There are ENTIRELY too many Zuko fics circulating the net, so I decided to dedicate an adventure to the best uncle around, Iroh.
I sit on my stool, watching Zuko. Pacing, as usual. He stalks back and forth across the helm, looking out into the sky, searching. Impatient, wanting to be in action, eager to capture the Avatar. As usual.
"Prince Zuko," I call, using one hand to block out the morning light, "You should get some sleep. Wearing a groove into the ship's deck will not bring us to the Avatar any faster." Zuko lets out a frustrated breath, but does not answer. I think if he could swim to the Avatar faster, he would throw himself overboard this instant.
"When was the last time you had some rest, Prince Zuko?" I persist. He shrugs and grunts a response, still pacing. "The helmsman said you didn't go to bed last night. That would mean you've been up for two days straight."
"I don't need a bedtime, Uncle. I can take of myself," he retorts.
I am not about to be brushed off with a few short words. I worry my nephew is pushing himself too far. "But you are not taking care of yourself," I chide. I notice Zuko stops pacing. "You need to get some rest."
"I'll rest when we capture the Avatar! We're close on his trail..."
"Prince Zuko," I sigh, "we've been 'close on his trail' for two days. Even if we should catch up to him, what good will you be fighting him when you are exhausted?"
"I'm not tired," he says defiantly, though the slight slump in his shoulders indicates otherwise.
"Your mind and body have been working too hard–"
"Not hard enough..."
"You need to rest."
"I said I'm not tired!" he snaps at me. The sun behind him blinds me to his face, but I know all too well the anger and frustration etched there. Gah, he's so stubborn. Definitely something he inherited from his father. Well, no sense in arguing this further. Zuko has already made up his mind, and I do not have the energy so early in the morning to fight his strong will.
"You are crankier than usual when you don't sleep," I quip as I go below deck. The morning sun is too bright for me to endure right now.
It is late afternoon, and still no sign of the Avatar. We have docked in a port for the time being, while the men load supplies on the ship for another long sailing. Walking on deck, I find Zuko pouring over maps of the area, checking off the small islands for possible hiding places. Did he even bother to leave the ship to stretch and get some fresh air? I approach him. His golden eyes, well...the good one at least, is underlined with a faint purple. He is tired, even if he doesn't recognize it.
"Hmmmm...a pleasant afternoon," I note. "Good for a nice, long nap." A slight frown furrows his brow, but he gives no other sign of acknowledgment to me. "The cool, gentle breeze, the soft lulling of the waves, the gentle sound of the sea..."
"Stop what, Prince Zuko?"
"You know very well what. I need my concentration."
"You need rest."
"Will you stop repeating that like some mantra? I'll rest when I need it. Right now I need to concentrate," he growls, still bent over his maps.
Prince Zuko is still as resistant as ever, I see. But I did not come unarmed. "If you must concentrate, then you should concentrate on this," I reply, calmly waving a paper scroll before him, his eyes following it.
"What is it?"
"A report on the recent successes against the Earth Kingdom. Your task may be only to capture the Avatar, but as prince of your nation, it is prudent to keep up on matters of state. Unless, of course, you're busy playing 'X marks the spot'," I answer, nodding to his maps. He gives me a sour look, but takes the scroll from me and opens it. "Prince Zuko," I add, gesturing to a more comfortable, backed chair on the other side of the deck, "The writing is small and hard to see...you will have difficulties reading it stooped over on this stool. You should sit down over there, where the light is better. After all, you don't want to ruin your..." My voice dies before I reach the last word.
Zuko's scowl deepens, but he rises and heads for the chair. "I can see perfectly well. My vision isn't dimmed by old age..." he mutters acidly, sitting down. I smile as he begins to read. That report is one of the driest accounts of state happenings I've ever come across. And Zuko is seated in a very comfortable chair–one of my favorites, actually. It isn't long before he begins to nod off. I celebrate my victory with a grin as his chin comes to rest on his chest.
But, alas, my victory is short lived. One of the men runs up the ramp to the ship and shouts to me and sleeping Prince Zuko, "Sire, we have a lead on the Avatar! He passed here but yesterday!" I try to signal him to be silent, but it is too late. His loud voice rouses Zuko and the word "Avatar" brings him to full alert. With speed I have never seen, Zuko is out of the chair and grilling the soldier. I sigh. So close...
It is late in the evening, and I am eating dinner with Zuko. The fish is particularly excellent today. Prince Zuko has been in a flurry ever since hearing we were a day's journey behind the Avatar. He is edgy, excited. Where does he get all this energy from, especially after two days of no sleep? I certainly don't remember being this animated when I was in my youth...
Knowing that no amount of coercion, nagging, or trickery such as I played this afternoon was going to get him to sleep, I was beginning to get a little exasperated. Zuko was setting himself up for trouble. We have followed many rumors before, yet only a handful of times have they been accurate–Zuko should not get overexcited and ignore resting. And if the rumor should be true, that would be even worse. If he comes across the Avatar in his tired state, is apt to make mistakes that can harm him. His zeal is getting to be a little too much.
He chatters away at the other end of the table, trying ideas and theories out on me. However, I am not listening. I am watching his movements intently, especially any reaches for his tea. Since Prince Zuko is too excited to sleep, and any attempts to get him to do so would be in vain, I have come to a last, desperate attempt to get him to rest.
I have decided to drug him.
Yes, yes, I feel very guilty about it, but what else could I, his caring uncle, do? I slipped a mild– well, perhaps not so mild–sedative into his tea before dinner. Once he drinks the tea, he should fall into a deep sleep for a few hours and wake up refreshed. Underhanded, yes, but again, what else could I do in these circumstances? His poor, concerned uncle?
Unfortunately, getting Zuko to drink his tea is as challenging a task as getting him to sleep. He has hardly touched his meal, since his mouth has been too busy running ideas and plans concerning the Avatar. And not a single sip of his tea! It is irritating me to the point it almost ruins my lovely fish dinner. Almost.
My attention is returned to the immediate situation. "Mm?" I respond intelligently.
"I said, do you think an ambush would work? If we split up and attack from the angles I suggested..."
I close my eyes and sigh, as though I were heavily weighing what he has said. I have no idea what he is talking about. "Well, what do you think...?" I feign.
"I already told you what I thought!" he exclaims, exasperated.
"So you have," I reply slowly, trying not to give myself away, "but did you consider it completely? From all angles?"
The question now on him, he frowns and ponders. "Well, the ground would be completely covered by my men...and the branches and foliage from the wooded area would delay any escapes up long enough to leave him open to attack...but if he used the wind as a distraction...and uses his powers to punch an opening in the back part of the circle...then...maybe...hmmm..." Prince Zuko is back to calculating and I am off the spot.
While he runs scenarios through his head, I add conversationally, "Prince Zuko, this fish is exquisite, and the tea I made compliments its taste quite nicely...you should try it. It is delicious." I smile winningly, only to have it evaporate when I see Zuko isn't listening. At least I had the consideration to pretend!
"Prince Zuko, eat your meal. It is too good to waste..."
He looks up, irritated. "Telling me to go to bed, and then to eat my dinner? I thought you came to train me, not to nanny me..."
"I wouldn't have to, Prince Zuko, if you would do what's in your own best interest..."
"Capturing the Avatar is in my best interest!" he hisses, as if I were thick.
"Hmph! And you say I'm the one with mantras..." I find myself replying grumpily.
"I know what my priorities are," he retorts, slamming his fork down on the table.
"Are you going to eat your meal and drink your tea, or not?" I sigh, once again eying his cup. Was it so much effort for him to comply with his uncle's well-meaning wishes?
"Why are you so persistent about it?" he questions, eyes narrowed. "You never used to be so adamant about this stuff before..." Once again, I find my nephew's mind too sharp for my own good.
"Just concerned for your health, Prince Zuko. You are my favorite nephew..." Zuko eyes me suspiciously from across the table. Ah, I most certainly hope he is not onto me...
He snorts and puts on a haughty face. "I can take care of myself, Uncle."
That he most certainly can... Well, since my words ring on deaf ears, I suppose I'll have to leave it to experience to make him a wiser man. Oh, hell... All these silly attempts to coerce Zuko have left me exhausted. It appears I am the one more in need of that sleep than him. I reach for his tea. Once I finish drinking it, I think I'll go retire to my room for a nice night's slumber...
I am startled when I feel his hand grab my wrist. "What are you doing?" he demands.
"Well, you were not going to drink your tea, so I..."
"I was going to drink it! Ah, now I see why you were so bent on whether or not I was going to eat my meal–you were eyeing it up for yourself!" he accuses. I blink in response. "Can you at least give me a chance to enjoy some of my dinner before you attempt to make off with it?" he fumes, putting his tea cup not so gently down on the table next to his plate, and violently stabbing into his fish with his fork.
Well. This was unexpected. If I had known this was all it took to get him to drink his sedative, I would have made a grab for his meal the moment I saw it. I polish off the rest of my dinner while I watch Zuko. He eats his fish, and takes several long sips of tea. Victory at last! It takes all my soldier's discipline not to smile.
I relax and close my eyes, lacing my hands over my belly, digesting my food while I wait for Zuko to finish. I let out a contented sigh when...
I crack open my eyes to discover Zuko fallen over face-first into his fish. I stare.
Ah. This was not good. Perhaps I put too much sedative in? He shouldn't have fallen asleep in the middle of his meal...there should have been enough time to find a sleeping place more comfortable than his dinner plate...
I debate what I should do with him. How can I get him to his room without having the guards see me drag his body around? A few hours of sleep should not be this much trouble...
My dilemma is interrupted when one of the guards barges in, breathless. "Sir! We...!" He looks down, and finds Zuko asleep in with his face in his dinner, and me, sitting at the opposite end of the table, looking back at him. "What...?" he asks, completely bewildered.
"Prince Zuko is asleep," I explained, as though the whole situation was quite normal. The soldier gapes for a while. This is most likely the first time he has seen his prince with a face full of fish... "What is it you came to tell us?" I inquire, drawing his attention back to me.
"Ahh...yes! The Avatar! We have spotted him! We saw his bison from a distance flying to a nearby island! We don't think he spotted us, due to the cover of night. Should we engage pursuit?" he entreated anxiously.
I let out a breath. What wretched timing...
Poor Iroh! What will he do now? I'll try to have the next chapter up in a reasonable amount of time, but I have a feeling it might be a little tricky to write...le sigh...