To any of the poor souls who might be displeased with me starting something else before finishing Blind Ambition, I apologize, but I am attempting to use these oneshots as a way to cure my errant writer's block. So far, it seems to be successful, to a certain degree. I'm working on chapter four.
Really. I am.
Hopefully, these series of oneshots will be written in such a way that they can be read individually and still make sense, though they form an ongoing sojourn through the character's lives if read in order. The styles and genres will vary from humorous and whimsical to dark and vaguely introspective.
I love future-fics. I could not possibly tell you why. I think the character development and sheer potential screwiness of uncharted territory have something to do with it.
Anyway, I hope to keep these author's notes to the bare minimum (too late), and so here is your one and only disclaimer.
Disclaimer: I am far too neurotic to own Avatar. If I did, either the staff or the fanbase would probably ensure my imminent demise due to my chronic procrastination. And yeah, that's a resounding 'no.'
Characters: Iroh, Zuko
Warnings: tea obsessed Fire Lord, clueless angst-filled Zuko, a rambling teenage girl's (yes, that would be me) projected ending to the war, council of vaguely diabolical old people, mention of somewhat anticlimactic character death
It had only been two months since the Avatar's triumph over the former Fire Lord, but Ozai's replacement had already instigated a number of significant changes within the recovering nation.
Iroh's first order of business had been completely redoing the throne room. The throne, he claimed, was far too cold and uncomfortable for a tired old man such as himself, and had been replaced by a cushioned little number that closer resembled an armchair than a throne. The fire pit had been cleared away completely, for though quite forbidding and impressive, it reeked repulsively of brimstone.
Despite this frivolous affair, he immediately set to work on helping the ruined nation back to its feet. A shelter was built for those made homeless by the war, and some of the kinder souls from the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe were willing to stay behind and provide food and medicinal assistance. The unemployed were hired as carpenters and construction workers, and reconstruction commenced without further ado.
The majority of the lower officers he pardoned, asking only for their loyalty and respect in return. They were nevertheless kept under severe surveillance by Iroh's new confidant, Master Jeong Jeong, and the former recluse's own men. Anyone above the rank of admiral was held prisoner in Ba Sing Se, though King Bumi cheerfully promised their release if any of them showed a significant increase in moral fiber.
It was somewhat unfortunate that no one, including Avatar Aang, was quite certain of what exactly Bumi's definition of 'moral fiber' was.
Casualties of the war included Azula's companions, Mai and Ty Lee, although the princess herself was rumored to have vanished following her father's defeat. Reported sightings of the princess sprouted up like daisies after her disappearance, although in actuality the girl remained elusive.
For reasons inexplicable (though the common theory was that the country could not go without that one constant absolute), the Council of Elders, including the ancient twins Lo and Li, escaped any form of punishment whatsoever. Incensed though they were that the war had failed, several were old enough to recall a time before the first invasion, and all were at an age where they knew it was simply easier to make a show of complacency and pull the strings from the background. The scheming Elders may have been down, but they were far from out, and the Fire Nation still had plenty of time to fall victim to some of their other wiles.
Overall, Iroh was an efficient leader, and the less battle-inclined citizens of the Fire Nation could find it in their hearts to see passed the propaganda they'd been fed their entire lives and be grateful to the Avatar for choosing such a benevolent and capable man as Fire Lord. Progress was steady, and the people began to believe that perhaps there was a life beyond the mad world conquest they had sought.
And, of course, Iroh made sure that everyone was supplied with ample amounts of tea.
Currently, the gray-bearded man wished wistfully for a cup of something as simple as jasmine for himself, though he knew it would have to wait. His crowned head bowed respectfully to the departed souls as he strolled through the sepulchral silence of the cemetery.
To the surprise of some, and the gratitude of many, proper funeral services were held for the recovered dead, including Iroh's own brother. A new cemetery was set aside for the casualties of war, each name marked with loving care upon the obsidian grave markers, and visitors came often to pay their respects.
One of the visitors happened to be the very individual the new Fire Lord was seeking. An angry red scar marred the left side of an otherwise handsome face, features drawn into an expression of contemplative and detached mourning. The young man looked distinctly uncomfortable and somehow out of place in his Fire Nation formalwear, and his hair, though it had now grown to the point where it curled at the nape of his neck and persisted to fall into his eyes at inopportune moments, was still far too short to be gathered in a ceremonial bun or ponytail.
Iroh placed a large, calming hand on his nephew's shoulder. Zuko had grown distressingly withdrawn following the climactic battle between Avatar and Fire Lord and his father's subsequent demise, and his uncle worried for the teenager's health—both mental and emotional. The reinstated prince paid him no mind.
"Perhaps you should come inside now, Prince Zuko," the older man chided gently. "You've been standing out here for hours."
Zuko glanced briefly upward at the sound of his uncle's voice, golden eyes strangely blank and clouded with a decidedly unreadable emotion, before returning his gaze to the dark slab with its lonely inscription.
"I didn't want him dead," he said finally, still staring fixedly at the tablet.
"I know," began Iroh, but it seemed the Fire Prince was not yet finished.
What little vitality remained in Zuko seemed to suddenly leave him. "He didn't really want me back, did he?" He gave a defeatist sort of sigh. "I was nothing to him." The slightest trace of resentment tainted the prince's voice.
"Um," said Iroh intelligently, unsure of how to respond to his nephew's musing. He, for one, had never known his younger brother to be a man of compassion or sentimentality, though if he had not seen the fateful Agni Kai with his own eyes, he would have believed that even one such as Ozai harbored some sentimental emotions toward his own children. Zuko had been damaged enough in his lifetime, however, and he briefly debated lying to him, before discarding the idea in favor of his nephew's trust. Spirits knew the boy didn't need yet another complex on his hands.
"I didn't lose a father," the teenager continued in resignation. "I never had one."
The Fire Lord frowned deeply as the mourning prince began to descend into a self-pity filled depression. Oh, no. He wasn't going to allow that.
"Well, then what would you call me?" he asked Zuko, fitting as much of an indignant (yet jovial) air into the question as he could and shaking the boy lightly.
Zuko stared at him blankly. "…You're my uncle."
Iroh stroked his beard. "Well…yes. But declaring you my heir would legally make you my son, as well."
The younger firebender's face was now a picture of confusion.
The former general raised an eyebrow. "Who did you think I was going to ask to inherit the Fire Nation throne, Jeong Jeong?" He scoffed at the very idea with a dismissive shake of his head. "He is far too old, and he informed me himself that he plans on returning to his life of hermitage once he is certain the Fire Nation is stable again."
Zuko blinked a few times and tried to get his bearings. "No, I didn't think—you, uh," he stammered incoherently, before taking a deep breath and gathering his thoughts. "It's just…I've envisioned regaining my honor, my title, and my inheritance ever since— This hasn't gone at all the way I thought it would."
"Things rarely do," his uncle chuckled warmly, pouncing on the lighter mood like a cat on its prey. He flashed his nephew a grin. "If it's any consolation to you, I have thought of you as a son long before they appointed me Fire Lord."
The teenager flashed him a rare, grateful smile. "Thank you, Uncle." He paused for a moment, deep in thought. "When we return to the palace, I could make you some ginseng tea…" he offered.
The blood drained from the Fire Lord's face. "Ah…no, that won't be necessary," he assured the boy uneasily. "Really, there's no need to trouble yourself… But let's get going. I'm sure you're hungry." He laughed and patted his ample stomach. "I know I am."
The two exited the cemetery, making their thoughtful way back to their long-missed home.
Iroh smiled thoughtfully to himself. He had thought his life was over the moment he had lost Lu Ten, but Fate had a funny way of twisting things in ways one would never expect.
He had lost one son. But he had gained another.
Both lives were precious to him.
…Still, if only he could teach the boy to make tea properly…