Man, long time no see. Just had something pop in my mind, you know, that urge to write.
It's a oneshot, wouldn't know how I could continue it anyway. So enjoy.
And what's a fanfiction without a disclaimer, huh? So guess what, I DON'T own Iroh, or any part of the atla universe. I know, it's a shocking discovery, isn't it?
Al was well after the defeat of the firenation. On a hot summer's day, the year after this victory an old man in a teashop wore a smile on his face. His quite recently regained muscular body was already returning to its jolly state of a year ago. That was the price to pay when living a sedentary life. Not that he cared about this, however, for it was his wish to open this teashop and play pai sho everyday. You already guessed it, this elder and honourable man was Iroh, grand-lotus, ex-general, liberator of ba sing se, member of the royal firenation family and, perhaps his greatest achievement according to him, owner of the jasmine dragon.
Life was grand. He'd never cared too much about power and the fact that he was a great strategist had never meant more too him than his ability to make some fine tea. These days his raw natural talent for firebending was used to boil the water just right, and he was happy he didn't have to use it to harm people any longer. It was as his friend Jeong Jeong said: "Fire brings only destruction and pain. It forces those of us burdened with its care to walk a razor's edge between humanity and savagery. Eventually, we are torn apart." It was much better to use this ability to do some good, then to do harm. And his tea always brought a smile to his customers.
At this very moment, with a cup of ginseng tea, Iroh was taking his afternoon break. He could afford one now, seeing as there were only four customers in the entire teashop. "That's the problem with warm weather." Iroh thought. "People don't appreciate the fine taste of hot tea when it's warm. Even though it's healthier to drink something warm at such times." The man closed his eyes and contemplated on this. "Perhaps…" His mind ventured. "I could make some sort of … cold tea. An 'Iced tea', if you will." His eyes widened and he shook his head at the very thought. "How absurd, as if someone would buy such a thing…"
The teashop-owner looked around and identified three of the four customers as regulars, one face he had never seen before. Too someone else this might have been just another fact in a day, but to someone like Iroh this was a fortunate and welcome opportunity. He heaved himself from his spot and walked over to the young man. The owner of the jasmine dragon didn't estimate him over his mid-twenties. "Afternoon." He spoke kindly. "Would you mind if I joined you?"
The other man looked a bit embarrassed and had a sad aura. "Yes, please do." He answered. "It would be my pleasure, sir."
Iroh slowly sat down, he felt it in his joints. "Perhaps I could do with just a bit more exercise." He thought to himself. Now seated, he observed the man a bit more thoroughly. He had short black hair and a small part of a fire-inflicted scar hinted from beneath his right sleeve. You could see he had been very fit up to recently, but he looked tired and worn out now. The rings under his eyes suggested problems sleeping. Iroh could tell the man had lost a lot of weight recently, his green earth nation robes were too big, a sure sign of worrying and feeling a burden. The man avoided his gaze so the ex-general just let his slip towards the man's left hand; it held a cup of tea and was shaking uncontrollably. "You seem a bit stressed, if you don't mind me saying so."
"Uh, I guess I kind of am." The man's eyes shifted for an instant. One microsecond they looked into Iroh's.
"I have always found that talking to a stranger and sharing tea has a profound relaxing effect."
"And playing Pai Sho, of course. Do you play, mister… ?"
"Shui, Key Shui. And yes, my father taught me. Would you…"
"Yes, I would like that very much." Iroh spoke reassuringly and then addressed his waiter. "Lee, would you be so kind as to bring us the Pai sho board?"
The young boy stood up behind the counter. "Right away bossman!"
"He's a good boy." Iroh said. "He's just a bit too care-free, even for me." He smiled.
Key lighted up a little. "Yes." He said, watching the boy climb some shelves without any interest in personal safety. "But at least he's quite energetic."
After young Lee brought them the board and had left, the two players readied their pawns with the enthousiasm you might see in nomads. For they did not know exactly where it would lead too, but they were sure the road would be interesting. Key allowed Iroh to move first, under the pretence of 'age before beauty', to which they'd both laughed. "So." Iroh spoke while moving the 'green dragon tile'. "What is it you wanted to talk to me about?"
Key was confused and spoke after his turn. "You were the one who addressed me first, remember?"
"Yes, I know. But I also know that you are here for a reason. Thank you Lee." This last part was addressed to the waiter who was filling up both the cups once more. "And you don't seem to show any fear or anxiety towards Lee, but you do to me. Also I saw you staring at me from your seat, a few minutes ago."
"You're a very observant man. I am the same in some manner, I guess. For example I've noticed you're playing the 'Lo-defence'. So if I take this tile," he grabbed the firebender's 'red berry tile'. "That should thwart your plan."
"Good technique. You realised I'm talking to disorganise you so your easier to beat while at the same time I'm trying to discover your motives. At Pai Sho, it's often important to know your adversary, for to know one is to know what one will do."
"Very true, you are a very wise man, such as they said you were. And you're right I'm here to see you. You see, I…" He halted in mid sentence; he seemed to inspect his next words. "I need advice." He finished.
"I suppose it's not about tea, then?" Iroh enquired.
"No, but it is delicious. Damn, you took my 'mountain tile'."
"It was necessary in your "Partiri advance' if I'm correct."
"You are, and I did not see it coming." He smiled weakly.
"So how can I help you?" Iroh asked friendly. "It would seem you seem quite troubled at the moment."
"Yes, perhaps you can clear things a bit…" Key sighed. "I… uh, thought you might have a unique insight to something I must do."
"Something you feel you must do, or something that others tell you, you must do?"
"Oh, definitely not something others told me to do."
Iroh closed his eyes in approval. "Yes, you seem like someone who tries to live and create his own destiny, even though it's often a struggle to do so." He watched as the young man absorbed this compliment. "So what kind of unique insight would I posses?"
"I was in the earthkingdom army. Though not for very long. I became quite ill after my first battle." The man seemed to try and focus his eyes on his cup, but occasionally slipped them towards the other player. "It was because I killed a man." His voice sounded hoarse. "They trained us to. But after I did it, I… I…"
"It's ok, just take your time." Iroh patted him on the shoulder. The young man looked at him gratefully.
"I became sick from an infection from a wound which the man I killed had given me." He pulled back his right sleeve and showed the wound. It covered nearly his entire arm. Needless to say, it didn't look pretty. He covered the scar again and moved another tile on the board. "For nearly two weeks I had a fever and nightmares and hallucinations… I kept seeing his face… I kept seeing him. And I told him I was sorry." His eyes seemed watery. "Spirits, I've been so sorry ever since."
"And you want me to tell you how to move on?"
"As a general you've seen the madness of war… You've brought victory to your side many times, but always at a cost, a cost paid by both sides. You've caused death, in any case indirectly."
"Directly as well…" Iroh sighed. "It is indeed a burden to go on living with the knowledge that you've done something so horrible. For me it meant not being any better then the rest of my family… The knowledge of such things can crush the soul. I've done terrible things, I've made people do terrible things, people like you…" He added another tile to his collection. "I've tried to make up for them, and I still try, but I realise I've tried to put the madness of war behind me, because I can't properly face the past anymore." He looked the young man, who had been following his words carefully, in the eyes. "In the end, I can't tell you how to properly move on, but I've managed by spending my time with people I love and doing the things I love. That and staying away from power. The only advise I can give you is that is you feel like you should make amends, you should do so."
Key offered to refill their cups and Iroh gladly accepted. "Thank you for your words, they mean much to me." Said Key, when he finished pouring Iroh's cup. He then proceeded to his own. "And it actually brings me to my second question, if you would." Iroh nodded approvingly. "Well" Key continued. "Redeming yourself, I've been thinking about that. I've tried to find a way. And I was wondering, did you ever meet any of the family's you 'damaged'? You see, I was wondering whether it's a good idea to go to his family and apologise."
"That's a dangerous path, my friend. As for me, I've never done this. The closest I've done was dine with defeated generals and commanding officers, and their families. If you choose this, be wise and don't expect forgiveness or redemption." Iroh looked at the other player and saw him dispirited. "I don't mean it's a bad idea." He said encouragingly. "It might give the family some closure, but don't do it for your own sake, or you will be disappointed." His words didn't seem to sheer him up.
"I see." Key said with a sad voice. He then took one of Iroh's tiles.
"Oh…" Iroh exclaimed. "You've managed to take my white lotus tile." He saw Key watch him with glassy eyes. "It's my personal favourite and is necessary to make my strategies work. I'm quite attached to it really, you might say it's very precious to me. You're the first in about five years to take it from me." Iroh smiled approvingly and was therefore even more surprised when he say Key brake down.
Tears were flowing rapidly from his face and he was frantically trying to wipe them away, at the same time he was clasping some of his hair. "I'm sorry." He said, over and over again. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to. I'm sorry sir."
"Don't worry about it, it's a good thing, I really like this match. I haven't had a real challenge in years."
"No you don't understand." Key said, still crying. "I'm sorry because the man I killed… his… his name… it was Lu Ten." He looked up desperately, with a pleading look in his eyes. They were met by a shocked, confused and enraged pair belonging to Iroh. "I really am sorry…" He continued. "at least believe that." He saw the old man's eyes grow sad and tired. Iroh's head sagged slightly.
"I believe you." The tea maker said.
"Can you find it in your heart to…"
"No." Iroh spoke, his eyes were closed. Blindly he moved his own 'vulcano tile' into a position which meant he had beaten Key.
"… I see. And I understand." He wiped away the last of his tears and stood up. He rumbled in his coin satchel.
"I don't want your money. Just leave."
"Ok, sir." He made a polite bow and walked out of the shop.
He sat there for a few more minutes. A few tears rolled over his right cheek and landed in his cup. It was a hot day and it reminded him of the firenation, of a time that Lu Ten had still been alive. It reminded him of teaching his son Pai Sho, a time when he'd truly been happy.
A/N: Well I hope you liked it, if you did (and also if you didn't) PLEASE REVIEW. To anybody interested, I'm trying to continue the avatar-hannibal lecter crossover I'm working on, but I'm really not motivated enough, and to top it off, I'm living up to my nickname...
Anyway, a great summer to everybody on the northern hemisphere, I know the weather's great here in Belgium. ^^