The Lady's Lover
Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender. Sadly enough.
Warnings: Speculation, Spoilers up to Season Three
AN: For AtLA Land's lottery writing challenge. Prompt was "Year of the Rabbit."
Sequel to Stand So Close. Written for moonys_autumn.
"You need a wife."
Piandao tries and fails not to splutter, but his tea becomes a mist in front of him. Jeong Jeong just sighs and wipes his face as he watches his friend choke. Iroh smiles, innocent until the very end.
"Excuse me?" he manages to croak out a few seconds later.
"A wife, you need one."
Iroh's grin widens as he pours them more tea. Jeong Jeong's mouth twitches, but he says nothing. Fortunately, it's just the three of them, only his two closest friends to witness the completely befuddled and blindsided cast to his face. Piandao's mind is blank as he struggles to come up with a response. It certainly won't be the truth; that's for damn sure. He doesn't think they'd take well to: I can't get married because I'm madly in love with a girl young enough to be my daughter. Oh, and by the way, we're also having an illicit affair. Is this jasmine? You've really outdone yourself, Iroh.
Instead, Piandao decides to sidestep.
"Why?" he asks. And if he squeezes his cup hard enough to make his knuckles white, neither of them comment.
Iroh just lets out a little hum. "It's a time to celebrate and rebuild, and what better way than starting a family of your own?" he elaborates, eyes twinkling. "My married years were among my happiest, and you must say that it has certainly tempered Pakku. Even Jeong Jeong here was married; ill-fated as that attempt might be."
Piandao watches as the other firebender frowns, but he doesn't do more than that. He certainly doesn't try to correct what's a very true statement. Having his one-time wife attempt to set him alight while he slept certainly counted as a failure. But the less said about that, the better. For all of them.
"I'm too old," Piandao finally decides on saying. But only when the silence has already stretched too long between the three of them and Jeong Jeong has actually glanced up.
"Nonsense," Iroh dismisses so very easily and makes it simultaneously so pleasant. "You're still a young man. There's plenty of time."
"I am not young," the swordsman sends back before he can stop himself.
Jeong Jeong just snorts. "Young enough. Younger than both of us by nearly two decades."
"But still too old for children," Piandao attempts to defend.
Only, they don't take the bait. Not that he really expected them to do so.
"Iroh wasn't much younger than you when his son was born," Jeong Jeong mentions, and Piandao hates him just a bit for that.
Really, he does. He doesn't want Jeong Jeong giving Iroh any ideas. He's perfectly happy with his life the way it is. He is! His students are more than enough. Most of the time.
Besides, he's hardly the only member of their group currently unwed. Iroh is a widower, and Jeong Jeong's marriage was dissolved ages ago. There's also young Sokka, who has yet to form a permanent bond. Piandao even starts to mention Bumi, but he stops short. No woman in her right mind would marry him, King of Omashu or not. And perhaps that was always the problem.
"Face it," Jeong Jeong comments then and in such a way that Piandao knows he's again let the quiet go on too long. "No matter what you say, we're still going to fix you up. You might as well agree now and not end up with someone awful." He smirks then and elbows Piandao in the side. "I hear Li and Lo are still single."
Piandao grimaces. He'll get him back for that; he promises he will. But his friend does have a point. Already, he has images of the various ladies, women, and old maids that Iroh will undoubtedly foist in his direction.
"Too old for him," Iroh insists with a wave. "He needs someone younger. Perhaps dear Ursa then." He pauses to consider. "Though I'm not certain my nephew is ready for a new father-figure."
"She won't want any more kids," Jeong Jeong puts in, reaching to refill his cup and then the other two.
"Someone younger then?" Iroh questions as they continue to talk around Piandao. "But it has to be someone we know and someone who knows him in turn." He rubs his chin in thought.
Jeong Jeong jerks his head in Piandao's direction. "His boy won't like it if Piandao goes for his sister."
"And I believe the Avatar already has his eye on that one anyway," the other firebender inserts. "Dear Toph is unfortunately too young. Maybe in a few years."
Both of them are ignoring him. Piandao can't decide if this is an improvement. He contemplates leaving but stays only to make sure nothing too horrible is decided in his absence.
"Lady Mai is taken," Jeong Jeong adds after a few heartbeats of contemplation. "Though a Kyoshi Warrior does have potential."
"She and Sokka only just ended," Iroh reminds him. "And let's not muddy the waters that way. But yes, a fellow warrior does have potential. Someone brave but loyal to friends. Someone skilled but not overly arrogant or proud."
Piandao feels a sudden chill down his back. But he doesn't dare redirect the conversation. It'd give too much away.
"Someone kind," Iroh adds.
"Someone intelligent," Jeong Jeong counters.
Piandao stills then. He takes a sip of tea to keep his hands busy and tries very hard not to look guilty. He fails spectacularly.
"Bright," Iroh suggests with a winning smile.
"Flexible," Jeong Jeong murmurs wickedly.
They both turn to look at him. They don't have to say her name. Piandao can practically see it forming on their lips, however. Iroh is too happy about this. Jeong Jeong is too smug. Both of them are far too knowing.
Piandao knows that he's been had. It's like every single sin is written on his face. Like he has the truth stamped onto his forehead and they could see it the entire time.
"You… know?" he half-questions and half-demands.
That earns him a laugh.
"Of course, we know." Jeong Jeong waves dismissively and jerks his head at Iroh. "Who do you think gave her the idea in the first place?"
Piandao can only just gape at them, mouth opening and closing like some strange sort of fish. He can't understand why they aren't furious! Ty Lee is younger than Zuko, than Iroh's own nephew! And Jeong Jeong has long been a strong defender of ladies and their honor.
They should be trying their damnedest to set him on fire. Not set him up. Not with her!
"I… But… I… And she…"
Iroh pats his hand in much the same way he does his nephew. "You poor dear boy."
"She… She's half my age!" Piandao manages to splutter.
Jeong Jeong lets out a low chuckle. He's enjoying this far, far too much.
"You have to admit she's good for you," he comments. "I've never seen you so lively. Or so out of sorts. And Agni, Piandao, live a little. You're not a monk."
He feels his face heat. "She's half my age," Piandao repeats. "She's barely more than a girl."
"But she isn't a girl. She's the right age for marriage," Jeong Jeong points out. "Has been for a while. And you can't say that she doesn't know what she's doing."
"She's young," the swordsman refutes. "It's just a phase. She'll get over it."
"She won't. She is too set on this. And so very, very determined," Iroh adds in with knowing eyes. "It doesn't help that all of her friends are so bent on helping her. My nephew and his lady. The lovely Katara and Suki. Dear Toph. The Avatar himself." Then, he goes for the killing blow. "Even your favorite student."
It goes straight to the heart.
And really, that's the ultimate betrayal right there.
Piandao sighs and fights the urge to run himself through with his own sword. But that only makes Iroh smile even wider. He already knows that he's won.
"I think a spring wedding would be best," Iroh comments then and nibbles on a sweet bun.
"Gives plenty of time to arrange things," Jeong Jeong agrees.
Piandao's head jerks up. "I didn't agree to this."
"Pink is a lovely color for her," Iroh adds, talking over him, "and I know this wonderful little meadow where the perfect flowers bloom."
Jeong Jeong nods and sips his tea. "She has plenty of sisters and friends to help with planning."
"I didn't agree to this," Piandao repeats.
They both ignore him.
"Naturally, it's already arranged," Iroh continues. "Ursa was simply thrilled to help me. I think I even saw Lady Mai smile."
Piandao raises his voice. "I did not agree to this."
"You sure about that?" Jeong Jeong counters, and his smirk is a wicked and devious thing. "I'm fairly certain that you just did."
That brings Piandao up short. He thinks it over and comes to the conclusion that it's probably just best to not to argue. It's what he kind of, sort of, possibly, truly wants anyway.
And Ty Lee is truly lovely in pink.
"But I haven't even asked her yet?" he tries instead. Since really, that's rather true.
The other two exchange a look.
"I should think," Iroh says then, "that will be the easiest part."
And true enough, he's right.