I felt an incredible urge to write something with Zuko and Iroh in it. I love the bond that they share in the show. I hope it doesn't seem OOC.
Eyes still closed, Zuko slowly regained consciousness, struggling to recall exactly why he was unconscious in the first place.
The air around him felt hot, and his chest ached from the effort to breath. Gasping slightly, his hands clenched desperately at what felt like sheets beneath him as he strained to open in his eyes.
Although his vision was slightly blurred from sleep, he recognized the room without having to look around. He'd spent too many days in here since his banishment, exhausted from training, staring up at this exact ceiling; he'd know it anywhere.
Still, the aching pain in his body and the fogginess of his mind told him that this was more than just simple exhaustion or soreness from training.
His slightly blurry vision was now causing his head to ache, and he closed his eyes again, groaning softly as he felt the darkness call to him-offering relief.
Hearing this familiar voice and title, Zuko fought against the urge to sleep, opening his eyes again. Looking slightly to his left he could see his uncle now standing over him, brow furrowed in concern.
He tried to raise up, but his body seemed to be too heavy and would not respond to his command. He felt his breathing quicken from his efforts, and he began to feel panicked. Why couldn't he move? What was wrong with him?
"Easy, Prince Zuko." He felt his Uncles hand lay against his bare shoulder, realizing for the first time that he was shirtless. "You mustn't try and move."
Zuko looked at his Uncles face again, confused.
"Although," Iroh mused, stroking his beard with his other hand. "You probably can't move much anyway."
Zuko swallowed, his throat feeling dry and slightly swollen.
His voice was hoarse, and wavering.
Iroh frowned, noticing the confusion in his Nephews pained gaze.
"Do you remember what happened, Prince Zuko?" he asked, squeezing his shoulder reassuringly.
Zuko tried to recall something…anything that would be cause for his current situation, but couldn't. He wanted to ask, but talking proved difficult. In stead, he clenched his eyes shut and shook his head as best he could.
Zuko barely noticed his Uncles hand leave his shoulder, he was too busy trying to get a full breathe of air…it was just so hot and stuffy, and it only seemed to get worse.
Suddenly he felt something cool being pressed against his forehead. He opened his tired eyes and looked blearily up at his uncle, who was carefully dabbing a wet cloth over his flushed face.
"You have a bit of a fever." Iroh informed him.
Zuko still did not understand what had happened, and felt suddenly frustrated with not being able to communicate properly.
"It is understandable that you do not remember," his Uncle told him, continuing to dab the wet cloth over Zuko's face. "It is one of the many effects from the poison."
When the old general briefly meet Zuko's gaze, he noted the confusion and alarm that his words had evoked.
Poison? He'd been poisoned? How? By who?
Again Zuko felt frustrated that he could not simply demand the answers to these questions. Luckily his Uncle knew him well enough that he needn't have to ask.
"We were attacked." Iroh explained; not meeting Zuko's gaze again. "During our recent stop to gather more supplies."
Iroh sighed, laying the cloth back into a bowl of water near Zuko's bedside,
"I'm afraid some of the people there did not take kindly to having Fire nations soldiers amongst them, despite it being a place well-known for trade from all three nations."
Zuko was tired and sore still, but he was determined to stay awake and hear what had happened. After all, any direct attack on them should have been easily handled by the soldiers or even Iroh and himself.
"They were wise enough to deploy a stealthy attack, but they were still untrained young men." Iroh shook his head, almost pityingly. "It is a shame that the war can bring out such bitterness in others."
His uncle glanced at him for a moment and then away again. Zuko vaguely wondered why he seemed so reluctant to look at him. Did he look that bad?…..he certainly felt terrible.
"I believe it was mere luck on their part that they managed to hit you."
Zuko's attention peeked. They had hit him?
He clenched his hands into fist. Although he couldn't remember the occurrence, he hated himself for letting something like that happen.
"It was of no fault of your own I assure you, Prince Zuko." Iroh replied, noticing his nephew tense up. "There was no way you could have seen the dart coming."
A dart? A poisoned dart.
Zuko relaxed slightly, then inwardly sneered. The cowards.
"I don't think you were even aware of what had happened, although it did not take long for the poison to take effect." His uncle stated grimly. "I did not even realize that something was wrong until you started to stumble along side me."
Zuko felt his anger lessen at his Uncles tone and clouded gaze. There was something within his voice that Zuko was having a hard time recognizing, whether it be due to the poison or something else.
"Your breathing was quick and you looked pale." Iroh informed him, closing his own eyes. "When I asked if you were alright, I was surprised when you did not push aside my concern. You said you felt strange and soon after you collapsed."
His uncle took in a breath, and Zuko suddenly realized how severe the effects of the poison must have been to have upset him so.
"That's when I found the dart, as small as it was. It nearly seemed impossible that it could do so much damage." his tone turned more determined. "The men were on alert and soon spotted the assailant and his companions. They were apprehended and turned over to the authorities there."
Zuko frowned at this. Turned over to the authorities? They should have paid with their lives for having endangered the prince of the fire nation. Anyone who even threaten the royal family was to be executed.
"You must understand, Nephew." His uncle replied, not having looked up at him, but obviously anticipating his reaction. "You were in bad shape, and needed to be taken back to the ship and to the healer as soon as possible. The deaths of those young men would have only fueled more hate and fear of the fire nation."
Zuko turned his head away slightly, not satisfied.
Iroh sighed, having anticipated this.
"The healer has done all that he can." He told Zuko placidly. "The poison is usually fatal."
Zuko tensed. It had not even occurred to him that he could die. That the poison had been that potent. He didn't try to hide his concern when he looked at his uncle, who finally looked back at him.
"Do not worry, Nephew." He told him, smiling only slightly. "There is a cure and we will be stopping at another port soon to retrieve it. In the mean time you have been given medicine to help ease the symptoms. The fact that you are even conscious is proof of it's work."
His Uncle was now trying to make light of the situation, but Zuko could feel the aching in his muscles and joints and the burning in his chest. He winced suddenly, taking in a few quick breaths as pain seemed to pulse throughout his body. Not knowing what brought on the sudden discomfort, Zuko could only clench his hands and groan, eyes closing shut in a painful grimace.
Iroh frowned in slight alarm and concern, placing his hand on Zuko's arm. It was warm from fever and he could feel it trembling slightly as Zuko groaned and gasped for breath. He rubbed his Nephews arm and whispered soothing words- although knowing that currently his Nephew would pay them no mind. Soon enough the fit passed, and Zuko's breathing became less labored, his face no longer contorted in pain. Iroh swallowed the lump that had long since been forming in his throat.
"I am so sorry, Nephew." He murmured, his voice thick and slightly hoarse as he moved his hand down to grip Zuko's still clenched fist. "Perhaps if I had allowed you to stay on the ship as you had wished." he said regretfully, avoiding the princes gaze still. "Perhaps then you could have been spared this suffering."
Zuko blinked, though still somewhat dazed, he could hear his Uncles words and feel his firm grip once again. The pain that had previously racked his body had faded into a dull ache, and it was as if his Uncles words had triggered something within his mind-He suddenly recalled having come ashore.
Uncle had wanted to visit the shops and had asked that he join him. Zuko had no interest in going, but Iroh had insisted that it just wasn't healthy to stay on the ship all the time, and that it would do him some good. Finally he had agreed, but only to get his Uncle to stop pestering him.
Now Zuko understood why his uncle would not look at him. It was guilt that Zuko had heard in his voice.
He frowned, wanting to tell his uncle how foolish it was to place the blame on himself. It was the fault of those men and their bitterness, and perhaps even his own fault for letting his guard down. His Uncle had nothing to be sorry for, and it was foolish for him to be apologizing for such a thing.
Unfortunately Zuko could not tell him all this, not now, or at least not in the way that he was accustomed.
Still, he took in a few breaths, determined to at least set the older man at ease.
"Not…your..fault." He managed to rasp out, drawing his Uncles attention.
The old generals face seemed surprised, but soon it soften with relief and gratitude.
"Thank you, Prince Zuko." he replied softly, and this time with a small genuine smile.
A part of Zuko wanted to return the gesture, but a wave of nausea came over him and his face scrunch up in discomfort.
He groaned softly, and heard his uncle move briefly from his side.
When he returned a second later, he pulled Zuko up, supporting his back.
"Drink this." He commanded gently, as Zuko opened his eyes again.
He eyed the small cup wearily and when his Uncle pressed it to his lips he turned his head away.
"No more…tea." He murmured, feeling even more sick at the thought.
His Uncle chuckled.
"No, Nephew, it isn't tea." The older man replied. "Although you may wish it had been. After all, medicine is not nearly as tasty."
Zuko opened his eyes again. Medicine.
He turned his head back in acceptance and parted his dry lips.
It was bitter, but bearable. He grimaced though as he forced himself to swallow, wondering how Uncle -or the healer- had managed to get him to take it before. It could not have been easy.
As he finished the last of it, he coughed, his throat feeling slightly raw now.
Uncle quickly brought forth another cup he had filled, bringing it up to his mouth and explaining that it was water.
The liquid felt soothing against his throat, and Zuko was eager to accept..
"Slowly now," His uncle chided in a gentle tone. "Or you'll make yourself even more sick."
Once empty, Iroh gently lowered him back onto his bed and pulled the cover up to his bare chest. Then carefully, he pressed his hand to Zuko's forehead and then his cheek, testing it's warmth.
Zuko watched him through half-open eyes, too tired and drained to feel embarrassed by his Uncles actions. He wondered if it was the medicine that was making him so drowzy, and the thought of going to sleep and not being able to wake up on his own was unsettling. More so was the thought of waking up alone and disoriented again.
"You must be tired." He heard his Uncle say, patting his arm. "Rest for now, we'll reach port by morning."
Iroh moved from his spot on the edge of the bed, and Zuko felt a sudden panic and fear rise in his chest, like a cold grip on his heart.
"U..Uncle?" he called, his voice strangely soft and pleading.
Iroh's attention was on him immediately, more alert than he would have been if Zuko had been yelling a command.
"Yes, Prince Zuko?" the older man asked, standing closely by his side.
Zuko hesitated, slightly more aware of how embarrassing the situation was. He reasoned that he could blame any display of weakness on the poison and his feverish mind, or even deny it- truthfully, he wasn't sure he would remember this at all anyway- and despite his pride, Zuko could not rid himself of the lingering fear in his mind.
"Are you uncomfortable? Do you need something else to drink?" his Uncle gently prodded. "Or perhaps another blanket?"
Zuko closed his eyes tight and shook his head in response to his uncles questions. His head felt like it was swimming now and he feared that he would soon give in to sleep- just as he had the last time he had seen his mother.
"Uncle," His voice was small and pained, and Iroh could not help but marvel at how young he sounded; young…and hurt.
Iroh waited attentively, wondering for a moment if Zuko had actually gone back to sleep- which was likely considering the medicines effects- but finally his Nephews eyes slowly opened again. It was obvious that Zuko was making quite the effort to stay awake, but what really took him by surprise was the completely unguarded look in his Nephews eyes. It had been many years it seemed, not since before his banishment, that Zuko had looked at him like that.
Iroh felt his heart ache at his nephews plea, and a mingled look of pity concern and fondness overcame his features. He was certain that if Zuko was in the right frame of mind, he would have turned away from such a display or even have lashed out. However, he continued to gaze up at him imploringly, and did not protest when Iroh placed his hand on his arm again in an almost fatherly gesture.
"Do not worry, my Nephew." he replied with calm sincerity. "I promise, I have no intentions of leaving."
And Zuko could not deny the comfort that those words brought to him -because he had never known his Uncle to break a promise- and so nodded vaguely to express to his Uncle that he had heard him before finally giving into sleep- knowing, at least in that one moment, that he was not alone.
Well, there you have it.
Please review and let me know what you think.
Also, if anyone can think of a better title, let me know. I'm terible at that sort of thing and always wait to the last minute.