Disclaimer: I obviously do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender, or the characters therein. It belongs to Nick and Bryan, and Nickelodeon.
Summary: Approval. The one thing that Zuko always longed for from, but was denied by his own father, but from Uncle…he's always the apple of his Uncle's eye. One-shot.
A/N: My first Avatar fanfic, featuring Zuko and Iroh. Because I love those two, and Iroh is just awesome. He's part Obi Wan Kenobi, part Buddha. Oh, and he loves tea. XD I have a soft spot for the old guy, so I was inspired to write a fic about these two, and their relationship.
Note: "It is upon disaster that good fortune rests." is a quote from the teachings of Lao Tzu.
Do no pray for an easy life. Instead, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one. Bruce Lee
Zuko polished the counter as the last customer left their teashop, uncle Iroh bidding a cheerful goodnight. He put up the "closed" sign and began dousing out the lamps, one by one, humming happily to himself.
"We had a good day today, nephew! So many customers to keep us busy! It seems word is spreading about Iroh's famous delicious teas," he chuckled as he slapped Zuko's shoulder fondly, beaming ear to ear, his round face bearing all the serenity and contentment of a bearded Buddha.
Zuko shot him an irritated sideways glance and continued polishing the counter, saying nothing.
How can he be so cheerful all the time? It can be so annoying sometimes.
Unfazed, Iroh merely chuckled and put the money in the safe deposit box and carefully locked it. The old firebender yawned widely and stretched. "It has been a long day, and I am tired. Let us get some rest, Zuko. Tomorrow, we will have even more customers, I am sure. Good night."
His only answer was a curt nod, and a narrowing of uptilted amber eyes.
A Prince of the Fire Nation…reduced to this, he thought bitterly, not for the first time.
Serving tea to peasants, hiding like a coward from my own sister. Scrubbing and sweeping floors…
Letting out a resigned sigh, he took off his apron and hung it next to his uncle's.
That night, Zuko had nightmares. He dreamt of many things. He dreamt of his gentle mother, Ursa. His sister Azula, a cruel smirk etched into her features. He dreamt of the day his father had disowned him, and banished him, branding him a failure and a disgrace to the throne, giving him his scar and therefore forever labeling him an outcast.
And…he dreamed of the Avatar. His only shot at redemption, at restoring his honor. He dreamed of how that damnable child had eluded him, time and time again…seemingly always just out of reach, carrying all his hopes of being able to return home with him.
He bolted awake in bed, gasping and sweating, his pulse racing. He panted as he looked at the now familiar surroundings of his small room, lit by the moonlight. He rose from the bed and stood before the mirror, his reflection gazing back at him. He ran a hand over his scar; the perpetual reminder of his shame. It still ached, a little. He remembered being told he had been extremely lucky that he still had perfect sight in that eye; he'd been told many others that had received the outcast brand weren't nearly so fortunate.
Yeah…fortunate. That's how I've always felt since losing everything, he thought sarcastically as his lip curled into a snarl and he turned away from the mirror.
Approval. That's the one thing he'd always craved from his father, even above any riches, prestige, or power, that was what he'd wanted most, and been denied, again and again, no matter what he did, no matter how much he'd tried to please his father, he'd always failed.
Azula was always the one that had won father's favor. His praise. Perhaps she'd even had had his love, if Lord Ozai had been capable of such a thing.
He flopped back onto the bed with a frustrated sigh and lay staring at the ceiling.
This is the third night in a row that these nightmares have been tormenting me…I've barely had any sleep.
He scrubbed a hand over his face in thought. He was too awake to get back to sleep, so he considered his options.I could go practice some of my firebending moves…I am getting out of practice.
He immediately discarded that idea. It was far too risky.I could brew some tea, and see if it calms my nerves…
He discarded that idea as well. Uncle Iroh had tried to teach him how to make tea, and after the fifth try gave up, and said that Zuko would perhaps would be able to "refine his technique" later.
It was Uncle's polite way of saying he was terrible at it, and had muttered something about poisoning the customers. There was a reason the elderly firebender did all the tea making, and Zuko did most of the other chores.
And thus, he was brought to the final option. One that made him wince in guilt.
Or…I could wake Uncle and ask him to brew me some tea.
He hated the very idea, and felt selfish for even considering it. Uncle was kind and patient, and wouldn't mind being woken up too much…but he still felt guilty.
But Zuko felt like he needed to talk to someone. Though he didn't admit it aloud, he'd come to rely on Uncle's advice, since he was beginning to listen to him. He admitted that Uncle was far wiser than he. He above all knew and understood the young prince best.
Sighing, he got up and went to Iroh's room to knock on his door.
Inside, he heard a good deal of groaning and a mumbled "I'm coming, I'm coming."
The door opened, and a rather disheveled looking Iroh appeared, in a robe. To Zuko's great relief, it was tied. His hair and beard stuck comically out in several directions. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, Iroh squinted up at his nephew in the dark.
"Zuko, what are you doing here at this late hour?" He asked, surprise clearly written on his face.
"I had trouble sleeping," answered Zuko truthfully.
Stepping out into the hallway, Iroh asked, "Why? Is something the matter?" His brow furrowed in concern.
Zuko flinched. "It's…it's nothing, really. Just tossing and turning," he lied.
Iroh simply nodded, seeming only half-convinced.
"I was wondering, Uncle, if…you would make me some tea to help me get back to sleep," the prince said softly, looking down and fidgeting.
At this, Iroh immediately brightened. "Tea? Well of course, Zuko, why didn't you say so?" He waddled happily to the kitchen, and Zuko felt the pang of guilt stab like a knife in his chest as he followed Iroh to the kitchen.
"I have just the recipe for you," said Iroh as he bustled about the kitchen happily, gathering ingredients and setting the pot to boil. "You know, I'm so pleased to see you finally taking an interest in tea. I thought you'd never come around!" he chuckled.
"Yeah, Uncle. I guess it's about time I came around." Zuko couldn't help but crack a small smile. The old man's enthusiasm was infectious.
He watched as Iroh mixed the tea carefully and precisely, like he was a calligraphy student that knew the slightest error would ruin the work of art that he was trying to create. As he finished the tea, he poured two cups; one for Zuko and one for himself.
"Come. Sit, and let us enjoy tea together," he said brightly as he waddled over to one of the tables.
Zuko came and sat across from him. "Actually, Uncle…I wanted to talk."
Iroh's eyes shot open as he was distracted from inhaling the fragrant scent of his tea. "About what, Zuko?" He leaned forward a bit, listening.
Zuko took a deep breath. "I've been having nightmares. They've been going on for the past three nights. This night was the worst so far. They're getting stronger, more intense."
Iroh nodded gravely. "I see." He sipped his tea thoughtfully. "Go on."
"I've been dreaming about father, and Azula, about, mother, and the Avatar. About all my failures. I've been dreaming about…so many things." He drank his tea.
Iroh looked at him sympathetically. This didn't surprise him. During their travels, Iroh had watched Zuko toss and turn in his sleep on occasion, sometimes even crying out and whimpering in his sleep, if the dream was about his mother. When Zuko had awakened, Iroh had always pretended to be asleep, to spare his nephew's pride.
He said nothing, simply listening to Zuko.
"It's just that I can't sleep when even my subconscious seems to mock me, as if even in sleep, I must be reminded of all that I've lost. It's like I'm given no peace. Sleep is supposed to be a reprieve, not a punishment."
Iroh felt his heart break at the despair and weariness in Zuko's voice.
"And now look at us. The Dragon of the West and the Fire Lord's son working in a tea shop."
At this, Iroh chuckled. "Oh, come now nephew. You've got to admit that it hasn't been all that bad. You need to learn to look on the bright side of things and not be such a pessimist."
At this, Zuko made a "hmmph" sound as he sipped his tea.
He glared at his Uncle. "All I wanted was to capture the Avatar, and bring him back to my father, and take my rightful place back from Azula, and make him proud of me. Prove to him that I'm not a weakling like he thinks I am." His voice cracked in anguish.
"Zuko…" Iroh's gaze softened.
"That's all I ever wanted…his approval." Zuko couldn't meet his uncle's gaze. "If only I could capture the Avatar and bring him back home, I'd gain his respect, then I'd have everything. I'd have my honor back, my throne back. Instead, I'm stuck here."
Iroh reached out and placed a comforting hand on the young Prince's shoulder, and Zuko looked up to meet his gaze.
"Zuko…I have no doubt that you can accomplish anything that you set you're mind to. Your tenacity knows no bounds. You've been that way since the day you were born; always a fighter, never giving in, never giving up. I recognized something special in you then. That's why I sent you that dagger home from the war. I was hoping it would inspire you to do great things."
He paused, withdrawing his hand and taking a sip of his tea. He closed his eyes and inhaled a deep breath, as if he were in meditation. "A great philosopher once said 'It is upon disaster that good fortune rests.'"
At this, Zuko snorted derisively. "Well, we've had plenty of disaster. I have yet to see the good fortune."
"Don't interrupt me. I'm not done yet," admonished Iroh firmly. " The monks say that through suffering, one becomes closer to enlightenment, and understanding of himself, the more challenges he faces, and overcomes. And you have suffered much, Zuko."I won't argue that, thought Zuko bitterly.
"Think about it, Zuko. Think of all the adversity you've overcome, the challenges you've faced and endured. What you've gone through would have broken most men, and yet the more difficult it is for you, the harder you fight, the more determined you become. If your path had been an easy one, then you would not be the person you are today." He paused, taking another sip of his tea.
"Yet despite all that you have suffered Zuko, you must not allow yourself to become bitter, for bitterness erodes the spirit and hardens the heart. I hope to see you become the Fire Lord one day, and be a good and just ruler, not like your father or your bloodthirsty sister."
At the mention of Azula, Zuko fought the urge to flinch.
"No matter what you do, Zuko I will always be proud of you. I will always love you, as if you were my own son, and I will do my best to guide you. And I hope someday, you give me plenty of great-nieces and great-nephews." At this, he chuckled.
Zuko flushed and nearly choked on his tea, and fought to regain his composure. "That…may be a long ways off," he mumbled sheepishly.
Iroh laughed outright at his reaction. "Oh, do not worry my boy. There is no rush for that, for you are young yet. I'm just thinking ahead, into the future…perhaps with that pretty waterbender I know you have your eye on, now what was her name?" He frowned, trying to remember. "Kitara? Kitana? Katana? Something that starts with a "K"…"
"It's Katara, Uncle. Her name's Katara." Zuko gritted his teeth, fuming.
"Oh, so that's her name!" said Iroh merrily. "I had quite forgotten. My mind isn't as sharp as it used to be in my old age. I must be getting senile.Thank you, Zuko. I shall have to memorize it. Katara...a pretty name for a pretty girl like her. She'll grow into quite a beauty." He wiggled his eyebrows and winked at Zuko slyly.
Ignoring his words, Zuko exploded at him."And for your information, I do NOT have a crush on her! I don't have time to think about girls! My only focus is on capturing that blasted airbender and getting HOME!" At this, he slammed his fists down hard on the table. Iroh had jerked his tea away at the last second to keep it from spilling over.
Taking another sip, the old firebender smiled knowingly. " All right. If you say so." he winked. "But I still think she might be a good match for you. Just a suggestion."
Zuko turned away, scowling.
"I'm going back to bed, Uncle. Thanks for the talk." He finished his tea and got up to leave.
"Zuko, wait." Iroh stood.
Zuko stopped and turned to look at him, still scowling.
"Before you go back to sleep…a final bit of advice. To bring calm to your sleep, you must win the battle that rages in here." Iroh placed a hand over Zuko's heart. "There is much turmoil inside you, and you must conquer it. Remember, nephew, not every war is fought and won on the battlefield. The greatest challenge a man faces often lies within himself. You must find peace within before you will find peace without. That is the key to conquering your nightmares. I will do my best to help you with this, if you will let me."
"Thank you, Uncle. I will remember your advice." said Zuko, turning to leave.
He paused at the doorway, and then turned to look at his Uncle.
His next words greatly surprised the old firebender.
"I just want you to know, Uncle, I lo- you mean a lot to me. You're…like the father I never had. Thanks for everything that you've done for me."I hope I can make you proud… The words hung in the air, unspoken.
Iroh felt his eyes mist, and his old heart warm, and he smiled broadly. "Of course, Zuko."
After that, over time, Zuko had fewer and fewer nightmares until they diminished entirely, and his sleep became peaceful.
A/N: So, what do you think? Liked it? Loved it? Think it needs improvement? Please review! I hope I did a good job keeping them in character. Let me know how I did.