A/N: Well, I don't really know what to say. This is my first time writing an Avatar: The Last Airbender fic, so please don't be too harsh. This idea has been in my head for well over a year and after working and reworking it (as well as fill up a notebook or two), I finally decided to start typing it up and posting it.
Please tell me what you think, and I do not own Avatar: the Last Airbender. Enjoy!
~Moon White Rose
"WHAT?!" Sixteen year old Prince Zuko glared daggers at his uncle, who stood in his bedroom doorway, as calm as ever, as he gave Zuko yet another piece of bad news. "Uncle, tell me you're kidding. This is the last thing I need!" Zuko growled, little bursts of flame leaping from his hands as his fingers curled into tight fists. He wanted to punch something; badly. If he wasn't convinced that the world had a deep hate for him and took pleasure in making him miserable before, than he was convinced now.
"I'm sorry Prince Zuko, and Shang offers his most humble of apologies as well. The truth is though he is leaving the next time we dock, which is going to need to be soon. We need to-"
"I know the ship is in need of repairs, I saw what the Avatar did Uncle, you don't need to remind me!" Zuko cut in harshly. He could feel the fire in him make his blood boil and he punched the air, a ball of fire hitting the wall and quickly disintegrating into nothing, a sharp burning smell quickly filling the small room. "Where's that traitor? If he wants to leave so badly, I'll gladly escort him over the side of the ship now. No one starts a mutiny on my ship!"
"Zuko," his Uncle Iroh said, gripping his shoulders, thus keeping him from barging out and causing more problems, "Shang is not starting a mutiny; he just can't handle being at sea anymore, he misses his family and his home."
"Don't we all?" Zuko hissed back. "You don't hear the other men complaining. He's a coward!" Iroh glared slightly at his nephew's words. He was so hot tempered, just like his father….
"Zuko, he is no coward; he is leaving because he feels he is not being the best man he can be to his family. Family and tradition mean a lot to him and he feels it is his time to return home. He doesn't think he can perform his best anymore. Now, you are going to respect his decision, unless you wish to cause trouble." Zuko pulled out of his uncle's grip.
"You don't get it, do you? If one leaves, than the rest will leave, and the timing couldn't be worse! After two, nearly three years of searching, we finally had our first run in with the Avatar. We're close! If one goes, then the rest will follow, and where will that leave me? Where?!" Zuko was breathing heavily as he waited for a reply. He could not afford to have petty problems like this come up. He needed the Avatar, and he needed him now.
"Zuko, just because one crew member leaves, doesn't mean all will leave. Now, how about a nice cup of jasmine tea, to help you relax, you looked stressed," proclaimed Iroh, smiling brightly. Zuko groaned and barged past. He hated it when his uncle tried to tell him to calm down; he didn't need to be calm, he was fine just the way he was!
Zuko stormed down the hall; the sound his feet made on the metal floor only making him more agitated. Every second wasted was a step going in the opposite direction of the Avatar. Suddenly, voices from around the corner up ahead made him stop.
"Well, we'll miss having you around, but you've missed enough of your kids' lives, and I'm sure your wife won't complain about having you back," he heard his lieutenant say. Zuko tensed and pressed himself against the wall, but when they came in sight, they went the other way and silently he followed.
"I don't even know what possessed me to come on this whole expedition in the first place honestly," replied Shang, one of Zuko's better fire benders and soldiers. "I knew that we'd hear nothing from home and that returning to the Fire Nation wouldn't be possible until the capture of the Avatar, but… I don't know, I guess the part of me that wants to be loyal to the royal family overrode common sense."
"We come from families of tradition; nation before family, but few realize the toll that takes. Honestly, if my wife was still alive and my own children weren't all grown up with families of their own, I probably would have called it quits long ago." Zuko stopped following after that and turned away, the lieutenant's words echoing in his ears.
This was exactly why his crew was made up of either men who had never married or older soldiers who didn't have the responsibility of children hanging over their heads; he wanted every man on his ship focused on the capture of the Avatar. He reached the deck and noticed his uncle playing a game of Pai Sho with one of the older crew members, and the sight took off the edge of his anger.
Typical Uncle Iroh, he thought, walking past them and going over to the railing. Much to his surprise, he could see what looked like a town not that far off. He had thought they were heading to the Fire Nation ship yard further on.
"Why are we stopping there, I thought we needed repairs?" he asked. Iroh didn't look up from his game.
"We do Prince Zuko; that is why we are stopping."
"But that's not the ship yard, Uncle," Zuko said impatiently. If this was another one of his uncle's pointless stops, than a certain Pai Sho table was going to go overboard, after it was burnt.
"I know Prince Zuko, but it is a Fire Nation settlement, and the ship yard is over a day away. If we can make the repairs here, then we'll be back hunting the Avatar sooner." The idea pleased Zuko, but he doubted that the repairs could be made here; they'd probably be told to go to the yard.
"Besides Prince Zuko," spoke his uncle's opponent, also not removing his eyes from the board, "You most likely can find someone to replace Shang and the cook, after all, the soldiers there wi-"
"The cook, what does he have to do with anything?" Iroh asked, panic apparent in his voice. Zuko was wondering the same thing. His uncle's opponent looked at them for a moment.
"He's actually wanted to leave for a long time; says he feels to useless. He never wanted to be the first to go though; I guess he figures if one of us is leaving, than now's his chance."
"Useless?! B-but he can't go, why does he want to leave," Iroh practically screamed. Zuko was disgusted; of course his uncle was only worried about his stomach. The other crewman smiled, after a soft laugh.
"You really want to know?" Iroh nodded vigorously and Zuko was taking deep breaths to keep his anger from boiling over. "Honestly, he says he's getting sick of his own cooking." Silence filled the deck, than Zuko covered his eyes, his hand slowly going down his face.
"Personally, I say let him go," a new voice chimed in. Lieutenant Jee joined the group and sat in between Iroh and the other man. "His cooking was barely edible, and I've always wondered just how clean he kept everything down there. I'll tell you what we really need; a woman down there cooking."
"I can agree to that," Iroh replied wistfully. "I've never met a woman's cooking that I didn't enjoy." He moved a piece and his opponent groaned; obviously he had lost.
"Well met General Iroh. On the subject of bringing a woman on board, make sure she can clean, and do laundry too." The man left the deck and Lieutenant Jee and Iroh stood. The town was getting closer; they would be docking soon.
"Prince Zuko, now you know what to look for when we dock," Iroh said, joining his nephew by the railing. Zuko turned away. His anger inside him burned hotter than the sun that was shining down. He was fed up with all these bumps in the rode; the last thing he wanted to deal with was a weak little girl on his ship.
"The day I let my crew's whining dictate my decisions and bring a girl on my ship is the day I'll willing give up my throne and cease my hunt for the Avatar. Now enough stalling, I want to be back on the water as soon as possible, and that's an order!" The clang of the door that lead to down below as it was slammed shut rang over the deck, but soon silence reigned supreme. Iroh smiled.
"Watch what you say my nephew, for the universe has a way of making you eat your words."
"Mother, I'm headed to the market now, anything else you need?" Fifteen year old Sung waited for her mother's answer as she wound her night black braid into a bun and pinned it back with her matching fire pins, her way of making it clear that she was a citizen of the Fire Nation.
"No sweetheart, just a cabbage and a few carrots," her mother said before kissing her head. Sung smiled, licking her lips in eager anticipation at tonight's dinner. She could almost taste the roast duck and boiled rice and vegetables; it wasn't often they got to eat so well. They were fine monetary wise, though they could hardly call themselves rich; it was other things that kept them from always having food on the table.
Sung grabbed her basket after slipping the money her mother handed her in her dress pocket. "I'll be back soon then." Before she could make it to the door, her mother's hand came to rest on her shoulder, restraining her.
"Sung, please be quick, and be careful, all right." She looked over her shoulder, flashing her mother a quick smile.
"I will mother." She took off running down the road the moment her house was out of sight. The sooner she got her shopping done, the less chance there would be of her running into problems. When the town came into sight she slowed down, anger as always pricking her heart. This was a Fire Nation town, and she had to practically sneak in, just so the risk of something happening would be minimalized.
Her free hand curled into a fist as she weaved through ally after ally while she made her way to the market. The looks she received were dirtier than the ground beneath her feet and she fixed anyone who got in her way with a glare of her own. Inwardly however, she was hurt; what had happened wasn't her fault in any way, but she would forever be the one to pay the price and to make matters worse, she just had to be cursed with the same gift as him….
A soft growl of anger began to build in the back of her throat and she had to stop and take a few deep, cleansing breaths to keep her anger from making her do something stupid. This was not the place for her to start something, and if the guards ganged up on her, she would be severely outmatched. Each year they got less tolerable of her and her mother's presence and she doubted it would be too much longer before the cord of tension between them snapped.
Finally, she reached the market and she wove in between the people; the crowd quickly swallowing her up and keep her safe from being spotted by the bored looking soldiers. Shouts assaulted her ears and smells, some pleasant and others repulsive, invaded her nostrils. The crowd was thick today and she had to push and shove to make her way to the stand where she often bought her vegetables and fruits.
This turned out to be a mistake. She pushed through a group of people a bit too roughly and bumped into someone behind the group. She fell back on her rear, heat painting her cheeks a bright pink.
"Oh, my apologies miss. Are you all right?" She looked up and kind amber eyes and an outstretched hand met her. She had bumped into a large man with gray hair styled in a traditional topknot. He wore a red robe underneath Fire Nation armor edged with gold. Sung had never met him before and was hesitant to accept his help, but took his hand nonetheless. He pulled her to her feet and she looked away as she pretended to brush dust off of her dress. "Are you all right?" he repeated.
"Yes sir. And it was my fault for not paying attention to where I was going. I am sorry," she respectfully murmured, giving a slight bow. The man laughed and she looked up. His laugh was deep and loud, and admittedly, a bit contagious; she found herself giggling for no reason.
"No, do not be ridiculous, the fault was all mine. I was the one just standing here." He looked at her closely and his eyes suddenly lit up slightly. "What is your name?"
"Sung, sir." He looked her up and down and nodded slightly.
"Again, I am sorry for knocking you over, Miss Sung. I know I am in no rights to ask but do you think you could help a poor old man with something?" Sung was taken aback by this man's kindness; he was obviously not from around here.
Because if he was, there's no way he'd even give me a second glance…. Sung wanted to say no; if she was too long her mother would worry, and that was last thing Sung wanted. Yet at the same time, she had been taught to respect her elders, and she did bump into him, despite that he claimed otherwise.
"What can I help you wi-…." Her voice trailed away and she stepped back. Fear mingled with her blood and she felt as if her throat was closing up. A young man, probably not much older than her, was making his way towards her and the old man. His face was twisted into a scowl and a scar covered his left eye and ear. Sung knew immediately who he was, and knew she had to leave. Banished though he may be, she didn't doubt he shared the same disgust for people like her as did the rest of his family.
"Is something wrong?" The man looked at her in confusion. The Prince of the Fire Nation was drawing closer and it dawned on Sung that this man was probably his famed uncle, the Dragon of the West; a fact that meant even more trouble if she was discovered.
"I'm sorry, I must go." She pushed through the crowd, stealing only one glance over her shoulder.
Her steps almost faltered and the fear in her body became even stronger. Prince Zuko was now right next to the man she had been talking to, and he was looking right at her.
A/N: Well, what did you think? This picks up between the end of episode 2 and before episode 3 of season 1, just in case any were wondering. Until next time, and please tell me if I should continue.
~Moon White Rose