Iroh/Zuko Drabbles

FOREVER

The Fire Lord and his family sat in the palace gardens. There were six of them, Zuko, Mai and their four children, three sons and one daughter. It was late summer, on the cusp of autumn, and the garden was full of sounds. Insect wings hummed, birds sang and the soft breeze gently rattled the leaves on the trees.

The group sat under one such tree. The youngest, a four year old boy named Isamu was perched in his mother's lap, playing with the lustrous dark hair that hung down over her shoulders.

"Mama," he asked, "Where's Unca Iroh again?"

A small smile, almost a grimace, twisted her lips and she looked to her husband, the Fire Lord.

"Uncle Iroh is in the spirit world now with his wife and his son."

"So he's not here?" questioned the second child, a girl called Aiko, as she pointed to a simple granite stone with Iroh's name carved into it.

"Well, no," Zuko replied. "This stone is a place for us to come and remember Iroh and all he meant to us and will mean to us forever."

A quick flash of sadness crossed Zuko's striking features and he reached for Mai's hand, suddenly needing the support.

"Do you think Uncle Iroh sees us here?" asked Roku, the oldest.

"I believe he can see us," Zuko replied firmly. "He'll always be around in one way or another. I'll tell you kids stories about him and you'll tell your kids and so on."

"When are we going to drink the tea, Mom?" piped up six year old Hiroto.

"I think right now," Mai stated, reaching over and ruffling the boy's hair.

Mai lifted their youngest off her lap and deposited him on the soft grass. She rose and walked to a table replete with teapot and six cups. Zuko stood up and helped her. She poured and he handed out the cups. They drank in honor of Iroh.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

WARMTH

If Zuko could choose just one word to describe his Uncle Iroh, that word would be 'warm'. His eyes were warm, his smile was warm, and his embrace was warm. Whenever Zuko spoke with Iroh or was in his company, he felt safe and loved, protected and well, warm.

Iroh's warmth spilled over onto everyone around him, even enemies. Zuko's new found family felt it as did Mai and the workers at his tea shop. Zuko was certain that even Azula felt it when Iroh visited her in the asylum.

He basked in it, this warmth and hoped that his own children, not yet born, would one day feel it both from Iroh and from himself.

Warmth.

Iroh's tea, however, was always hot.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

FALLING

Zuko was sinking; Iroh could sense it. The young man lay splayed out on their makeshift sailboat that drifted slowly with the ocean currents, taking them somewhere toward the massive Earth Kingdom coastline.

Iroh tried talking to his nephew, tried joking and cajoling, but the exiled prince stayed silent. Saddened, the former general decided to hold his tongue for a while.

"Zuko will talk when he's ready," he told himself.

Another two days went by. The pair had been on the raft now for six days. Every sunset, Iroh put another notch in the wood with Zuko's knife. Soon after the moon rose, his eyes grew heavy and he closed them. "I'll just take a quick nap."

"I failed again, Uncle. I am a failure. I'll never get back to the Fire Nation. I'll never restore my honor. It's been three years. I just want to go home," Zuko whispered, voice cracking.

Iroh lay still, listening to his nephew. When he was certain the prince was finished, he spoke.

"You are falling into despair. That is a dark road to take, my nephew. Do not give up hope. One day, everything will look better. I promise you that. And remember, Zuko, you have me to catch you."

Zuko sat up and met his uncle's gaze. "I know," he stated simply.

WHAT IF?

Zuko lay shivering on the floor of his and Iroh's apartment in Ba Sing Se. His fever had raged for hours and showed no signs of breaking. Iroh was worried. Illness of the soul or no, the fever could still kill his nephew.

Tenderly he wiped the boy's (no, young man, Iroh thought) brow with a cool cloth. Moaning, Zuko opened his golden eyes a crack and peered up at the kind face hovering over him.

"Uncle?" he croaked, the name a question. He reached up with his hand and weakly grabbed hold of Iroh's green robe.

"Yes, nephew, it's me. You must fight hard to come out the other side of this sickness. You are strong, Zuko. I believe in you."

"Can't fight anymore….tired….I am so tired…want to rest now…." The prince's words trailed off his tongue slowly, like honey off a spoon.

"No, Zuko," Iroh yelled sharply. "It's not time for sleep."

"But a man needs his rest, Uncle," Zuko replied, a slight smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

The prince's eyes slipped closed and his breathing slowed.

"Zuko!"

The hand slid down Iroh's robe, coming to a rest on the floor.

Twice a year, Iroh walks to the hill with one lonely tree, picnic basket in hand, lights two candles and weeps.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

LAST MOMENTS

Zuko's Agni Kai with the old general was in ten minutes. Iroh stood with him in a small room off the larger arena. The boy, just thirteen, was confident of his triumph and largely brushed off his uncle's advice.

"Listen to me, nephew. Confidence is one thing, but overconfidence has been the downfall of many a gifted firebender. You may have youth on your side, but he has years of experience behind him."

"Yes, Uncle, I understand. You told me that already." The young prince grew impatient for his match to start.

The retired general, known as The Dragon of the West shook his head. Zuko could be very stubborn sometimes. Iroh knew that the boy wanted desperately to impress his aloof father, Fire Lord Ozai, and finally get some respect.

He put a hand lightly on his nephew's shoulder. Zuko looked up at him with those golden eyes, eyes still filled with boyishness and innocence. He waited for his uncle, always his champion, to speak.

"Please remember your basics, Zuko. They are your friends. I don't want you to get hurt."

"I'll be fine, Uncle Iroh. Don't worry. You should get to your seat. I have to go out there now. See you later."

Zuko smiled and waved goodbye to the older man. Iroh looked back over his shoulder. He didn't know that the Zuko he saw at that moment was soon to disappear forever.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

RELAXATION

"Try to think of your banishment as an opportunity, nephew," Iroh implored.

Zuko looked at him with wide, startled eyes. "An opportunity? What do you mean? It's a punishment."

"Yes, Prince Zuko, but you could make it so much more. How many young men have seen the world like you have? You've been almost everywhere. When I was sixteen, I was stuck in the Fire Nation training day after day."

"Well, I'm stuck on a ship day after day," the prince retorted angrily.

"Ah, but you're not stuck. You should stop at ports and visit cities. It might relax you. I can show you many ways to get rid of your tension, nephew."

"Uncle, the last time you relaxed, I had to see you with no clothes on."

"True, but we could do something besides visit a hotspring; how about a local tavern, or a live performance, or shopping?" the retired general suggested. "Or, we could visit a tea shop."

"I don't want to shop and I don't want tea." Zuko's fists produced small flames and he breathed steam from his nose.

"So I guess a game of Pai Sho is out of the question then?" Uncle asked congenially.

RELAXATION 2

"Playing Pai Sho will not help me find the avatar, Uncle," Zuko yelled, his face
contorted in an angry scowl. "I can't afford to sit around playing games. It's a waste of time."

"Ah, nephew," Iroh replied, gently shaking his head. "A wise man knows when to work and when to relax. You're driving yourself too hard. You must nurture all sides of yourself, Zuko, not just your working one."

"Save your wisdom for the crew. I don't need it," the prince snarled.

"Suit yourself," Iroh sighed. "If you change your mind, I'll be in my cabin figuring out some new moves."

The retired fire Nation general walked at a leisurely pace, hands tucked inside the sleeves of his scarlet robe. Along the way to his cabin, he invited the cook and two crewmen to join him in a friendly game.

Zuko remained on deck, practicing his firebending and keeping an eye open for the avatar's flying bison. Later, when he passed Iroh's cabin on the way to his own, the prince heard boisterous laughter, the loudest being that of his uncle. Zuko hesitated outside the door. A wistful expression crossed his handsome features, but he continued on to his cabin anyway. He dropped onto his bed and promptly fell asleep.

The next morning, Iroh joined Zuko on deck as the young man scanned the sky.

"Uncle," the prince ventured sheepishly, "do you think we could play a game of Pai Sho today?"

The older man tried but failed to hide the look of surprise on his face.

"You want to play Pai Sho?" he asked incredulously, stroking his graying beard.

"Yes, I heard you last night. You were all laughing and…." the prince's words trailed off.

Clapping his hand on his nephew's shoulder, Iroh grinned widely.

"You've made a wise decision. Not only is Pai Sho fun, but you can learn much about strategy, planning, reading your opponents…"

"Okay, Uncle, I said I would play," Zuko barked as Iroh guided him to the nearest Pai Sho set.

RELAXATION 3

The Jasmine Dragon was a bevy of activity. In the year since the war ended, Iroh had built up a vast clientele. Everyone from students and craftsmen to merchants and laborers went there for both tea and a friendly atmosphere. Iroh now had ten employees and one second in charge for those few occasions when he visited his nephew, Fire Lord Zuko, back in the Fire Nation, or for those times when Zuko visited him.

"My nephew and his lovely fiance are due any minute, so I'll be leaving the shop in your hands, Ping," Iroh informed his trusted employee.

"Don't you worry, Iroh. Just enjoy your visit."

"I will most certainly do that, Ping," Iroh stated emphatically, clapping the man on the back.

The former general descended the steps of his Ba Sing Se teashop and home. He wanted to keep a lookout for Zuko and Mai.

"Ah, here they come," he declared, as he gazed down the street, hand shielding his eyes from the bright midday sun.

Zuko and Mai walked hand in hand while two Fire Nation guards followed a few steps behind. The Fire Lord spotted his waiting uncle and waved.

"Uncle," Zuko said brightly. "It's so good to see you."

The young man, who now walked with confidence and a certain grace that befitted the leader of a nation, threw his arms around Iroh. The tea maker returned the embrace warmly.

Mai hung back, watching her fiance and his uncle.

"Mai, come over here," Iroh gently commanded. The dark haired girl walked toward the older man. As soon as she was within reach, he pulled her into a hug. Mai hugged back tentatively, still unused to the warmth of those people now such a huge part of her life.

"Hello, Iroh," she smiled.

"You look wonderful, my dear. Engagement must agree with you."

Her cheeks turned a light shade of pink and Zuko grinned.

"I want to show you two something. Come around back with me," Iroh suggested, gesturing to the area behind the large tea shop.

Zuko and Mai exchanged a glance. She shrugged as they followed Iroh along a narrow stone pathway. He stopped and pushed open a wooden gate. He stepped aside to let Mai and Zuko pass. They both gasped. The couple found themselves inside an exquisite garden complete with ponds, fountains, lush foliage, beautiful floweres and several cushioned benches tucked into private alcoves.

"I had this done for the two of you," Iroh explained.

"It's incredible," Mai exclaimed in a rare display of excitement.

Zuko just nodded dumbly in agreement.

"Thank you," the couple chimed together.

"But why, Uncle?" Zuko inquired.

"I know that it's difficult and stressful being the Fire Lord. And you have your own stresses, Mai," he added, looking at the knife thrower. "I wanted you to have a spot for complete relaxation when you visit. This garden is your escape, and mine too. You have gardens at the palace, but Fire Nation business can still intrude. Here you can relax and spend some quiet time together and with me."

"I'm, I'm, wow, Uncle, it's beautiful," the young Fire Lord stammered.

"And just think, you two. This place will be a perfect play area for your children when you visit with them."

Both Mai and Zuko blushed.

"We still have to get married, Uncle," Zuko reminded the tea maker.

"I know. But it's never too early to start planning. Now how about some tea," Iroh suggested as he rubbed his hands together gleefully.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

FAMILY

Zuko lay atop the hay mound inside Sela's and Gansu's barn somewhere in the vast Earth Kingdom. He had tried to sleep after walking back from the field of golden sunflowers with the boy, Lee. But instead of resting, his mind replayed the previous day; working on the roof, Lee's non-stop questions and finally, dinner.

This meal was unlike any other Zuko had experienced, except perhaps the one with Song and her mother. It was a real family dinner. There were no snide remarks, no taunts, no cruelty. Zuko had silently marvelled at the love evident amongst the three family members, and their palpable longing for the older son, away at war.

There was no family member at home missing him. Of that, Zuko was certain.

But he did have family close by; the uncle he had left behind a few days ago, to travel on his own. Of that, Zuko was certain too.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------