Looking Glass Wars

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

Warnings: AU, Spoilers up to Season Three

AN: For AtLA Land's fic exchange. Prompt was "Alternate History for Zuko."

This was only supposed to be a drabble, but the prompt fit so perfectly with the alternate head canon I made up.

In some ways, losing Zuko is worse than losing Lu Ten.

Yes, Lu Ten is – was – his son, but he's always held a special place in his heart for Zuko. He's always considered Zuko as his second child. It was him to wipe Zuko's tears after Ozai's harsh dismissals. To show him bending moves with patience and soft words. To ease him to sleep and laugh when he bounced awake.

And when he returns after aimlessly wandering the world, it's to find the palace as deathly silent as a mausoleum. Ozai doesn't even have the dignity to tell him. He has to hear it from the guards and the cooks and the servants. They mourn where his brother and niece don't. Where they don't even care that Zuko, a crown prince of the Fire Nation, is missing – presumed kidnapped or even dead like his mother.

Iroh isn't sure how he survives those first awful months. How he lives as he turns his nation upside down and inside out looking. And then, he travels the world doing the same. Always searching. Hoping. Praying.

He never gives up. Not when hope dwindles and dies. Not when he admits, if only to himself, that he is now only looking for a body.

But Iroh has other worries now. The Avatar has been found. The Avatar is alive.

The Avatar is a child.

One of his best agents comes to deliver the news. He's a young man, practically a boy, and he's a ghost. Flitting in and out of the shadows like the very spirit whose mask he wears. No one in Iroh's network knows of his true origins. There are rumors. So many rumors. But few truths. Still, he'd been trained and recommended by Kuzon, the former Grand Lotus.

Iroh has never met him personally, but he heeds Pakku's warnings and keeps his back turned as the young man approaches. He makes small talk, pleasant but meaningless, and allows his guest to sit.

Then, he turns around.

Iroh feels the world drop out from beneath him. His teacup and tray shatter, but it's a distant sound.

He knows this face. This boy. All these years and Iroh would know him anywhere.

"Zuko," he whispers, and it's both broken and impossibly joyful.

His nephew reaches for him at the same time.

Ever Hopeful,