I really hadn't intended on writing more to this, and to be completely honest this is more of a story within a story. I have been toying with this idea for some time but was at a loss for how to go about it, so I deided to tie it in with this- which I think worked out rather nicely.

so Enjoy!


Despite Zuko's assurance that this was in no way his fault -and although it had provided him with great comfort at the time- Iroh couldn't help but look down on his Nephews sleeping form and feel his heart clench at how close he had come to losing him.

He had admitted to Zuko that the poison was usually fatal, but also assured him that he had nothing to worry about; he would be fine. Iroh hoped with all his heart that he had not lied to his nephew, for although the medicine the healer provided helped to keep the poison from spreading and ease the pain, it was not a cure, and Zuko was still very much in danger.

The medicine was obviously not as powerful as he originally thought either, since the healer was sure that it would keep Zuko in a drug induced sleep until they acquired the cure from the next port. Zuko however had woken up nearly half a day early, and Iroh was glad that he had decided not to leave the room or his Nephews side for long periods of time.

Zuko was more alert than he had expected also, even though he was admittedly confused and in obvious discomfort. Iroh had worried for a moment that Zuko would act irrationally to his situation, perhaps insist on getting out of bed and continuing his search for the Avatar. It seemed however that Zuko could not move much at all, and the fact that he had not mentioned the avatar once -despite his relentlessness in the past two years- proved that he was not in the right state of mind; instead only able to focus on his current situation. In many ways, Iroh was relieved- thinking about the avatar would have only upset his Nephew further and Zuko did not need the added stress on top of everything else. In fact, Iroh had fibbed a bit when telling Zuko that him being conscious was proof of the medicines work, Although he felt slightly guilty about being less than honest with his Nephew, he feared that Zuko panicking would only cause the poison to spread faster.

Sighing as he watched over the boy, Iroh reflected back on the pleading and open look that had come over Zuko's face. Not since his banishment had Zuko ever seemed so young, though Iroh knew more than anyone that Zuko was indeed still a child- even if he insisted on acting otherwise. The fear that he had heard in his Nephew's plea, and the sorrow in his eyes, were all too familiar. He remembered the last time he had seen that look on his Nephews face, a face free of scars but still burdened with loss.

It had been a few days after his return to the palace, nearly a year after the death of his son, and although he had known of Ozai taking the throne, he had only just been informed of Ursa's disappearance. Zuko, he had quickly discovered, was not the same happy and innocent little boy he use to be. Although he seemed genuinely glad to see his Uncle, he had gone stiff when Iroh had embraced him, seeming unsure of himself before barely returning the gesture. He was quieter too, much more focused on his training and studies, and decidedly…lonelier. Iroh was hopeful, however, for it seemed that Zuko had not been completely corrupted by his fathers influence, still kind hearted and eager to learn. The sadness that seemed to surround him though was impossible to miss, and Iroh assumed that the boy was still coming to terms with the loss of his mother.

Iroh sighed, closing his eyes as he remembered finding his Nephew sitting by the turtle duck pond late one night, knees pulled up to his chest, and arms wrapped protectively around them.

"What are you doing out here so late, Prince Zuko?" He asked curiously, standing a few feet from the boy."You should be in bed."

Zuko tensed, still staring out onto the pond.

"I can't sleep." he admitted, trying to sound unconcerned, although he tightened his hold around his knees

"Oh?" Iroh replied lifting an eyebrow curiously, but realizing that Zuko did not wish to explain himself, Iroh let the issue slide as he came to stand next to the boy.

"Do you mind if I join you then?"

Zuko gave the older man surprised glance before shaking his head 'no'.

Iroh took the spot beside him, and then followed his Nephews gaze to the small pond, the moon reflecting on it's surface, beautiful and calm.

"Well you certainly have picked a lovely spot, My Nephew." he commented, grinning slightly as he admired it's tranquility.

Beside him, he felt Zuko shift uncomfortably, then look away.

"It's moms favorite spot." he replied wistfully.

Iroh gazed down sadly at his Nephew.

"I see." he replied, taking note of the fact that Zuko still referred to Ursa in the present tense, he placed a comforting hand on his Nephews shoulder.

"Zuko." He spoke with great care and sincerity. "I know it is not easy to lose someone you care for, and even harder is it to let them go, but you mustn't dwell in the past or give into despair. Your mother would wish for you to be happy."

He had hoped his words would comfort the boy, but to his dismay he felt the boys shoulder slump slightly.

"She's not coming back, is she."

It wasn't a question, but still Iroh could hear the boys reluctance to admit such a thing.

He squeezed his shoulder reassuringly, swallowing thickly. "No, My Nephew." he whispered, feeling something in his chest tighten. "She is not."

With a heavy heart Iroh watched his nephew burry his head into his knees and bring his arms up to tighten his hold around them, shielding his face from view.

"It's not fair." He muttered brokenly, his voice muffled.

Iroh kept his hand placed gently but firmly on the boys shoulder, although it took a great deal of restraint not to scoop the child up into his arms; he knew such an action would not be well received by his Nephew- who seemed reluctant toward even the simplest displays of affection.

"I know that it seems unjust." Iroh sympathized. "But nothing in this world is without reason or purpose, even if we can not understand it ourselves at the time."

He felt Zuko tremble beneath his touch, shaking his head at his words.

Iroh inwardly sighed. How was he to expect his Nephew to see the big picture when it had taken himself a great deal of time -not to mention a journey to the Spirit World- to come to such an understanding. Even so, he felt the loss of his son everyday, a pain that he knew would dull more with time but never really leave him. Zuko was just a child and Iroh's heart ached for him, to know such pain and loss so young in life.

"Zuko-"

"It's all my fault." His words came out slightly choked, both bitter and sad, though muffled still by his arms.

Iroh gave his Nephew a very alarmed look, concerned and appalled that Zuko would put such a burden on himself. He became even more worried when he noticed Zuko's clenched fists smoldering, and his Nephew heating up under his touch, becoming oddly still; as if holding his breathe.

"Zuko!"

He placed both his hands on his Nephews shoulders, turning Zuko so that he was now on his knees facing him. The sudden motion caused the young prince to release his breath, although now it was coming in quick gasps, the boy kept his head down and refused to meet his Uncles gaze, trembling with suppressed emotion.

"You must calm yourself, prince Zuko." Iroh insisted, concerned with his Nephews sudden lack of control over his fire bending, and afraid that he would bring harm to himself in such a state. "Relax. Breath slowly." he instructed, serious and calm. "In through the mouth and out the nose."

Iroh was relieved to find Zuko listening to his advice, taking in slow shuddering breathes.

"That's it." he murmured in relief as he noticed his Nephews skin no longer felt unnaturally warm beneath his touch. "Good…good."

When it seemed as if his nephew had composed himself, Iroh decided to cautiously address the previous issue.

"Zuko," he said, his voice strong so as to capture the boys attention, but compassionate. "How can you possibly blame yourself for such a thing?"

Zuko stiffened slightly, but didn't look up at him. If the boy had any reason at all to blame himself, he wasn't going to share it with his Uncle, and only shrugged.

Iroh frowned, disheartened by how closed off the boy seemed to be.

"Zuko?"

He sighed at the boys lack of response, but then managed a smile. "You know Nephew, it would be much easier to speak to you if you were to look at me."

Zuko seemed to tense once more, his hands-which where placed in his lap- clenched worriedly.

Iroh frowned at this reaction.

"Zuko, I am no upset with you." he assured the boy, gripping his shoulders firmly once more, wondering what more could be wrong. "Please look at me."

Zuko took in another deep breath, and with slight hesitation, lifted his head to meet his Uncles gaze. Before Iroh could even react to his Nephew tear-filled eyes, or his guilty and shameful expression, Zuko began speaking.

"I'm..I'm sorry Uncle!" he replied in a rushed and panicked voice, furiously wiping at the few tears that had already begun to roll down his cheeks. "I know I'm not suppose to cry. I've been trying really hard not to. Please don't tell father!"

Iroh had withdrew his hands from the boys shoulder in shock, completely taken back by his Nephews distraught words. Had he not allowed himself to cry over his mother after all this time?

"I promise it won't happen again." Zuko muttered, shamefully bowing his head.

Iroh shook his head, gently reaching down to cup the boys chin and bring his head back up to meet his concerned eyes. True to his word, the boy was no longer crying, all though his eyes were shinning with unshed tears. Iroh paused, looking over his Nephews face with a sad yet loving calm.

"You have nothing to be sorry for, My Nephew." he assured the boy, removing his hand from his chin as he spoke. "There is nothing wrong with feeling sad, nor is there any shame in crying."

A doubtful look came over Zuko's face before he turned his head away slightly.

"Father says that a prince should never cry, that it shows weakness."

Iroh frowned, that certainly sounded like something his brother would say, but it bothered him greatly that Ozai would shame his son from mourning.

"Everyone cries at some time in their life, Prince Zuko." he replied. "Do you honestly think that I have never shed a tear myself?"

Zuko looked up. "I guess not." he admitted.

Iroh placed his hand once more on his Nephews shoulder.

"Crying is not just a sign of mourning, My Nephew, it is also the first step toward healing." he told the boy. "It is not healthy to keep such emotion bottled up, especially if you are a fire bender."

Zuko gave him a questioning look and with a patient smile Iroh explained.

"Unlike other bending, our element comes from within us. I am sure you have learned already of a firebenders inner flame?"

The boy nodded.

"Emotions are like fuel for this." he explained. "but when one is not in control of their emotions, either because they are expressing themselves too strongly or trying to suppress the emotions altogether, our inner flame becomes difficult to control as well."

Zuko looked down thoughtfully but sadly, well aware of the dangers if one loses control of their inner flame.

"But how do I control it?" he asked, hopelessly. "No matter what I do I just feel so hurt and angry, uncle."

It was the most open his Nephew had been with him since his return and Iroh was almost glad for it, despite the boys distress. What made his heart swell even more was the thought that his Nephew was seeking his advice and guidance; that he was needed.

"If you like Zuko, I could teach you a special kind of meditation." he offered. "I find that it has helped me greatly in all my years to manage my emotions and control my inner flame."

Zuko nodded solemnly. "I'd like that, Uncle."

Iroh smiled sadly, wishing that he could end the conversation there.

"But what I think you need now is to let some of those emotions out." He told the boy, who looked up quickly with uncertain eyes.

"Understand that I will not judge you, Prince Zuko, and that you should never feel the need to hide such emotions in my presence." He smiled slightly. "Though if it makes you feel better, I promise not to breathe a word of this to your father."

"Or Azula?" Zuko asked, a bit hopeful.

Iroh chuckled softly.

"Or Azula." he replied."I promise it shall remain between just the two of us."

These words seemed to comfort his Nephew as he looked down, the tension easing from his shoulders as he stared down at his lap.

"I miss her." He whispered thickly after a moment, looking back up.

Tears were just starting to fall from his eyes, and he looked at his Uncle with such open sadness that Iroh felt his heart break in two.

"Why did she have to go?" he asked, his voice slightly choked and hoarse, his light amber eyes gazing up at him as if he held all the answers.

Iroh was so overwhelmed that he could no longer resist pulling his Nephew into a fierce embrace. As he expected, Zuko stiffened, but the moment was short and soon he was returning the hug with equal vigor. Shaking with barely contained sobs and clinging tightly to the front of his Uncles robes, he let out all the sadness, confusion, and hurt he had felt over the past year in the form of tears.

"It's okay, Nephew…." Iroh whispered consolingly, feeling the first of the boys tears dampen his chest, where Zuko had effectively buried his head. "It's alright…just let it out."

Iroh was not sure whether Zuko had repositioned himself, or if he had been the one to pull him so close, but he was practically holding the young boy in his lap now, rocking back and forth and whispering small words of reassurance.

After some time Zuko's cries reduced to quiet sniffles and shaky breathes, although his grip on the front of his Uncle's robe did not lessen.

Iroh sighed, gently rubbing his Nephews back and wondering what else he could do to calm the boy now that his tears had subsided, and whom he was sure was exhausted.

Then he remember how he use to get Lu Ten to calm down whenever the boy had nightmares, and despite the tears that suddenly filled his eyes at the thought, he cleared his throat and in a low but soothing voice began to sing.

"Leaves from the vine, falling so slow.
Like fragile, tiny shells,
Drifting in the foam.

Little soldier boy, come marching home.
Brave soldier boy, comes marching home."

Slowly Zuko's breathing become more even and calm and so Iroh continued to hum the song to himself until he felt his Nephews once desperate grip on his chest ease.

Loosening his own grip on the boy, he gazed down at him.

Zuko's head rested contently against his chest, his amber eyes closed in sleep, cheeks slightly flushed but only the barest traces of tears remained on his calm face.

Iroh smiled fondly down at the boy, then reached down with one of his hands to brush some of his Nephews loose bangs from his face.

The boy stirred slightly at the touch and then opened his eyes some.

"Uncle…?"

Iroh smile at the sound of his Nephews voice, heavy with sleep.

"Yes Nephew?"

"Now that you aren't fighting in the war anymore." he said, barely conscious. "Will you stay?"

Iroh understood his curiosity, considering most of his visits here in the past had been short, but the way his Nephews hand gripped him tightly again made Iroh realize that the question was much more meaningful than that- especially to Zuko.

' For as long as you need me.' he thought.

"I do not intend on leaving any time soon." he told the boy in stead, "And I shall stay for as long as I can."

Iroh guessed that this answer satisfied his Nephew because he soon drifted off again, and the older man smiled as he gathered the sleeping child in his arms and stood, bones popping and creaking from the extra weight.

A soft groan brought Iroh back to the present and he carefully reached down to touch the left side of Zuko's face, gently tracing his thumb over the edge of his scar, and frowning worriedly when he noticed the boys skin was still too warm. He let out a breath through his nose, briefly closing his eyes as he silently prayed to Agni for the boys health.

Zuko had already suffered and endured much in his young life, and although Iroh believed he had the strength to survive this ordeal as well, he was burdened by the knowledge that more hardship still lay ahead for his Nephew.

Removing his hand from the boys face, he once again soaked the cloth at Zuko's bedside in cool water, wringing it out and placing it over his Nephew's feverish brow.

The boy groaned again, frowning as if having a bad dream…or reliving an unpleasant memory. Iroh quietly shushed him, rubbing his arm in the same comforting manner as before, and although he knew that his Nephew could not hear him, he cleared his throat and in a low soothing voice began to sing.

"Leaves from the vine, falling so slow.
Like fragile, tiny shells,
Drifting in the foam….."

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I know this was overly sappy so Forgive me! I just couldn't help myself. I love picturing Zuko in vulnerable situations like this, and kid-Zuko is even cuter. Don't you just want to reach out and hug him yourself?

I hope that me adding this has not ruined the story for anyone, if so just pretend I never posted it.

If you liked this though then leave me a review. I really appreciate the feedback.