It was just before dawn when Iroh pinned the note to be sent by hawk ahead of the ship to his son at the White Lotus camp. He'd just spent what was left of the night with Toph and his men planning a rescue mission that he sincerely hoped they'd never have to act on. They had covered every twist and angle that came to mind, and still the plan looked more like a suicide then a rescue.

Dismissing everyone to get whatever sleep they could find, Iroh pushed himself to his feet, and drug his exhausted body down the corridors toward his cabin. He rubbed his tired eyes, mumbling to himself for the hundredth time, "What in the Spirits name were those boys thinking?"

But like every time prior, no answer came to him and he continued walking in a haze. When his feet finally stopped, he was only mildly surprise to see he'd past his own door, and was now standing in front of Ursa's cabin. He sighed, closing his eyes he debated with himself if he should knock or turn around and try to find his own room again.

'She is probably asleep.' Iroh reasoned, still his hand came up of its own accord and wrapped gently on the metal frame. He waited for a moment, and was about to leave when he heard the sound of the latch opening.

Ursa opened the door, took one look at her lover, and gently took his hand to pull him inside. Iroh went without protest, standing patently to the side as she closed the door behind him, and then followed her as she led him to her mattress. Neither of them said a word, as she started to remove his outer garments so he could be more comfortable.

Iroh watched her intently, mesmerized by her slow deliberate movements. When she got him down to his inner robe she lightly pushed him down to sit on the bed so she could take off his boots. Her touch, even through his weariness, was heaven, and his body responded accordingly. Reaching down he pulled Ursa up into his lap where he could lay claim to her mouth.

Ursa gave into Iroh's kiss immediately, burying her hands into his hair, and holding him to her. She kissed him back with all of her heart, breaking free only when her lungs screamed at her for oxygen. She studied her lover's face closely, "You're tired."

Iroh nodded, "Very."

Ursa moved to get off of Iroh's lap, but he held her still, laying his head against her shoulder. "Please don't, I'm sorry for earlier, don't go."

"Earlier?" Ursa asked settling back into his lap, and gently running her hand down Iroh's tight shoulders and back.

"In the cabin, with Ichiro, I didn't mean to upset you." Iroh sighed as the muscles in his shoulders started to relax under Ursa's hands. "I love you."

"Iroh, I love you too. I was just being silly earlier, that's all." Ursa kissed the top of his head, hugging him close to her. "I'm sorry too."

"What do you mean, being silly?" Iroh asked looking up at her. She bit the edge of her lip, and looked anywhere but at him. She looked so uncomfortable in fact, that he thought about letting the topic go for the night. After all, he was very, very tired.

"Ursa please, talk to me. We used to talk, you and I, about everything."

Ursa sighed, "I know you are not him; you could never be like him even at your worst."

Iroh didn't need to ask whom Ursa meant, and being compared to that person in anyway by the woman in his arms left a foul taste in his mouth, still he sat as calmly as he could and let her speak. "For a long time after Zuko was born I couldn't help but wonder if you didn't feel the same away I did for you. You were always kind, and sweet, but you were always so distant too."

"Ursa, you know we had no choice. If they had anything more than suspicion."

"I know," Ursa cut him off by laying a finger over his mouth. "But knowing something the reason doesn't mean the action doesn't hurt."

"You know I was never very strong that way, always too easily hurt. And at first, it hurt so much that I thought I would die from it. But I would look at Zuko, or you would smile at me just so, and I knew I could make it. Then Ba Sing Se, Lu Ten, and Azulon; everything changed and I felt so lost without either of you or Zuko. I thought I had nothing left in this world, even considered taking my own life."

"Ursa," Iroh tightened his hold on the woman in his arms. He knew too well the kind of pain she had been feeling, but to know he caused even a fraction of it ripped at his insides. "I'm so, so sorry."

Ursa smiled down at him, even as tears fell silently down her checks. "It is alright, I'm alright. The last couple of days, the stress and worry, it brought back old memories. I think I just need time."

He gently lifted his hand to cup her perfectly pale cheek, all of his love translating into the simple contact. "Take as much time as you need. I will give you the rest of my life, and happily, if that is what it takes."

Ursa kissed him, first on the forehead, then on each cheek, and finally on the lips. She kissed him because she could not find the words to explain what his words meant to her. And Iroh seemed to understand, as he gently laid them down on the bed.

She adjusted herself beside him, pillowing her head on his strong shoulder. She put her hand on his chest, just over his heart, and he interlocked his fingers with hers. "I love you. I'm sorry."

"Because you love me, am I really that bad?" Iroh asked teasingly.

"That is not what I meant."

Ursa made a move to sit up, but Iroh pulled her back. "I know what you meant, my love. And you have nothing that needs apologizing for."

"Neither of us are at our best at the moment. We are trying to pick up a life somewhere in the middle. It would be complicated under any circumstances, so it's unrealistic with everything else that is going on, to think it would make it any easier. We'll work on it, this war will not last forever, but I don't want to talk about it now. Just lay with me, and let me hold you for a moment."

Iroh felt Ursa nod against his shoulder as she snuggled closer to him. He smiled as he hugged her, and closed his eyes. Before long, he was snoring softly as he dreamed of a perfect life with the woman at his side. Even as he dreamed, somewhere in the back of his subconscious, he prayed that some dreams would be able to last beyond waking.

アエ 父の日 恋仲

Sokka and Kazuya had taken turns though the night making sure the furnace of the war balloon had coal to keep the fire hot enough to keep them in the air. They didn't have very far to go as the route Iroh had chosen for the White Lotus ship actually took them with in twenty six nautical miles of the island, but they could only go so fast and the high level of tension made it seem like hours past instead of minutes. Once or twice, they had tried to strike up conversation to help pass the time more easily but each attempt had failed, ending in dreadfully awkward silence.

Now, just before sunrise, Sokka was fast asleep sitting on the bench near the balloon's propeller. Kazuya tossed another chunk of coal into the furnace and closed the door before walking to the front of the balloon and looking out at the lightening horizon. Almost instantly, his eyes fell on the large dark shadow rising out of the ocean below.

"There it is." The nineteen year old's shout brought Sokka awake with a snort.

The blue-eyed boy rushed forward roughly pushing beside the White Lotus so he could look out as well. The Boiling Rock looked as ominous as its name made it sound, and Sokka could only see a portion of the outer slopes. The rest of the ancient volcano, to include the crater where the prison actually was, was obscured by clouds of steam rising off the boiling lake in the center. Sokka's stomach tightened as he wondered if his coming here was such a great idea.

"Well the good news is that with all that steam we should have plenty of cover for approach. As long as we don't make any noise we should be okay." Sokka tried to smile optimistically at his companion but it ended falling short, and the look Kazuya sent him told him he was convinced.

Still the young Lotus member said nothing, as he went back to check on the furnace. When they'd started this recuse mission, he'd been confident that he and Sokka would be able to pull it off. But that had been before he'd actually seen the Boiling Rock, and now it was all he could do not to shake as he put more fuel on the fire.

Apparently, Sokka was feeling the same, as he suddenly decided to go over the plan again. "So we fly right up to the docks, land, and use the set of papers you made to convince the guards and warden that we have been assigned to assist with the upcoming transfer. We get some uniforms, blend in, do some covert recognizance on the place, and wait for my Dad to show up in a couple of days. Then we can sneak him out, and head back to the others."

"Are you sure coming in the front door is really the best plan?" Kazuya asked for the hundredth time.

"No, but I don't see how we can sneak in. The warballon works on the principal of the air inside the balloon being warmer than the air around it. We are heading to a place with a boiling lake; the air around it is going really hot, especially where the steam would provide enough cover for us to approach."

"We could try to land in the water, and possibly use the basket as a sort of boat but trust me this thing was not meant for that." Sokka said tapping woven the side of basket. "It would start leaking would probably start leaking the minute we touched down. Besides I learned something while I was traveling around the Fire Nation these last few weeks."

"Yeah, what is that?" Kazuya asked.

"If you look like you belong, people don't question what you are doing."

Kazuya snorted, that very reason the White Lotus was as successful as it was. They hide themselves in plain sight. "Okay, so we walk in like we belong there. Simple enough, but walking out with your Dad?"

"Yeah, that becomes tricky. It is always easier to get into a prison than out of one."

Kazuya said, "You don't have a plan?"

"Not really, that is what the recognizance is for. I need to know what I'm working with. Besides I thought I would try going with the flow, and see where it takes me." Sokka said with a weak smile as his companion looked at him with a slightly terrified expression. "It works for my sister."

"So you're telling me insanity runs in your family then."

Sokka looked hurt for a moment before he busted out laughing, "You really have no idea."

"Sprits save me from mad Water Tribesmen." Kazuya said rolling his eyes skyward, but he was laughing too.

The shared morbidity of their humor broke the tension that had threatened to crush them. As they drew closer to their target, they could still feel the seriousness of their positions, but it had shifted somehow. Rather than fear, they felt anticipation. The thrumming of the blood in their veins was as thrilling, as it was steadying. It set a rhythm that was almost musical; a perfect accompaniment to the dance they were set to perform.

As they approached the main dock a bell sounded inside the prison, and four men poured guards quick marched onto the path. Kazuya sent Sokka a quick glance, to which the boy simply shook his head. "Go with the flow."

Landing the balloon on the dock, the pair stepped out together and started walking calmly toward the welcoming committee. Kazuya saluted the group as he stopped a few feet away, and withdrew his and Sokka's faked orders. "Morning, I'm Kazuya and this is Shui. We're new guards, transfers from Capital City."

"We weren't expecting any new guards." The man to the center right responded.

"Really, that is strange." Kazuya looked back at Shui-Sokka confused, and then opened up the documents he still held. "It says to report to Warden Seung, Boiling Rock."

He again held the documents out to the other guards. When they still didn't take them, Sokka stepped forward. "Look, I get it, you're just doing your jobs, right? So are we, were told to report, we report. Maybe something happened to the hawk, but we have orders, and nothing is going to be solved standing out here."

Another beat past, then the man who spoke lowered his aggressive stance, and the other's followed suite. "I'm Heng, and you have a point, Shui right?"

"Yes, Sir." Sokka snapped to and gave his best Fire Nation salute.

Heng finally took the offered papers from Kazuya, and turned back toward the prison. The other three guards fell in behind him, leaving Kazuya and Sokka to bring up the rear. The pair shared a quick look of triumph as they walked down the planks toward the Fire Nation's most formidable prison. Part one of the plan, complete.