Better Left Unsaid

Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.

Warnings: Speculation, Spoilers up to Season Three

AN: Loosely related to my Iroh/Ursa fic, Thy Brother's Wife.

Zuko doesn't call him father. Iroh is forever his uncle.

No matter how much time has passed. No matter how much has changed and how he's grown. No matter the sage if annoying advice. Or the reassuring hands to his shoulder. A warmth at his back that he doesn't fear will stick a knife in it.

The word is beyond him. And Zuko refuses to use it. Won't use it.

Never has. Never will.

There are too many connotations. Too many memories and nightmares wound together. Agni Kai and fire and a burning pain to his face. Exile and despair and the sound of Azula's laughter. Humiliation and the knowledge that no matter what he does or how hard he tries that he'll never be good enough. That he'll always be too weak, too unskilled to earn even the smallest praise.

But uncle… that's a safe word. A reassuring one. Bringing to mind the taste of tea. Pai sho and gentle corrections to his firebending forms. Forgiveness even when he doesn't deserve it.

Years pass. And Iroh is always uncle.

Even after Ozai is just a bad memory that the world tries so hard to forget. Even when his uncle takes him back with only gladness in his heart. Even after they find his mother and she moves to his teashop in Ba Sing Se. Even when Zuko's own wife titles him papa with a kiss to the cheek. Even after they give him grandchildren and those same children call him grandfather.

Zuko doesn't call Iroh his father. Not with a smile. Nor a frown. Not with affection or sadness or remorse.

Not at all.

But when he says uncle, they both know what he really means.

Ever Hopeful,