat. "I'll try to obey," he said as he started the engine, happy to be free of the royal palace and all the rules and naggings. Out on the beautiful blue sea, he answered to no one. "I'll be back in a few hours," he called back, knowing he was lying through his teeth. Uncle Ozai would calm her down, anyway.
As he sailed through the glittering blue water, relished the freedom of being alone. As a prince, he was constantly surrounded by slaves and it was a wonderful feeling to have no one around. He could enjoy his own thoughts.
He could sail anywhere, from Sakura to Ember Island and no one could stop him. And with Uncle Ozai generously promising to get him out of trouble, he could watch the coastline fall behind him, leaving all those commands behind him. Grandfather may have ruled the world, but at this moment, Lu Ten ruled the seas.
He could sail away and never return until he decided he wanted to return. Of course, the navy would be after him in an hour and they would find him, and he'd get the hiding of a lifetime.
Worse, if the Earth Kingdom found him, they'd lock him in the darkest dungeon or execute him. That would be unpleasant and something he hoped to avoid.
Anyway, he would return. He knew he would miss his home; he had to admit it was a beautiful place to live. He was the Future Fire Lord; he had a duty to return home. He was a good prince, after all?
His father would say he was a great prince but had left him behind to go to war. Dad said a battlefield was no place for a child and had left him behind. Maybe he should just drive his boat up the Earth kingdom coast and pay his dad a little visit? He would sail all the way by himself, and prove that he was worthy of being at the battlefield. Dad would be so impressed, he would let him stay with him and conquer the world. Those dirty Earth benders would bow at his feet and beg for mercy. He would be Lu Ten the conqueror, Lu Ten the master, Lu Ten the greatest warrior who ever existed?
A sudden scratching sound interrupted the self congratulations. What could be making such a racket? Was one of the grommets loose? Lu Ten the Conqueror, who couldn't even leave the cove without having problems with his ship? He peeked under the bench and saw his cousin staring up at him, giggling. "How did you get on this boat?" he demanded, pulling him out.
"I sneaked out when Mama wasn't looking," Zuko explained, with a giggle. "I wanted to go with you, so I did." He looked proud of himself. "The guards didn't even notice me! I was as sneaky as the blue spirit demon!"
Wonderful, this would make his aunt apoplectic and have the entire palace in panic. "Zuko, you're going to get a thrashing for this and I'm halfway to giving you one myself," Lu Ten snapped, furious with his cousin. Uncle Ozai would be furious and would blame him for sneaking his cousin out, and he would never hear the end of the lecture about being responsible. He would never be allowed out again, and it was all Zuko's fault. "Aunt Ursa said you should remain on shore." A shore that wasn't too far away, he had just left. He could turn around and drop off the stow-away.
Actually, he could sail back a few knots and then just drop Zuko overboard, his little cousin could swim well enough to get back to shore. He had to admit, that was a tempting thought.
Zuko's huge eyes filled with tears. "I just wanted to spend time with you," he whimpered, burying his head in Lu Ten's shirt. "Don't be angry at me!" he wept, wetting the front of his cousin's best sailing outfit. "I didn't mean to make you mad."
Lu Ten sighed and patted his head. All right, throwing his cousin overboard may not have been a truly wise idea; he would have to jump in and save him. He couldn't see the poor kid suffer.
Besides, the kid was going to get a belting from Uncle Ozai when he got home, there was no need to make him feel worse about it. "I'm not angry, Zuzu. I'm just worried about you, you know that. If anything happened to you, Grandfather would never forgive me," he explained. "Now, you know you shouldn't run off without permission." He sounded like Aunt Ursa, wonderful. He would have a baby and a bosom before long if he didn't start acting more manly.
"But now that I'm out here," Zuko continued, looking up at him with sad eyes. "You aren't going to take me back, right?" He looked so miserable and pitiful at the moment. "Mama will be so angry at both of us."
Lu Ten shrugged. Things couldn't get any worse if Zuko had a little fun before he was brought back for punishment. He might as well give his cousin a fun afternoon; Aunt Ursa would make sure Zuko wasn't allowed out for a month. "Not until we ride the waves," he said. "But be careful and you must do what I say or I'll lock you in the hold."
"Yes, captain," Zuko said, smartly saluting and ignoring all of Lu Ten's commands. He was a dear little boy, and Lu Ten decided it was worth having him around. "So, where are we going?" he asked.
"We're going out to the cove," Lu Ten explained happily, motioning for Zuko to follow him into the engine room. "We might even get into Earth Nation waters."
"But Mama said you should stay within the cove," Zuko said, seating himself down and making himself comfortable on the floor. He looked up at Lu Ten with a smirk.
"She also said you should stay put," Lu Ten reminded, flicking an ember of fire at him as he adjusted the coal in the stove. "We're both naughty boys, aren't we?" Zuko smiled and giggled. "I'm in charge now, Zuzu. I'm the future crown prince of the Fire Nation and I make the rules on this ship."
"You sound like Mom," Zuko said with a cheeky grin. "Always talking about rules. Why can't we just have fun?" he asked.
"You're right. No more talking about rules or anything else, we're going to go fishing and we're going to go swimming by the coral reefs," Lu Ten said. "You've never seen such beautiful places." Aunt Ursa would never let them go where the eel sharks lived, but she didn't have to know where he went when she wasn't looking. "We just passed the cove and Aunt Ursa has no idea."
"She'd have you in the corner if she did know. You're so brave," Zuko said. "You go anywhere you want and you don't ever ask permission. Someday, you're going to travel the world and I'll be all alone with Azula and that will be so boring."
"We'll travel together. You and me," Lu Ten said, with a wink. "I promise, you and I will travel the world together. And when I'm Fire Lord, you'll be my right hand man, the second most important man in the whole empire."
"Really?" Zuko asked, his golden eyes shining with gratitude. He was awfully cute for a little kid. If Mama hadn't died in childbirth, this was what his little brother would have been like.
"Here, an official proclamation from the future Fire Lord," Lu Ten directed, keeping one hand on the steering wheel. "I, Lu Ten, son of Iroh, son of Fire Lord Azulon, son of Sozin the Conqueror do declare you, my second in command, my general and my viceroy. You command all in the kingdom, save my royal self. So let it be written, so let it be done." Lu Ten had to admit, he was very good at making royal speeches.
Zuko bowed deeply and then hugged him. "Thank you," he said, completely touched by a title that would have been his by right anyway. He was quite easy to please. He got to his feet and looked out the window. "This is an adventure. I can't see the palace anymore."
"We're in open waters of the Fire Nation," Lu Ten explained. "Anyone can come here." It was a thrilling thought to think just a few miles from shore and he was no longer a palace brat but a sailor.
Zuko nodded, looking around at the endless blue water. "Is that lunch I smell?" he asked primly. "I'm hungry and would like to eat something."
"That's not lunch I smell, it's a… weird smoke," Lu Ten whispered, as he realized that there was a scent in the air. Blasting jelly…how did that get on board? That was supposed to be contained safely and definitely not a tiny boat! "Merciful Agni."
"Lu Ten, what's wrong?" Zuko asked, getting nervous. Lu Ten waved the question away. It was too late to do anything about it though, he couldn't search the whole ship; he only had minutes to get away from the fire. It would be too much to bend, especially with his cousin on board. He yanked a board off the side of the ship and took a deep breath, pushing his fear away.
Grabbing Zuko harshly by the waist with his free hand, Lu Ten immediately pulled him close. "Don't let go," he commanded, before running out of the hold. He took a deep breath and realized he had only one option, climbing over the railing and diving into the water. The icy cold of the water made him gasp, but fear kept him treading water, careful to keep his cousin's head above water. Zuko could swim but not at the colder depths of the water. His frail little body needed to keep warm.
The open sea was a roiling mass of waves and the two boys bobbed around like corks. Lu Ten grabbed the board with one hand and held his heavy cousin with the other. "I won't let you drown, Zuzu. Everything is going to be okay," he whispered, as the swells rocked them about. Lu Ten forced Zuko onto his shoulders and used the board as a support. With all his strength, he kicked at the water, trying to break away from the black smoking ship, hoping he could get a safe distance. "The navy is going to find us and bring us home."
"I'm scared," Zuko gasped, as he clung to Lu Ten like a barnacle. "I want to go home!" Lu Ten kept kicking, trying to get away from the bomb of the ship. He had to keep going, he couldn't stop or he would be blown to bits. He didn't know how much further he could go, the water was so cold and his fire bending wouldn't work if he couldn't even catch his breath.
"Don't be scared, I promise, I won't let anything hurt you," Lu Ten swore, gasping for air as the salty water burned his eyes. The next thing he knew, there was a huge mass of white light and a sudden blackness take him over. The ship had exploded…he hadn't gotten far enough.
It was all his fault.
The darkness swirling around him was painful. He couldn't remember why, but he was afraid. Something was wrong, he could feel it. Lu Ten felt someone poking him. 'Father?" he whispered, his whole body aching. "Is that you?" He felt as weak; he needed some water and food desperately. "Fetch a doctor."
"What do we have here?" a gruff voice said. "Two little birds, washed out of their nests." Lu Ten coughed weakly as he was pulled to his feet.
"Look here, my friends. What a fine catch we have today," a cruel voice said as the young prince opened his eyes and saw a terrible sight before him. "One of the little birds wants his father."
AN-So who captured Zuko and Lu Ten? We know that they will survive but how they do is the question I'm looking forward to answering. If anyone guesses correctly, they'll get a preview of the next chapter. Stay tuned, and review! And about Ozai...yes.