I don't own much of anything, sadly. I could use the money.
It'd been years since the war, since the final battle of the eclipse (though Zuko knows it was hardly the final battle. There were men loyal to Ozai's cause all over who had to be defeated afterwards, but they didn't compare.) They'd lost many people on the battlefield. The Fire Nation was strewn with blood that day, and for at least a year afterward with rebellion. The avatar and his posse had stayed there, in the palace with him and Uncle, for most of it.
He'd liked it. It had been like being a family again, something he couldn't really say he had a sense of since before his mother disappeared. Even if Sokka was a brat, and the avatar was slightly annoying, it was a nice change from constant fear of doing something wrong, and from traveling the world in search of something he could never capture.
It'd been five years since then. Shortly after the war, Iroh had become Fire Lord, ruling justly. He was respected as an ally to the avatar and respected as a force to be reckoned with. The Fire Nation was still hardly trusted, and it was in even more trouble financially, but he had done well building it up from the ground. Sokka went off to find his father, and then shortly after went and married Suki, and they now taught the Kyoshi warriors together (though Zuko doubts it'll last, because Suki and Sokka will be having kids any day now. It's a wonder they've lasted this long… He tries not to think about it though.) Katara and Aang (he was still getting used to calling him by his name instead of his title) went about together and made sure the land was at peace. They also fell in love, but that was another story entirely. They came to visit from time to time, but the avatar still had a tight schedule. (Also, if Zuko figured this out correctly, they were going to be busy for quite some time shortly, when the avatar finally married his love.) Toph still came fairly often to the palace, to visit him and his uncle. She and Uncle would poke fun at Zuko's hair or how he made tea, and he would sit by and let them, knowing that it made the old man happy.
Iroh was now coming to the end of his career as Fire Lord (and, if Zuko was honest with himself, which he wasn't, his life.) He was old, and the war, along with Zuko's betrayal (he still beat himself up over that) had taken a large toll on the old man.
Toph Bei Fong, the Avatar, Katara, and Zuko stood around Iroh's bed. Toph had just prepared some tea, promising it would taste better than Zuko's ever had.
"Jasmine," she had said, her voice soft and sincere for once. "Your favorite."
He sat up, and sipped it, praising her tea skills in a soft voice. It was how Zuko knew. He had always been so loud in life, and now that he was nearing the end, his voice was soft, less energetic.
He smiled (Zuko wondered how he could remain cheerful with death on the horizon) after finishing his tea, and announced he would slip off to sleep for awhile, if that was alright with everyone.
"Katara, can you just check once more if there's anything you can do…" His tenor was soft and pleading. She wove water through the air, checking if there was and shook her head sadly.
"I'm sorry, Zuko, there's nothing I can do." She patted his shoulder sympathetically. Aang, never really figuring out where that line was, and why not to cross it, pulled the older man into a fierce hug. Zuko cringed a bit, but (only since it was the Avatar, he'd tell himself later) let himself be pulled in.
"Things will be ok, it just takes time."
Toph stood by the old man, holding onto a weathered hand, eyes closed in concentration. Her eyes opened slowly, wet with tears.
"I can't hear his heart anymore… I'm sorry…" She walked out of the room, tears running silently down her face.
Zuko sunk to the floor, uttering some half-assed command to leave to the Avatar and Katara. He looked to his uncle, more of a father than his own had ever been, and collapsed.
One Month Later
It was stormy out. The Fire Nation hadn't had this type of a storm since Ozai had reigned. None with this much force behind it at least.
The Fire Lord, Zuko, stood in the middle of it all, letting it pour down on him and soak him through.
He heard the footsteps behind him, not bothering to look, eyes downcast.
"Isn't it a little wet out here for you, Princess?"
"Well, I don't know about you, but your nation is going to just keep over and die when they lose two Fire Lords in a row."
He cringed. That hurt. She was making progress.
"It'd be a fucking tragedy, right Princess?"
Ah, lowering herself to crass peasant language when she was of nobility. She knew him well. Still, no response.
"Sitting in the rain and moping won't bring him back, Zuko. Iroh wouldn't want this." Her voice, deeper then when they had first met, more mature (but still capable of being just as cutting) was soft, and when he looked down at her, her milky green eyes were too. "Come back inside, Zuko. You can't bring him back…"
He swore, tears mingling with the rain on his face, and punched the ground in anger. "Why? It's not fair!" His voice broke into a sob, and he wrapped himself around Toph, crying softly. She patted his back in soothing circles, and after a time pulled him up and into the palace.
The servants greeted them with hot towels and concerned looks as Toph waved them away. She pulled Zuko up to the royal bedroom and sat him down on a chair, handing him a towel.
"We all miss him, Zuko. But we have to move on…"
He sat there, not moving as she toweled herself off, letting her hair cascade down her back. Once dry, she walked over and began to towel him off.
"Shit, Princess, for the Fire Lord, you're not very capable of taking care of yourself." She moved to his hair, messing it up with the towel before drying it off. "Your servants told me you haven't been eating much either. Enough to get by, they said. And then you go out and play in the rain when you're obviously going to be susceptible to getting sick. What were you thinking?"
His face remained black, just his golden eyes watching her every move. Small and nimble fingers made their way down his shirt, unbuttoning what needed to be unbuttoned, and pushed it off his shoulders, moving on to towel his torso. "They were worried enough to send for me, you know. Luckily, I wasn't far off." She moved to his wardrobe and opened it, pulling out a pair of (red, of course) pajamas and setting them on the bed. Pulling off her wet clothes and hanging them near the fire, she pulled the red shirt on over her white (and still wet, Zuko half-noticed) underclothes. She pulled the covers down and tugged Zuko towards the bed and sat him down. Tugging his shoes off, and making a face and the water that came out of them, she handed the pajama pants his way, saying "I'm not doing everything for you, Princess. These you'll have to manage on her own," with a smirk.
His eyes met hers, and he sighed.
"There's so much time that I wasted with him. I was too down on myself to notice the great man beside me, supporting me no matter what stupid thing I had done. I could have learned so much, Toph, and instead I was an idiot and I hurt him. I did some stupid things. I could have,"
Her small hand silenced him. "You could have, but you didn't. Let's not dwell on the past. Iroh would have wanted us to look further."
He looked down at her. She was different from the girl he had first met. She wasn't much taller, but had filled out over the years. She'd never be a very curvy girl, (Earth bending probably saw to that. It was definitely the most physical of the elements.) but she was obviously female, as opposed to when they had met. (But he wouldn't go into that.) The soft curve of her lips, her milky green eyes, and her pale skin added up into something exotically pretty. Yet, the fact that he knew at any time she could take him and beat him into the ground (quite literally) was something he never forgot. Her long, thick, black hair was pretty, too, and her small hands looked delicate, but one touch and the calluses portrayed strength. She'd never be the generic pretty of Katara, the tall dark beauty, but she was different and amazing all at the same time. Lesser people would fear the Fire Lord when he was mourning (moping was her word for it) but she had no problem insulting him to his face even then.
"Stay with me," he said, his voice soft.
She smiled, curling under the covers. "Didn't know you were so needy, Princess."
"Didn't know you were so eager," he responded, smiling for the first time in what felt like forever.
A soft pink blooming across her cheeks and a punch to the arm (far harder than was necessary) were all the reply he got, and all he wanted.
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