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A Cousin's Prophecy

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Avatar the Last Airbender
“A Cousin’s Prophecy”
(A Prequel to Unusual Circumstances and Rebuilding)

(Set approximately 5-6 years prior to Book One: Water,
And approximately 7 years prior to Chapter 1 of UC: “Small Steps”)
(Zuko is about ten or eleven, Lu-Ten is seventeen)
(As usual, I have no claims to the property or characters of ATLA/LOK; and earn nothing except a sense of satisfaction)
Young Duke Zuko shyly knocked on the open door of his oldest cousin (who he privately idolized), Lu-Ten. “Lu,” as Zuko called him, (Prince Lu-Ten would only ever tolerate this from Zuko); “Why are you packing your bags?”
Lu-Ten, having been too pre-occupied with his packing and, on a deeper level, where he was heading and what he would see when he got there; didn’t notice his young cousin at the door.
“Hey, cousin, sorry I didn’t see you there, Zu-Zu;” like Zuko calling Lu-Ten ‘Lu’, he wouldn’t tolerate ‘Zu-Zu’ from anyone but his cherished cousin, who was more like an older brother to him.
‘Zu-Zu’ was a nick-name Zuko adored because Lu had given it to him; and had no idea that one day he would come to hate and despise it so much that he’d forget how much he’d once loved it.

“I’m packing because I’ve got to go away for a while,” Lu-Ten said in a deeper, slightly raspier version of the ten year-old’s own voice.

“Where do you have to go?” asked the inquisitive young Zu-Zu. “You know about the war,” Lu asked, but it wasn’t meant as a question. “Yeah,” Zuko replied, hesitantly.
At the age of ten, fighting imaginary battles for fortune and glory seemed more interesting than the tedious details of real military life, which usually sounded boring and sometimes terrifying, and rarely like a grand adventure.
As a result he didn’t really know anything about the war between the Fire-Nation and the Earth-Kingdom ‘barbarians’.

“Well,” Lu started, “There’s a, um…. an important….mission, near the Earth Kingdom capitol, Ba-Sing-Se; my father is the commanding general of this ‘operation’. ”
“He’s asked me to come join him there during the seig…..‘operation’. ”
“That’s where I have to go.”

Zuko stared at his cousin, wide eyed for a second, he had been wondering where Uncle Iroh had been for the last eight months and suddenly it all clicked. Then Zuko blurted out, “Can I come with you?”
Lu-Ten, like his father, rarely got angry, and Lu never became angered with Zu-Zu, so the ten-year old was taken aback when his cousin snapped “NO!” Seeing the scared look in Zuko’s eyes, Lu-Ten softened his tone, “I’m sorry, Zuko, I didn’t mean to lose my temper like that.” Zuko sniffed and wiped the tears away from his two perfectly symmetrical golden eyes; Lu-Ten had never seen anyone with eyes as striking and full of passion as Zuko’s. “It’s okay,” Zuko replied shakenly.
“I just mean that you’re too young for military service, you have to stay here, at the palace, where it’s safe. “But in five years, I’ll be fifteen, old enough to sign up,” Zuko pouted.
` “Zuko, listen to me,” Lu-Ten said, placing his hands on Zuko’s narrow shoulders, “This war has been going on for a hundred years, I can only hope that by the time you turn fifteen it will finally be over, and if you do have to serve it will only be for a short time.”
“If only the avatar had been reborn after Great-grandfather Sozin did, well you know. But there may still be a way.”
“I may be the Fire-lord one day, Zuko, but I don’t believe I will be. I think that by some twist of fate, I think you will be. I’ve chosen a soldier’s life, and I’ll probably die a soldier’s death. I only hope the spirits will allow that death to be an honorable one.”
“But you are destined for something much greater than a soldier’s life, I don’t know what that is, but I believe someday you will.”
Another knock came at the door, a servant stood there and said “Your highness, your ship is ready to set sail.” Suddenly Lu-ten was not Zuko’s loving cousin but Third-in-Line for the Fire-nation throne. “Very well, see that my belongings are transferred to the ship, I expect everything to arrive as I have left them.” Zuko was stunned by the change in his cousin’s behavior, but as Lu-Ten was about to leave the room, he turned to give Zuko a wink and a grin. Zuko returned the gesture.

10 weeks later
Zuko and Azula were arguing, as usual, he just couldn’t understand girls, least of all Azula, who seemed crazy to Zuko; her friend Mai, who was creepy, and especially not Ty-Lee, who was just silly.
Firelady Ursa had come out to the garden and broke up the fight; she knew that Zuko’s gentle nature wasn’t suited to the kind of aggressive fire-bending currently taught in the Fire-nation. Azula, on the other hand, seemed to relish the rush of power that came with this form of fire-bending.
Just as Ursa stopped Azula from potentially harming Zuko, a servant approached her with a letter from Iroh. She read it, and immediately tears came to her eyes. Zuko noticed the change in his mother right away, Azula didn’t seem to care.
“I have news from your Uncle Iroh, his son did not survive the battle, your cousin Lu-Ten is dead.” Zuko was appalled by this news, Lu had said he was going on an ‘important assignment’ and that he he’d be back soon; not that he’d be going into battle.
At the funeral service for Lu-Ten there was no body to be cremated, as was Fire-Nation tradition, vengeful earth-benders had crushed the bodies of Lu and the troops he commanded under tons of rock. Zuko couldn’t feel any malice for them, maybe it was because he was still in shock, and maybe it was because he thought they were just people protecting what was theirs.

Epilogue: 7 years later
Set during chapter 11 of “Full Circle:
As the downpour began, everybody gathered back inside and played pai-sho, or explored the mansion. Aang realized that Zuko didn’t accompany them; and went to look for him.
Aang found Zuko in his usual place, that is to say off on his own, out on the porch. “I thought I’d find you out here, Mr. I wanna be grumpy and as far away from people having fun as possible.” Zuko favored Aang with a not quite smile, and said, “I was just thinking.”
“About what Zuko,” Aang gently prodded. “About my family what happened to my mom, where we went wrong, that sort of thing; I honestly don’t know if we’re going to be able to defeat my father without taking his life, Aang.” Just then Zuko’s face went blank as if he were in some sort of trance; he could hear a familiar voice and see a familiar face
“If only the avatar had been reborn after Great-grandfather Sozin did, well you know. But there may still be a way.”
“I may be the Fire-lord one day, Zuko, but I don’t believe I will be. I think that by some twist of fate, I think you will be. I’ve chosen a soldier’s life, and I’ll probably die a soldier’s death. I only hope the spirits will allow that death to be an honorable one.”
“But you are destined for something much greater than a soldier’s life, I don’t know what that is, but I believe someday you will.”
“Aang IS the new Avatar the world has been waiting for and he and you will do the exceptional thing I predicted. Good luck, and Farewell, cousin.
Zuko snapped out of his trance-like state and realized he was crying, he rarely cried, and never in front of anyone else.
“They are pretty insistent, aren’t they?” a familiar, but unknown voice snapped him out of his trance. “Wh, what do you mean,” Zuko asked, realizing Aang was the one that spoke.”
“Those voices from the past,” Aang replied with a wink and a grin just like the one Lu-Ten had given Zuko the last time they saw each other in this life.

END