"Please Mai! You can't just leave me!" Zuko's pleading bordered on the edge of desperation.
Mai sighed. "Zuko, it's not like I'm leaving forever." She finished tying the wrap around her shoulders. "I'm going to town for a couple of hours to see Ty Lee. She is my best friend, and you know I haven't seen her in months."
He shook his head. "I know, but I can't do this by myself!"
Mai leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "You'll be fine. Just do what comes naturally." She smiled at him. "You can handle this."
Zuko sighed. "No, I can't."
"Yes, you can." She turned to leave.
"Good night then." He was almost pouting.
Mai chuckled. "Good night, My Lord." She exaggerated the title, hoping it would bring a smile to his face. And briefly, it did.
Then the screaming began.
Zuko raced to the bedroom and found his three-month-old son wailing in his crib. He bent to pick up his child. "Shh, Iroh, please," he whispered. "It's okay, Daddy's here." He walked around the room to try and stop the howling, but his baby just kept crying. One of the serving girls offered to take the child, but Zuko just smiled and waved her off.
"Are you hungry?" Zuko asked. Cradling his son in his arms, he walked to the kitchens to fetch some of the milk Mai had left. He tried to get Iroh, to drink, but the screaming continued. "Okay," he said, putting the bottle on the table, "not hungry. Do you need to be changed?" He did a quick inspection. "No, all clean and dry." He looked at his baby. "Not hungry, no changing. What else is there in life, kid?"
To answer, Iroh just cried louder.
Zuko decided the only thing left to do was walk the halls of the palace with Iroh in his arms. He walked every hallway he could knew of – and even found a few that he never knew existed – patting Iroh's back the whole time.
An hour later, an exhausted Fire Lord returned to his apartments with a child that was still crying.
Zuko considered crying himself. It was all so frustrating. "I'm sorry Mommy's not here, Iroh. I'm really doing my best."
He slumped in the rocking chair Aang had given him as a baby present. He pushed and pulled the chair back and forth, absently humming as he did.
The crying stopped.
Surprised by the sudden silence, Zuko stopped rocking and humming and looked at his son. Iroh's face contorted and he was about to start wailing again. Before he could, Zuko quickly began the rocking and humming once more. He watched in awe as his baby's face relaxed into a smile.
His son was actually smiling at him.
Zuko continued the gentle rocking and humming, and Iroh yawned. Zuko smiled as he finally remembered which song it was, and in a slightly off-key voice, he sang the words.
"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."
Iroh's eyes began to droop, and very soon, he was asleep. Zuko continued the rocking and singing, all the while think that the baby in his arms had the right idea…
Mai walked into her bedroom and smiled at the sight that greeted her: the Fire Lord, in his robes and finery, asleep in a chair with his son in his arms.
Instead of waking them, she covered them both with a blanket and gave each a kiss on the forehead. "And you were worried you couldn't be a father," she whispered. She put out the candles that lit the room and climbed into bed.
"Good night, my Lords."
Just an idea that I actually had a dream about, and it was begging to be written. We all know that Zuko's going to be one great Daddy, isn't he?
As always, thanks to my friend and beta, AKA Arashi/Capt-BA. You are Tophsome!