His uncle seemed happier with each day that passed. That the once, and apparently still, famous Dragon of the West took such pleasure in making tea for his once enemies still confused the banished prince.
To Lee, on the other hand, it made perfect sense. Working in the Jasmine Dragon and living in Ba Sing Se was all that he knew. It was a simple life filled with small pleasures and peace, which was all he needed to lull the prince back to sleep on the rare occasion he stirred. Awake was pain and hurt and suffering of all sorts, sleep brought blissful oblivion and let Lee enjoy his uncle's dream.
So the days went by. Iroh grew happier and fatter, Lee smiled more and got better at making tea, and Zuko slept, locked away in the depths of his mind. Uncle even began teaching him some new strategies in Pai Sho while subtly hinting at meanings Lee couldn't grasp. Zuko became restless at them though, tossing and turning and struggling to wake but Lee would just smile, thank Iroh and sip at his tea. So Zuko slept on.
Every few days Iroh would leave the shop closed for a lunch break longer than usual. He would give Lee some extra pocket money and send him out to have fun, not so subtly hinting that he should find a pretty girl to spend time with. Zuko and Lee had few things in common, but they could readily agree on this at least. Not yet.
Iroh would disappear for a couple hours and reappear in a contemplative mood, and deflect any attempt to find out why this was so. Then one time Lee explored a different street and saw his uncle enter a building. Curiosity got the best of him and he snuck onto its roof, listening in.
If he hadn't been lying down already, he would have been floored.
Iroh was a "Grand Lotus" of some secret society that was trying to bring balance to the world. And by balance, they meant helping the Avatar defeat the Fire Lord his father, Princess Azula his sister, removing the Fire Nation Colonies, oh, and grooming him to be the next Fire Lord, one they could influence! Control!
Needless to say, Zuko woke with a vengeance. He couldn't bring himself to stand up, his blood burned cold as sweat and nausea washed over him. All the little things suddenly clicked. All the time wasted in eating, shopping, bathing, playing Pai Sho! All the little remarks, hints, subtly things over the three years... The help just enough to find the Avatar but never enough to catch him...
He couldn't breathe. All this time his uncle never meant for him to catch the Avatar, never meant for him to restore his honour, never meant for him to return home while his father lived! He was to be Fire Lord and be their puppet! After they helped the Avatar kill the current one, his father, and the other potential heir, his little sister.
Granted, she wasn't the nicest of siblings, but she was still his sister and he did not wish her death!
How could Uncle do this? It was too much- he couldn't- it didn't-
Time passed and still he lay there, dead to the world. Darkness fell, the last customers would be coming for their night tea before bed. Lee got up and made his way back to the tea shop. To his uncle who played Pai Sho, made tea, and loved him. Who didn't betray him and everything he held dear.
Zuko slept very deeply now.
A/N: The story I imagined has changed significantly, and I now feel that the title is not suited to the way things are going. Please feel free to review with suggestions! Though it might be best to read it all first.
A/N 2: There are now two side stories to this fic, check my profile for links!