A/N: A tag-along to 'The Avatar State'. Technically speaking, this is my second ATLA story, but I deleted the first one because it wasn't very good.
I hope you like this one :)
Random Unrelated Fact: Did you know that 'Agni' is the Hindu god of fire? I was really taken aback when I first heard the word used in the Avatar universe. I'm not really religious, but it didn't fail to amuse me nevertheless XD
In all his years as prince, general, and now outcast, Iroh could finally say with certainty that he was angry.
Of course, the Dragon of the West prided himself in his usually level temper. So many times had he seen generals of great stature shruken to childish tantrums because of their pride. Iroh believed in none of that rubbish. His pride, his honor, rested in his calm, optimistic view of the world. It was what made him so good at his job.
But now, sitting quietly under the moonlight, he felt unfamiliar waves of red hot anger surge through him. He'd felt this emotion before, of course. Everyone had. He'd felt it on the day of Zuko's Agni Kai. But then, his own rage was overshadowed with immense concern for the boy he'd come to see as a son.
Iroh was usually good at meditation, and was known to quickly find peace when he did it. But tonight...not tonight.
Beside him, Zuko muttered something in his sleep. Iroh's heart tugged, and he placed a warm hand on his nephew's forehead. Rage turned to worry, and back to rage again. The boy had suffered so much. To give him a false hope, like Azula had done today, was just cruel.
Iroh had known all along though. He'd known that the princess was up to something. Zuko had been blinded by hope. What could Iroh have said? The boy would never have believed him.
The Dragon of the West had known the agony of false hopes too.
"Will he be alright?"
"We think so, General Iroh," said the healer with a patient smile. "It seems that your son will make a full recovery."
But that was before Lu Ten's wounds became infected. His condition had deteriorated so fast after that...It was as though one minute ago the boy was taking to his shaken father, the next, falling into a comatose slumber, fighting for his life.
Oh yes, Iroh knew the poison of false hopes.
The look on Zuko's face as he lay down to rest earlier that evening...It made the General so...upset. It hit him again that the prince was just a boy. He was at the age where he should be chasing girls, not Avatars. He shouldn't have to fall asleep on the forest floor without a roof over his head. He shouldn't have to feast on a few nuts and an apple as dinner. He shouldn't have to have that scar on his face. He shouldn't have to be doing this on the pretext of honor.
Once more, anger bubbled into Iroh's eyes, momentarily making his body temperature rise. How dare Ozai challenge his own son—a thirteen year old boy—to an Agni Kai. How dare Ozai scar him. If it was anyone who lacked honor, it was his younger brother. It made Iroh sick to the stomach to imagine that he was actually related by blood to that monster.
Ozai. If he'd destroyed Zuko, he'd done even worse to Azula. Iroh's eyes went to his sleeping nephew. There was good in the lad. That much the General could see. One day, that good would be coaxed out. One day, Zuko would glow with greatness. There was still hope for him.
Azula was a lost cause.
He knew it was wrong to be angry with her. But Iroh was furious. The rational part of him tried its best to cool him down. Azula was just a child. Very early on in her life had Ozai taken her under his wing. He'd raised her as a demon, as a heartless, cold witch. Her greatest misfortune was to have the wrong mentor. In the end, her talent as a Firebender was her downfall. Ozai never had seen her as a daughter, but as a weapon. Iroh knew that much.
Zuko tossed and turned, his arms flailing wildly. "Mother..." he moaned in his sleep. "Come back..."
Tears reached the eyes of the Dragon of the West. Zuko was having one of his nightmares again. Iroh had lost track of the times he woke his nephew from a bad dream. His arms reached out to comfort the boy, saying, "Prince Zuko, wake up. It's just a dream." He spoke gently, shaking the boy's shoulder's just a bit. "Shh, Nephew. It's over now."
Zuko's eyes opened a little. "Uncle...?" he asked, his voice drained and broken.
"Yes, Prince Zuko?" he questioned, smiling encouragingly.
The boy looked like he wanted to say something, but words seemed to escape him. Finally, he mumbled, "Why aren't you asleep?"
Iroh's lips twitched upwards. "I was just keeping watch, My Nephew."
Apparently satisfied with this answer, the exhausted prince rolled to his side and fell unconscious again.
Intense protective feelings came over Iroh, snuffing out the anger and making him exhale. He knew better than to feed the rage for long. Zuko needed him; now more than ever. He wouldn't admit it, but the man could tell. So he wouldn't give into his anger. His nephew needed him to be calm and optimistic, and so he would be just that.
Though no matter what, Iroh wouldn't deny one thing.
If anyone dared hurt his prince again, they would face the Dragon's fury.
A/N: Thanks a lot for reading :) I hope it was in character. Criticism is welcome! Please review ^_^