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Chapter 12: Recollections
Someone else should be doing this, not me. Zuko thought this way daily; he wished Iroh had taken his place on the throne. It's too much for me to handle; I can't do this. He wished Lu Ten was alive. If he had survived, the War might have turned a different direction. Zuko allowed himself to relive his own memories of his cousin.
"So much like Uncle, strong, kind," Tears came to his eyes. "More like family than my father or sister." He hadn't been to see Azula in days; he didn't have the patience. Her initial breakdown had ended a few days after her imprisonment, and, for the most part, she was back to her old, manipulating self.
Zuko scowled as he sat on his throne, the very throne he didn't want. Thinking of Azula simply made him long for the company of the family that had loved him: Lu Ten, Iroh, and most of all, Ursa. Mother, I am sorry that I could not see what would happen. I will find you. He remembered the day that both Lu Ten and his mother made a great impression on him.
9 Years Ago
An eight year-old Zuko sat at the edge of his bed, crying. His father had changed in the recent months, growing more and more distant. That had resulted in his father insulting him when he failed to understand and complete a very simple Firebending move.
"You are worthless! You can't even perform the most basic of moves, while your six year-old sister has moved beyond this!" Ozai turned to leave.
"Father, wait, I can do better!" Zuko cried.
"No, you cannot. Azula, my pride, was born lucky. You... you were lucky to be born." With those words seared onto Zuko's heart, Ozai left the room.
Hours later, Zuko still felt the pain. No amount of reason or logic could get rid of those horrible words. However, his mother, knowing that he was in pain, came in.
"Zuko, what's the matter?" She gave that smile that he had always found solace in.
Zuko sniffed and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "Dad s-said that I was l-lucky to be born. He knows that I'm a failure. I-I can't..." Zuko broke down, wrapping his arms around his mother and sobbing.
"Oh, Zuko... honey, I love you." She stroked his head. "I will always love you, and I know you." She lifted his chin with a finger. "You are the best son a mother could ask for; you are no failure."
"B-But Dad said..."
She held him close. "Your father is just having a bad day. Do not worry, Zuko; this too shall pass."
The young prince wiped his sleeve across his eyes.
"Now, honey, would you like to see your cousin before he leaves?"
At the mention of Lu Ten, Zuko beamed. His cousin, his hero, was going off to fight under Uncle Iroh at Ba Sing Se. And he wanted to see him. "Yeah! Can we go now?"
His mother chuckled. "Of course," She held out her hand and walked with him to the outer courtyard.
Lu Ten and his friend, Shin Tzu, were practicing basic hand-to-hand combat without Firebending. When Lu Ten saw his cousin, he stopped the drill and ran over. "Princess Ursa," he bowed and grinned at Zuko. "What brings you here?"
"Oh, Zuko just wanted to say goodbye." Ursa stepped back to allow the two to talk.
"Really, well, you know I'm coming back right?" Lu Ten knelt down and put his hand on Zuko's shoulder. "It's not like you'll never see me again."
Zuko gave his cousin a wide smile. "I know, but I can still say goodbye, can't I?"
The prince laughed. "Sure you can, kiddo!" He gave Shin Tzu a mischievous grin. "Tell you what, why don't you watch me and the Lieutenant here practice? Would you like that?"
Zuko's eyes widened. "Yeah!"
Lu Ten turned and moved to the starting position. "Now watch carefully as I expertly defeat my outmatched opponent."
"In your dreams." Shin Tzu taunted. "Let's go."Zuko watched in amazement as both combatants let loose. The blows came equally from both sides, but neither could land a hit. Lu Ten parried or dodged every strike directed at him. When he parried a left hook, Shin Tzu moved for a backhand with a same hand. Lu Ten dodged, landing on his back and transitioning into a spin kick that knocked his friend's leg out from under him. Lu Ten came to standing position and offered his hand to the defeated Lieutenant.
"Looks like I win again." He offered a smile.
"Next time..." Shin Tzu said as he was helped up.
"That was awesome! Can you teach me that move?" Zuko asked, awestruck.
"Sure, kiddo, when I get back, I'll teach you everything I know."
"Cool!" Zuko looked back at his mother. "Did you hear that? Lu Ten's gonna teach me how to fight!"
Lu Ten embraced his cousin. "When I get back, Zuko, we'll train together; I promise."
But you never did come back. Lu Ten could never be replaced, but Zuko smiled as he realized that Uncle Iroh and Lu Ten both loved him. At least I still have Uncle. He thought as he got up to go to his chamber.
Azula was a prisoner, plain and simple. Though it was not a prison, she was forbidden to leave, even though her breakdown had passed. "I am not insane like the doctors have said," She told herself. "I just... had a temporary lapse. And because of that ZuZu is Fire Lord instead of me!" She banged her fist on the metal wall.
That's when she heard the footsteps; Zuko was no doubt coming to check on her again. She would not give him the satisfaction of appearing as anything but calm. But when the door opened, the person she had never expected to see again stood in the doorway.
"Hello, Azula." Ursa said, smiling. "It's been a long time."
King Bumi sat in the banquet hall, alone, enjoying his turkey leg, when his peace was interrupted by the earthen door being broken down and his guards sent flying. As three Earthbenders walked in wearing military uniforms, Bumi picked up a piece from his salad. "What did the vegetarians say to their captors?"
"Enough with the jokes, old man," The middle Earthbender spoke. "I'm General Fung Chu, and I've come to make you an offer."Bumi scowled. "No... that's not how it works. You have to ask me what they said."
Fung Chu expelled a breath. "Fine, what did they say?"
"Lettuce leaf." Bumi took a bite from the vegetable and began cackling.
"Enough games!" Fung launched a rock at Bumi, who broke it apart with the heel of his hand.
"Wrong move, boys!" Bumi removed his outer robes, revealing the muscle beneath.
"You've got two choices: join Yuan Chong or die!"
Bumi sneered. "There's three main jings, kid! Any competent Earthbender knows that."
Fung Chu waved his men forward. "Take him down."
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