Disclaimer: None of these characters or situations belong to me.
Iroh is glad that he doesn't have a tea house to run right now. Not that he doesn't love the work, of course – the sweet and spicy smells, the hot water filling the room with soft mist – it is his life now. And the fire under the big pots of water, the fire he is no longer allowed to bend for fear of being recognized, still greets him as an old friend every time he gives it more fuel. But now he has a different fire to care for. The fever is still burning high in his young nephew's body, and Iroh finds it difficult to leave his side even to give instructions to the artisans building his new tea house. He is lucky that he'd drawn plans and sketches of how he wants everything to look, and long lists of all he needs for the kitchen, for at the moment he couldn't really care less about a suitable pattern for the mats or the proper color of drapes. Instead, he is contemplating if it is possible to brew some sort of tea-porridge combination. His small experience with porridge would probably be made up for by his vast knowledge of tea and Zuko really needs to get something to eat. He has tried giving the boy some of his own supper of chicken and fried vegetables, but it didn't stay down for more than a couple of minutes.
"Uncle, I…" Zuko had said, slightly green in face and cutting the sentence short by clamping a hand over his mouth.
Iroh had handed him something without thinking and then watched as the prince emptied his stomach into one of Iroh's bigger teapots. There wasn't much to do about that, Iroh figured. As good a reason as any for replacing the pot, he had never liked it particularly much anyways. He poured some lukewarm mint tea in a glass for Zuko to rinse his mouth with.
Something like porridge might do it, and maybe a bucket nearby, just in case. Iroh smooths the blanket over his nephew and goes out to the kitchen, jotting down Teapot, large on his list of things to buy, before getting started on making Zuko something to eat.
Iroh worries about Zuko all the time, but once during his fever the boy gets him scared for real. When Iroh comes back in from another pointless argument with the Master Floor Maker, his nephew seems to be sleeping more peacefully than in a long while. He has stopped tossing and turning, and instead of labored moans his breath is almost too soft to hear. Iroh kneels beside him, touching his forehead and expecting to find him better. Instead, his temperature is higher than ever, his skin so hot that anyone but a firebender would have found it almost painful to touch. When Iroh feels for his pulse it is weak and fluttering, barely registering under Iroh's callused fingertips.
There is no one he can ask for help now; nobody who is gifted enough in the ways of healing would miss to see that this is a Fire Nation boy. Iroh can do nothing but brew new tea with herbs, the healing qualities of which he hopes he remembers correctly, try to get Zuko to drink the tea once it has cooled off, and wipe the sweat from his face with a cloth he firebends dry every now and then.
"Come on now, little soldier boy, it's not time to go home yet", he mumbles."You must stay with your old uncle a little while longer."
Zuko doesn't seem to hear, but after an hour or two his breath is deeper and his pulse is stronger, and Iroh watches contentedly as his nephew slips into a much more natural sleep. The tea must have worked after all. Iroh congratulates himself as a tea making genius.
During their long journey together, Iroh have found himself more than once wishing his nephew some insight, the ability to stop and think beyond the hopeless quest of finding the Avatar. In his less proud moments, he curses the boy's headstrongness, wishes something would break that proud spirit ever so slightly, give him back something of the much softer-edged boy who sat in his uncle's knee and listened to stories.
Now he regrets those thoughts, would take them back if he could. This is good for the boy, he supposes, hopes with all his heart, but it's awful to see. It's not that he doesn't understand what's happening – this is uncommon but not unheard of amongst the Fire Nation people. The flame within the body fights against drastic changes of mind, Iroh have seen it before. Never this strong before, though, but Zuko's spirit have always been burning brighter than most.
The fever which should have been over in hours, half a day at the most, rages on, and Iroh can do nothing but sit by his nephew's side, wiping his forehead with a damp and slightly tea-smelling cloth. Zuko tosses and turns in his sleep, clearly dreaming. One time, he moans his father's name over and over again, another time it's his sister, or the Avatar, or simply his own honor that haunts him. Then he gasps his mother's name, and suddenly sits up, back too straight and eyes wide open. Tears are streaming down his cheeks, and Iroh realizes that this is the first time in a very long time that his nephew cries openly.
Iroh sits down beside the boy, touches his shoulder gently, and Zuko is falling, collapsing in his uncles arms. Iroh just holds him, and strokes a hand over his back while Zuko cries, and gently lifts him down on the bed again when the boy stops shaking.
Zuko will have forgotten this next time he wakes up, and Iroh will never mention it.