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Story [A:TLA] "Of Air, Of Flame" | English Restoration Theater Challenge | Iroh, Ozai/Ursa, Zuko - Oneshot

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade , Apr 3, 2019.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    Title: “Of Air, Of Flame”
    Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender

    Genre: Drama, Family
    Rating: PG
    Time Frame: Pre-Book One
    Characters: Iroh, Ozai/Ursa, Zuko

    Summary: It was storming, the night Prince Zuko came screaming into the world.


    Notes: Hello again, dear readers! This, at long last, is my answer to the Songs of the English Restoration Theater challenge. Honestly, the prompt I received really threw me for a loop at the beginning. Not only did I have to bend my mind into a pretzel, thinking that there was some meaning that was going over my head, but the lyrics themselves dealt with a sort of character/type of relationship that didn’t really fit in much with my usual repertoire of fandom familiars. So, I had to search beyond for inspiration . . . perhaps far beyond, if that explains just how my muse made the jump from seventeenth century English theater to an Asiatic flavored high fantasy animated television series. But, if I wanted to search for a cast of characters who would help me fill out a setting fitting of my prompt song, I needed look no further. :p

    As for the fandom itself, this was a nostalgic choice for me. A:TLA was one of my first loves outside of Star Wars, way back during my high school days, and it still has a special place in my heart. Hearing Netflix's plans to reboot the series live action, with the original writers still in charge, has left me all sorts of excited and hopeful for the future! Yet, besides a few vignettes here and there years ago, I’ve never actually written much for this fandom. Instead, I have a host of authors I follow who do the job so well that I’ve never really felt the need to offer up stories of my own. But, I had a burst of inspiration, and I had no choice but to capitalize on that. So! This challenge turned out to be a most interesting exercise for me in more ways than one. [face_thinking]

    That said, for anyone who isn’t as familiar with the particulars of this fandom but would like to read anyway, I put a few plot points underneath the spoiler tag. For everyone else, I thank you all for reading and hope that you enjoy! [:D] [face_love]


    Obviously, there are mega SPOILERS here for anyone who doesn't want to know. Just a head's up. [face_mischief]

    For those of you who don't already know: Avatar: The Last Airbender is an Asiatic inspired, animated fantasy series. In this world, everyone is born aligned to one of the four elements: Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. Within each elemental group, there are individuals who can manipulate their elements as 'benders'. There is only one being, called the Avatar, who can bend all four elements simultaneously. It is the duty of the Avatar to ensure that balance is kept between the nations, as well as between the physical and spirit realms. The Avatar is reborn into each element in an ongoing cycle, and able to call upon and remember his/her past selves when necessary.

    A hundred years before the first episode, the Fire Nation decided that it was the superior element and started a path of conquest to 'share' its knowledge and prosperity with the three 'weaker elements'. (Yeah, every dictator has a line like that, don't they? o_O) This was made possible when the old Avatar, Roku of the Fire Nation, passed away and left Fire Lord Sozin unchecked in his ambitions. While the world waited for the next Avatar in the cycle to manifest, the Fire Nation wiped out all of the Air Nomads in order to prevent the Avatar from rising - all the while unaware that Aang, a twelve year old boy and the new Avatar, had unwittingly fled before the scourge. Through a series of mishaps, he was accidentally frozen in ice in the southern seas. Aang would remain frozen for a century, until he was unwittingly freed by the siblings Katara and Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe. The entire series deals with Aang learning to master the four elements in order to defeat the Fire Lord and restore balance to the world. He does this, along with making friends of every element along the way - including Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, who rises up to restore his family's honor after the carnage his forefathers wrecked on the world. I really can't praise the writing of this show enough; the world building, character development, voice acting, and visuals remain unmatched by most fandoms to date. There's a reason why this show is such a classic for so many - if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and give it a try, no matter how old you are. [face_love]

    And that brings me to my cast of characters here: the royal family of the Fire Nation, a convoluted mess of a family that's burdened with enough twisted politics and back-stabbing intrigue to make even George R. R. Martin weep tears of envy - and this is a 'kid's show'. (Yeah, not really as soon as you scratch the surface.)

    Fire Lord Sozin started the world invasion, and his son Azulon followed in his footsteps. Azulon was father of Iroh and Ozai. And that's where the fun begins. [face_mischief]

    Iroh was the first born son of Azulon - he's easily fifteen years Ozai's senior, at least, which leads me to a good deal of my head!canons about Ozai's birth and relationship with Azulon in this story. Iroh is a gifted tactician and a fierce warrior; as a general he won many victories in the Earth Kingdom. But he started to doubt his nation's actions somewhere along the way, and his reservations only deepened after the death of his son, Lu Ten. Even before Aang's return he was involved in rebel activities, all the while subtly encouraging his nephew Zuko down a path away from Sozin's legacy. He's a jolly old man who loves music and tea; sometimes, he sounds like a fortune cookie with his nuggets of wisdom. Really, we all need an Iroh in our lives, he's just so dear.

    [​IMG]

    Ozai is, um, not so jolly and kindhearted as Iroh. He is ambitious, ruthless, and cold. (But he's voiced by Mark Hamill, who does an awesome job, SW fans!) He is eventually complacent in the assassination of his father, and schemes to usurp his brother's birthright. He has two children with his wife Ursa, Zuko and Azula. His character is scarily devoid of natural affection, and Zuko, who is kindhearted as a child and has to work hard to advance himself as a firebender, doesn't amount to much in his eyes. Azula - who is just as ambitious/ruthless, the 'lucky' child, and a prodigious bender - is Ozai's clear favourite. I don't know if he always was the way he is - his character wasn't terribly fleshed out beyond being an obvious one-dimensional villain, but exploring his slide downhill at this earlier point in time definitely helped me fulfill my prompt for this challenge. [face_thinking]

    [​IMG]

    Ursa is the granddaughter of Avatar Roku, and a kind, gentle woman. She instills in Zuko a sense of honor and morality that later helps influence him to choose a path for good. I like to imagine that she was raised by her mother with Roku's legacy clearly in mind, and tried to soften/check Ozai's ambition until they clearly headed down separate paths - which I am also exploring in this story here as part of my answer to the prompt, again. (And I am ignoring everything the comics had to say about her story before and after what we saw onscreen . . . erm, nope. Not good enough!) To explain just how convoluted this family is: after Lu Ten died in battle, Ozai went to Azulon and asked to be named his successor instead, seeing as how he had two children to carry on as heirs as compared to Iroh's new state of childlessness. Azulon - who already had a Mad King Aerys vibe, and was clearly unimpressed by Ozai on a good day - became incensed, and declared that Ozai too would know the pain of losing a son for his insensitivity to Iroh's plight. Ursa didn't trust Ozai to defy his father's orders, and took matters into her own hands to save her son. We still don't know the particulars of what happened, but what we do know is that Ursa killed Azulon before his decree against Zuko could be carried out. She disappeared after her act of treason, but Ozai revealed that she wasn't dead at the very end of the series. (I know, cruel writers!)

    [​IMG]

    Then, he's only a baby in this story, but still, for background to explain some of the undercurrents: Zuko is one of my favourite characters in the history of any fandom ever. Watching him rise above his anger and his misplaced nationalism to help save the world and truly honor his heritage is just so satisfying throughout the course of the series. When he was thirteen he was allowed to attend a war council under Iroh's supervision, only, he was given strict orders not say a word aloud. But, when one of the generals suggested using green troops as 'sacrificial pawns' on the front-lines, Zuko was angered and spoke out against the strategy on behalf of the soldiers. This was a clear insult to an elder, and a bout of ritual combat was declared to answer Zuko's outburst. Zuko stood by words, however, and was prepared to fight the general - but it was Ozai he faced, instead, since the insult occurred in the Fire Lord's council. Shocked, Zuko refused to fight his father. For the shame of his 'disrespect and cowardliness', Ozai scarred his face with one blow to end the match and then banished him. To end his exile, Zuko could return home only after finding and capturing the Avatar (a symbolically futile task, or so everyone thought), upon which his honor and birthright would be 'restored'. So: enter the hurt, angry teenager who's hunting down Aang for the first half of the show or so, all to earn the approval of a father who doesn't deserve his affection. But don't worry - he learns. Helping him along the way is Iroh, of course, who accompanies Zuko in exile and steps in as a surrogate father. The bond between Iroh and Zuko is one of the best in fiction, hands down, and I love them both to pieces. [face_love]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Whew, that was a lot to process, I know! Are you guys still with me?

    . . . yes? Fantastic.

    Well then, without further ado, I think that you now have background enough - or probably more than you even need :p - to tackle this story. Thank you for reading, as always, and I hope you enjoy! [face_love] [:D]



    #20

    "Love is an empty airy name,
    A word in course and fashion;
    ’Tis something worse creates the flame,
    And money moves the passion.
    Then Celia don’t expose your charms,
    And lavish all your beauty;
    Who ever lies within those arms,
    Where all is thought but duty?"


    - John Eccles



    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words. :)






    "Of Air, Of Flame"
    by Mira_Jade


    “Father always said that Azula was born lucky. Me? I was lucky to be born.”
    - Prince Zuko, to Avatar Aang

    It was storming, the night his nephew came screaming into the world.

    The heavens opened up and washed over Caldera City with a fury unmatched by anything even the elders could scarce recall in their lifetime. Pellets of hail struck the sloped rooftops of the palace, while rivulets of rain lashed the windowpanes in frothy curtains of swiftly moving water. Fierce gales of wind struck their blows against the seasoned red timbers, howling through the royal city with all the fury of one of the Air Nomad's banshees of old. The builders and groundskeepers would have much to attend to upon the morrow, Iroh predicted; those in the further reaches of the capitol, beyond the gates of the palace compound, would have even more so to mend.

    The rage of the midsummer's night was a far cry from the high sun of cloudless noontide the Sages had predicted the prince would be born under. As the hours slipped away from the auspicious alignment of the previous day and instead ran long into this . . . conglomeration of elements, their hopes for a lucky child seemed more and more unlikely. It was an unnatural thing, the more superstitious of the servants whispered, to have a prince of the Fire Nation born in the dark hours of the night, with a full moon hanging ripe overhead behind such a furious storm of water and air. This could not be a blessed child, a child worthy of the House of Agni and so close in line to claim the throne of Sozin. The spirits had already marked him, they muttered; misfortune, they feared, had claimed this child before even drawing his first breath.

    A few, however, whispered the faint hope that Princess Ursa's already long labor would stretch until the morning dawned, at least. Let the prince be born at sunrise, with the heart of their element there to greet his entrance into the world. As for himself, Iroh could not disagree more ardently with their prayers. His good-sister had already toiled for far too long in the birthing bed – dangerously so, now – and he wished for nothing more than a swift end to her struggles. His prayers were for a healthy mother and a healthy babe, whenever that came. Such a fulfillment, and no other, would be sign enough of a blessing for him.

    Yet, it was admittedly difficult for Iroh to read his brother and see if Ozai too shared his private musings. His younger sibling – by two decades younger, born as quite the surprise to Fire Lord Azulon and Lady Ghoa back when Iroh was just graduating from the military academy – was a hard man to interpret at the best of times. Now, as the night wore further on from day he grew only more silent and unmoving. They had a game of pai sho in progress between them to serve as a distraction, yet Iroh was unsure if his efforts were successful, or even needed in the first place. Ozai remained as cool and collected an opponent as he ever was, with only his sharp golden eyes flickering to the doors every time Ursa let out an audible cry betraying the turbulent emotions he must have felt roiling within.

    Lu Ten had paced enough for the both of them, Iroh recalled with a fond sigh. About an hour ago, he'd sent his son on a search for uzang tea to help his aunt through her pains when it looked as if the boy would wear a hole in the floor from his worrying. Once Lu Ten was out of sight, Ozai only raised one suspicious brow at him to mutter, “There is no such thing as uzang tea, is there?”

    “But Lu Ten does not know that, and he needs a task to make himself feel useful,” Iroh had returned, his eyes sparkling with mirth. “By the time he returns, he shall have a cousin to welcome and the tea will then be quite forgotten.” And that had been that.

    It was Ozai's turn, now. He was taking his time staring at the board, carefully weighing his own options while trying to decipher Iroh's intended strategy all at once. Years had passed since Iroh had been able to solidly trounce his younger sibling in the game without a good deal of effort – as he was once wont to do during his visits home, watching as his brother grew up in leaps and bounds before his eyes. There was no better measure of a man's character than how he played his tiles, and, through this and more, Iroh strove to understand Ozai in whatever way he could.

    Visible through the windows, a fork of blue lightning split across the inky darkness of the sky. Iroh could feel the cold heat reverberate in his heart before thunder rumbled across the land like the warning growl of a dragon, furious and roused for battle. Beyond them, Ursa cried out in pain again, and Iroh drew in a sharp breath. No less dangerous a war-ground than the front-lines was this plane of life and death for the fairer sex, as the royal family already knew too well. With Fire Lady Ghoa gone to bring her youngest son into the world, all those years ago now, Iroh hesitated to remember, and Azulon their father left mourning for so long after . . .

    But no, Iroh frowned and hardened his resolve. No. Ursa was young, and she was healthy; she was as stubborn and determined for all that she was gentle and kind. The spirits would not take her from them; not yet, not this way.

    Ozai's grip tightened about his chrysanthemum tile before he advanced it as his next move. The tell tale heat on the air when he sighed betrayed his emotions; a small sign to any not looking, yet Iroh was not merely looking, but searching.

    “You need not worry, my brother,” Iroh gave in an attempt to comfort when he could bear the silence no longer. Ozai looked up from the board to meet his eyes, tilting his head as if he was slow to understand his empathy. “Your Ursa is a strong woman, born of a strong line. She will bear through this, and pass that same strength onto your son.”

    “I well know her strength,” Ozai replied simply. A heartbeat passed. “That is why I agreed to marry her.”

    Iroh fought the urge he had to frown as he looked down at the game again. As an ever fuzzier picture in his memory, now, he struggled to recall the eager little boy who used to rush to greet him whenever he returned home to the palace from the front-lines. The ghost of that child fought against the rigid reality of the man sitting still and untouchable before him. Brother, brother, what is it like in the Earth Kingdom? Iroh could still hear. Someday, I will be out there, fighting alongside you. We'll win this war together, the child in his mind enthused. Brother, brother, have you found your dragon yet? Make sure you don't slay the last one; leave one for me too! You won't be the only one bringing Father honor; I will too, just like you, you'll see!

    Then, as a whisper, between one visit and the next Ozai had somehow stumbled into a gangly young man while he was gone, maturing within a blinking of his eyes: Brother, Father has sent me to hunt down the Avatar. Apparently, I am not . . . destined for the army after all. He'll not have both his heirs on the front-lines at once . . . we will each have to fight in our own way, it seems.

    Questing for the last airbender was a fool's errand, everyone knew – a symbolic task pushed onto the shoulders of the unfavored son. Even Iroh had tried to talk Azulon out of his decision, but the aging Fire Lord would hear nothing of his objections. What a waste of Ozai's talents, of his keen understanding of the court and his prodigious talents for bending their element. Iroh had not understood Azulon's decision then, and he mourned for it now in the hardening of his little brother's eyes, in the cooling of his spirit's warmth.

    Iroh had gained the rank of general while Ozai fruitlessly scoured the world beyond for the Avatar. He had been gone overseas when Ozai was at last permitted home in failure, and quietly arranged to be married. If he could not serve the Fire Nation one way, he would another, it was declared, and Iroh had been recalled from his legions in time to see his brother – a man grown now – wed to Ursa of the House of Roku.

    The somber, serious young man his brother had grown into had been as much a surprise to Iroh as the mild-mannered, wide-eyed young woman he was betrothed too. But Iroh understood Azulon's decision in a clinical way, at least. The same way one would cross bloodlines between komodo-rhinos for the best offspring, they were a match to be praised: her blood alongside the nobility of Sozin's line. Yet, Iroh still worried within himself: was Ozai happy? Had he found his place amongst the nest of rat-vipers that was the Fire Court? Was Ursa too happy with her new life? Had the spirits blessed their union? Iroh had been fortunate to grow to love his Liling, and mourned when she left him all too early when the break-bone fever swept across the islands. He would never remarry for his memory of her. Even the hard-hearted Azulon had cherished his Lady Ghoa – to the point of obsession and madness over her death, even. And, now . . .

    “Ursa certainly has settled into life here at court,” Iroh found warmth filling his voice to reply at last, pushing aside his reflections. Affection for his good-sister came naturally and easily, the more he came to know her. Ursa was a woman impossible not to love. Yet, he was not the one who needed to be snared. To that end, he left a question open in his voice, even if he didn't shape the syllables explicitly aloud.

    Yet, still Ozai heard. He tilted his head, and paused to consider. “She is an asset against the court; her wit is shrewd. Father matched me with a formidable partner, in every way,” Ozai finally replied, studying the board as he waited for Iroh to move his next tile into place. Then, after a moment's further consideration he added, “She likes to feed the turtle-ducks, did you know? I can always find her in the gardens.” His voice was a whisper near the finish, as if he was perplexed – intrigued, even – by the habits of his wife, but not understanding why he was . . . as if he was trying to understand just why he wanted to understand her better. Iroh held his breath, sensing an ember, and wondered how to coax it into a flame.

    Distantly, Iroh remembered the little boy who blushed whenever Liling kissed his cheek, and wondered where that boy had gone while growing in Azulon's shadow. A part of him mourned, understanding all the more so with each passing day he spent abroad the imbalance in the Fire Nation, stemming down from the will of its lord to the furthest reaches of the known world. And yet . . . how to fix it? was the challenge he contemplated all the more so with each passing day. He was just one soldier, even if he was also a prince. If he could not first manage to mend what was so glaringly wrong in those closest to him, then how could he ever possibly hope to -

    - but he took in a deep breath, and let it out slow. Before him on the board, the seemingly innocuous white lotus tile teased him.

    “My Liling dried tea leaves,” Iroh honored Ozai's observation by sharing a memory of his own. “I knew an appreciation for the art before meeting her, but had no true understanding of its nuances. I still think of her, every time my cup is poured.” It was that he chose to remember, rather than the strategic selection of her house and the place her father held in the court. He remembered the twinkle in her eyes and the way her smile would quirk rather than any political alliance she had won or wealth she had brought to Azulon's coffers. She laughed too loudly for a woman of the nobility; she never hid her smile behind her fan. He'd ever see that smile in their son, no matter that they were parted in this world for now, and that was more than enough for him.

    In time, his reflections were those he hoped his brother too would understand.

    “She can sit there for hours, coaxing the animals to come up to her – and they do,” Ozai shook his head to continue, as if encouraged by his words. There was a softening about the cool, burnished gold of his eyes, Iroh looked to see. Thoughtfully, with his movements almost bordering on agitation, he stroked the small triangle of hair on his chin that passed for his attempts to grow a beard. “It is about stillness – and trust, she says, but I suppose that I do not have her patience for something so trivial. They flee from me.” His gaze unfocused from the tiles, and he frowned. “She said I could learn stillness, though. She offered to show me.”

    Few in the nation would call his brother anything less than still – seeing, instead, the careful poise and rigid gravitas he chose to show to the world. They would claim him as nothing more than the ruthless stoicism he employed with all of his dealings on behalf of their people. For Ursa to see what Iroh saw – the hard volcanic obsidian, smooth and polished, but hiding swiftly moving currents of molten earth beneath . . . he was heartened. Hope was a soft light as it grew, near to burning within his chest.

    Silently, Iroh moved his white lotus tile forward, allowing his brother his contemplation. Words leapt into his mouth, but he did not yet give them a voice, knowing how cautiously he would have to phrase them in order to yield the answers he sought. He chose a path of siege when all he truly wanted to do was volley his desire to know: was Ozai happy? Had he finally settled into peace with himself? Could he, perhaps, someday see guided to see, as Iroh did, and through sight and understanding be moved to change -

    But there was a flutter of activity from the doors to the bedchamber of the princess' suite. A servant girl made to pass with a basket of soiled linens, while another had an empty pitcher ready to fill with fresh water. Iroh did not need to draw on his experiences across the battlefields of the Earth Kingdom to smell the blood and pain emanating from the room beyond. He frowned, even as Ozai jolted to stand.

    “You, girl!” his voice came as an imperious bark of sound. “How fares your lady?”

    The servant fought the intrinsic instinct she had to fall on the floor and bow to her prince. She balanced her load of linens and took to her knees instead of prostrating herself fully, unable to see how Ozai rolled his eyes and gestured for her to stand when she tipped her head forward to respectfully advert her gaze. “The princess still fights,” she answered, her voice rushed and wobbling. “Healer Kazuo was able to twist the baby into a proper position for birth, and his head crowns now. Your son is strong, My Lord, and he fights as his mother fights.”

    Ozai nodded, once, and Iroh took pity on the girl. “Thank-you, child,” he dismissed her where his brother was clearly did not have the presence of mind to do so. “You may attend to your duties now.”

    The servant bowed again as best she could, and scurried away.

    Iroh let himself smile, even as the rain seemingly picked up in intensity beyond. “This is good news, brother, is it not?” he breathed. “This is most excellent news, indeed.”

    In reply, Ozai whispered, “Yet . . . there is still some time until the sunrise.” He did not take his seat again; Iroh quite suspected he could not. He did not move to pace in agitation, as another man may have done, but his eyes did fix on the window as if challenging the storms to break. There he seemed fixed remain standing, his gaze far away as he stared.

    Iroh too rose, their game forgotten. “It is just as well. A babe born at sunrise may have seen your heir brought into the world at cost of his mother. This is for the best, brother.”

    “Yes,” it took Ozai a heartbeat to answer. “Yes," he shook his head to repeat again, "of course you're right.”

    As if punctuating his words, there was a wailing, ragged cry from Ursa's chamber, building in intensity until she had not the voice to sustain it. Thunder raged from the sky, clapping as if in sympathy for her torment, and the palace shook at its foundations for the fervor pounding down from the heavens. Lightning flashed across the clouds, igniting the night with furious shades of blue before -

    - a second, new cry split the air. Ursa may have been robbed of her breath, but her baby certainly was not. It was a loud, robust sound that reached their ears, petulant and miserable and angry all at once. Iroh found a choked sound escaping his own mouth to hear the noise. “What lungs! What breath!” he found joyous tears touching his eyes as a relieved grin split his face. “That must certainly be the mark of a prince of the Fire Nation,” he found laughter building from deep within his belly. “Hear that? Wouldn't you agree, brother?”

    He turned to share his joy, but found that Ozai continued to stand very, very still. He had yet to move, reminding Iroh of the green soldiers on the field who were robbed of all martial instinct when the first volley from the enemy benders came. Ozai at last blinked, and his eyes fell from the angry heavens beyond to focus on the door to Ursa's apartment just in time for one of the sages to come out of the room. The tall, golden doors opened wide, revealing just a sliver of faint light and intensifying the sound of a sniffling baby before closing again. The scarlet clad sage dropped to one knee and greeted, “General Iroh; Prince Ozai,” respectively. “Princess Ursa has successfully delivered a son. Both mother and child are hale and healthy; the healers will announce when both are presentable.”

    Ozai only continued to stare, a dumbstruck look overwhelming his expression. Instead, it was Iroh who dipped his head in reply to the sage. “This is most excellent news,” he rejoiced. “Have the people informed,” he gave the order, knowing of the crowds who would be lingering beyond the palace gates, no matter the condition of the weather, to hear about the newest addition to the royal family. “And send word to our father. Let Fire Lord Azulon know that - ”

    “ - there is no need for that, Iroh. I am here.”

    For the arrival of that last voice, the sage sank even lower – dropping to both knees and prostrating himself on the ground in a formal kowtow before his liege lord. Iroh followed suit a heartbeat slower than Ozai, falling to one knee and respectfully inclining his head to their father as honor demanded.

    “Father,” he welcomed Azulon, just as Ozai bowed his head even lower than was necessary and said, “My Lord.”

    Azulon flicked a gaze over them both just as thunder sounded again, although with less intensity than before. Beyond them, Iroh did not doubt, the storm was passing at last. The heavens were hushing, their fury finally spent.

    “Rise,” the Fire Lord commanded after a moment, satisfied with their obeisance. “Both of you,” he added when Ozai was slow to do so. Iroh stood easily before his father, and frowned when Ozai kept his head bowed, refusing to let himself stand taller than the Fire Lord.

    But there was little Ozai could do to completely diminish himself. As always, Iroh could not keep himself from looking between Azulon and Ozai and comparing the two: the likeness between father and son was as striking as ever, and undeniable. Where Iroh had inherited much of Lady Ghoa's shorter stature, her almond shaped eyes and her dark brown hair, along with the flat, square facial features of his grandfather Sozin; Ozai was a clear offshoot of Azulon in his prime – with a tall, athletic build and handsome, chiseled features that only lacked the long, almost dour severity of Azulon's own countenance.

    Also between them was the way they could hold a glower - both father and son refused to acknowledge each other beyond trivialities, even for such an occasion as this. Tucking his own frown away, Iroh instead took it upon himself to build what a bridge he could.

    “Father,” he stressed the word, glancing between the two the same way he would evaluate opposing soldiers on the line, “you've arrived just in time. You have been made a grandfather twice over this night.”

    “So I heard,” Azulon looked little impressed by the news. Iroh felt the careful smile he had constructed waver. Ozai, to the contrary, stood even stiffer by his side. A muscle high in his cheek leapt; Iroh could read the tension building underneath his skin like fire roiling beneath the mantle of the earth.

    “Once the princess is ready to receive us, we were going to greet the child,” Iroh continued, even as a note of warning whispered across his senses. Behind the Fire Lord, his flock of attendants and advisers shared not one smile between them. “Perhaps you would care to join us?”

    For a long moment, Azulon did not answer him. “In time,” was all he finally said. His words were terse, the syllables clipped. When he tilted his head even further up, the light from the braziers caught on the gold of his crown. “The boy may be of my blood, but he is clearly of the same blight that brought his father into the world. Unlucky,” his mouth stretched into a long, thin sneer as he rasped out the word. “Cursed. You have compounded your own birth with further shame and ignominy.” Azulon's eyes did not remain on Ozai for long – looking for something Iroh could not define before falling away from his son, clearly finding him wanting. “You had one task set before you, and yet, even in this you fall short. At least your wife still draws breath.” The accusation in his words was bitter, lacking in all subtlety. “She, at least, may yet succeed better yet with your next child.”

    In reply to his sire's scathing words, Ozai fell to one knee again, and inclined his head. Iroh simply stood there, locked in place as his mouth fell open to gape, aghast. “It is as you say, my Lord,” Ozai's words were dull, his tone dutiful. But only a fool – or a blind man – could fail to see the way his jaw clenched. He lowered his eyes, not out of filial respect, but rather, Iroh suspected, to hide the way they burned.

    Azulon sniffed, properly appeased by Ozai's apparent deference. He waved a hand. “For now, I will not acknowledge the child until the sun is in its rightful place in the sky, and not a moment sooner. Do what you will until then; I care not.”

    “Sire,” Ozai mumbled as Azulon turned away, leaving in an imperious flutter of ebony and scarlet silks. For once, Iroh only gave a dumb, “My Lord,” to echo him. Azulon's flock of lackeys did not spare either of them a second glance before turning to follow their lord. No doubt the palace would be abuzz with gossip for the Fire Lord's rebuke within the hour. It was that tale which would be told by dozens of wagging tongues, rather than Ursa's trials and triumphs to bring the royal family another child that night. Protests and challenges all filled his mouths, but he could not grant a single one of them a voice. For years, Iroh had known of the grief that Azulon channeled into bitter apathy towards his youngest son, but for him to trade apathy for such blatant scorn and hostility . . . he had not known. He had not been home enough to know. He had been -

    - blind.

    But was his blindness willfull, or truly so? a voice deep inside him challenged him to reflect with honesty. That voice, as ever, sounded too much like his Liling, and he cared not for the shape of his reflections in the slightest.

    “Ozai,” Iroh found himself stepping forward to put a hand on his brother's shoulder. “Father did not mean -”

    But Ozai only tolerated the affection for the passing of a heartbeat before violently shrugging his shoulder out from underneath his hand. “No,” he would not allow himself to take any comfort. “Father is right: tonight an unlucky son was born of the unfavored prince. He only says outright what the rest of the nation will whisper; you need not shield me.”

    Yet, Iroh did not agree with him – or Azulon, in the slightest. “No,” he firmly declared, finding his own breath fuming hot from his nose as he exhaled. He could feel his indignation rise, righteous and enraged from the same place within him that refused to strike the blue dragon before him with a killing blow, unaware of the red dragon behind him that judged him all the while – that judged and somehow found him worthy. It was the same deep well within him that whispered, knowing: all I have done in the name of Sozin, was it truly right, was it just? Do I really bring balance to the world through my actions? Do I truly march to share peace and prosperity and enlightenment, or do I conquer while holding the yoke of a tyrant? Now, with the elements so grossly misaligned, how do I return balance as my forefathers have so long strove to upset it? Balance, and not this -

    “ - but our lord father need not worry. I will accept these truths, and rise higher than them,” Ozai scathed, rather than letting him speak. When he unfurled his hands from their fists, Iroh could see scorch marks against the skin of his palms. He had to forcibly hold his silence – and his temper. “In time, not even Azulon will be able to deny me. I will leave him in no doubt of my worth.” I will shadow even him in greatness, Iroh could hear echo, unspoken on the air. He had heard all too similar boastings from too many power hungry, would be strong-men in his time not to recognize such signs from his brother.

    “Of course not, Ozai,” Iroh agreed, wary of the anger he could see upsetting his sibling's normally too-calm façade. “In time, Father will see what I see. He only lacks the wisdom to open his eyes; that is not from any failing on your part, but rather, on his.”

    And, just like that, the rage from Ozai's eyes banked. It cooled. The tell-tale sign of smoke building on the air faltered. He looked, Iroh thought, as if he did not quite understand him – as if he could not understand him. In that, Iroh felt a note of disquiet, there was as wide a chasm to cross as with Azulon's unfounded grief and blame. He did not know how to account for either.

    “And now,” Iroh softened his voice, the same as he would to sooth an agitated kimodo-rhino, “do not let him ruin what should be only the happiest of days for you. You have yet to greet your son. Come now: welcome the boy, cherish him, and do not allow yourself to think on anything Father has said.”

    “Yes . . . my son,” and, once again, that lost, almost uncertain look returned to fill Ozai's eyes like a flickering flame. “My son,” he repeated aloud, as if trying to make sense of the words, of the idea. Iroh looked at his brother, feeling a note of warning whisper across his senses – developed and honed over long years spent on too many battlefields to mention.

    “Yes, your son,” Iroh reminded him. A real, breathing boy, and not a lost opportunity to gain our father's favor. Not yet, not ever. “Don't you want to meet him?”

    “Of course,” the words fell quickly from Ozai's mouth – perhaps too quickly. Iroh frowned, but refused to give the emotion filling him a name. Not yet.

    Instead, he watched as Ozai squared his shoulders. He smoothed his hands down over the front of his robes and reached up to settle his prince's crown more securely in his topknot. He exhaled, and then he walked forward, waving a servant forward to open the large, golden inlaid doors to the princess' suite.

    Prompted by some nameless knowing, Iroh too walked forward. It should have not yet been his place, yet and when he was not denied entrance, he moved beyond the first room and followed Ozai into the bedchamber. He only stepped back and off to the side to allow the small family before him their first moment together uninterrupted.

    The scent of incense was heavy in his nose, just barely covering the acrid scent of smoke. Princess Ursa was no firebender, but a great power laid dormant in her veins. Iroh was not at all surprised that her body had tried to call on every resource available to grant her strength through her ordeal. A few maidservants were still present in the room, taking away the last of the old bedsheets and soiled linens, while Healer Kazuo was clearing away his utensils and potions – obviously satisfied with the health of both mother and child. By his side, already being clapped in irons by two palace guards again, was Yeke the waterbender, a wise-woman of the North Tribe that was called upon to heal in the most extreme of circumstances. Their last waterbending healer had been sentenced to execution for failing to save Fire Lady Ghoa following her labor. Such had been a waste, Iroh had thought long ago – a crime, he now better knew, and one he was unsure if his nation ever would, or rightly could, repay.

    But that was a thought for later. Then, there was only his family, and the new beginning awaiting them in the shape of a child.

    Ursa looked exhausted, but satisfied – triumphant, even, Iroh could not help but think. She was still pale, and her dark amber eyes were heavy for a want of rest, but there was a bright spark to her gaze, and she could not keep from smiling. She was already robed in scarlet and gold again, and her maids had rearranged her freshly washed hair in a loose braid over her shoulders. She was beautiful, in the way all new mothers were, and Iroh felt his heart leap. Leap, and then soar to look down at the little bundle she held in her arms . . .

    - a nephew, the spirits had granted him; he had a nephew.

    Ursa was currently looking up at his brother with a soft look in her eyes that Iroh recognized as hope. Hope – and, perhaps, even the beginnings of affection, should that ember ever be coaxed further for flame. Pink touched her wan cheeks in a happy blush as she greeted, “We have a son, my lord. Would you . . . would you like to see him?”

    Beyond them, the rains had slowed, giving the chamber a hushed, almost intimate feel. The air was sweet, with the heat ever present in the capitol banking for a feel of cool warmth – the windows were still wide open, allowing the scent of the rain in. Iroh had heard Ursa demanding they be made so earlier in the day, much to the protests of the healers. Even the lingering drizzle seemed to pause then, as if awaiting Ozai's response.

    Slow to answer, Ozai instead stopped to stand an arm's length away from Ursa's bedside. He looked down on his wife, clearly searching her over for harm, before staring at the babe swaddled in his mother's arms. His eyes flickered, and Iroh held his breath.

    The princess shifted her weight, clearing trying to turn her son closer to introduce him to his father. She tugged down on the soft crimson blanket swaddled around the baby's cheeks, revealing a pinched, sleepy little face. She frowned, failing to understand why Ozai would not come closer.

    And, finally, Ozai took a single step back – as much to Ursa's clear confusion as Iroh's own. “My father will not acknowledge him until the sun has risen . . . ” he spoke softly, but by his last word, his voice was a clear, strong sound. Every soul still present in the chamber heard it; the silence that followed was pregnant with expectation. “And so," he concluded, "neither will I.”

    In answer, Ursa could only blink. Her eyes were wide with shock. “Ozai . . .” she could not immediately form a word other than his name. “I do not understand. Why - ”

    Seeing his wife's distress, Ozai at last came closer to her bedside. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, and his look softened as he peered down at her – at her and her alone. “Do not view this as a failure, my wife. This is only a minor setback,” he gave what he must have thought was comfort, failing to see the way Ursa flinched. “Our next child will be born lucky, I am sure. This is in no way a reflection on you.”

    For that, Ursa's amber eyes flashed a shade of sun-burnt gold. Her mouth pressed into a thin line, but by some unfathomable power of grace she kept herself from glaring outright. “That is well for the future,” she lowered her voice to better evade the gawking ears of the servants. Even so, Iroh could hear the way her tone turned scathing, “but your son has need of you here and now. This baby needs a name; he needs his father to - ”

    “ - name him what you will, beloved,” Ozai waved his hand, as if pleased with his generosity in granting her an honor that was usually reserved as a father's right. “It matters not to me.”

    Then, and only then, did Ursa wrench her shoulder away from his grasp. She was quiet for a long, terse moment, clearly quivering with suppressed rage. A frown bit at her mouth, and, instinctively feeling his mother turn upset, the baby in her arms scrunched up his face. He began to cry – little, hiccupping bursts of sound that were heartrending in their misery. Ursa took the clear opportunity granted to her to ignore her husband in favor of turning all her attention back on her son. Her hurt pain anger banked, and a mother's fondness cut through her gaze. Ozai watched them all the while, unmoved.

    “Then I will expect you after the sun breaks, husband,” Ursa said tonelessly, freeing Ozai to take his leave without sparing him another glance. “Your son will no doubt look forward to greeting you, as well.”

    “Of course,” Ozai agreed as if he was magnanimous in favoring his son with his presence. Internally, Iroh winced at the tone, even as he felt that small, hopeful part of his heart turn in on itself and take another blow. Not a defeat – not that, not yet, but certainly not a victory. “Until then.”

    With that, Ozai turned and departed without sparing either mother or son another glance. For once, Iroh let him go. He would try to reach his brother again, later. But, in that moment, it was not Ozai who was most in need of his words. And, first and foremost, he had a nephew to greet.

    Iroh waited only for the baby to stop crying to come forward, sending the lingering servants away with a wave of his hand. They scurried to depart, clearly grateful for the dismissal – some few were no doubt eager to share what they had seen, while the others were simply beyond weariness after aiding their mistress for so long an ordeal.

    “I believe that I have only seen one babe equal to him in my lifetime. But if I was not so biased towards my Lu Ten, I'd perhaps declare him superior,” Iroh approached Ursa's bedside with a large smile and an exaggerated wink. “May I hold him, sister?”

    Ursa looked up at him and blinked, as if surprised to notice him there. Clearly, her mind had been very far away. But, slowly, the corners of her mouth stretched, and she nodded. “I am glad that someone in this family cares to welcome him,” she said distantly, almost bitterly under her breath. But her eyes were still soft as she stared at her son. Gently, she traced the downy curve of his cheek with the back of her fingers.

    “What heart could not fail to melt, looking on such a face?” Iroh did his best to keep to levity. “It is unfortunate, what others are missing out on through their ignorance. But, their loss shall be my gain.”

    For that, Ursa flashed him a grateful smile. A moment later, she carefully passed her son over and then Iroh was holding his nephew for the first time before he knew it: his nephew, who was small and warm and heartbreakingly precious as all such newborn babes were. But, he thought without bias, there was something more to it as this little one opened his eyes and stared at him with a familiar golden gaze. The eyes of Sozin gazed on him then – burning from a scrunched up, unblemished, perfect little face. Iroh stared down at the boy, entranced.

    “He is perfect,” he breathed, and meant his every word.

    Ursa's expression was soft with a mother's fondness. "I agree," her tone carried only a distant challenge. “I could have asked for nothing more than him.”

    Iroh hummed in the back of his throat in agreement, and passed a large, calloused hand over the shape of the baby's head, feeling the soft fuzz of his black hair and the smooth down of his still pink skin from fingertip to fingertip. The little one squirmed, and tried to blindly gum at his finger when he tapped the round shape of his nose.

    Beyond them, the rain had stopped. The black stormclouds were breaking, Iroh glanced up to see; the high ridges had split apart to reveal the barest flush of red from the nearing dawn. The sunrise would be upon them soon. Opposite in the sky, the moonlight still shone to dominate the night, cool and heralding upon the land; all of the land.

    At the sight, Iroh sighed, and gave voice to the whisper of thought that had been plaguing him all night. “Sometimes, I believe that my father and brother all too easily forget that there is not only the blood of Sozin running through your son's veins. Thus, they were looking for all of the wrong signs from the spirits, thinking our heritage superior. In doing so they have failed to understand the clear blessing they were given, instead.”

    Iroh looked up from the baby in time to see a low, satisfied glow burning in Ursa's eyes. “But I do not forget,” Ursa declared, her low timbre then burning. In the simplicity of her words, Iroh knew that she understood . . . and agreed.

    “How . . . fortunate it is, then, that all of the elements were out in in such spectacular force tonight. A full moon welcoming a rising sun; raging winds; the pelting of the rain . . . the rumbling of the earth. This child is as much Roku's through his mother than he is Sozin's through his father. I do not forget that, Princess Ursa; as he grows, I believe that he will not allow any to forget.”

    A soft expression tugged on Ursa's mouth as she turned to look through the window as well. Her gaze turned distant, as if she could peer through their world of crude matter to the greater one dwarfing the physical realm they inhabited. “In the years to come, I will have to make sure that he too knows – and honors both sides of his heritage. My mother, she had such stories to share of the Avatar, and I like to think that Grandfather Roku would . . . that he, no matter that he is gone from the world now, somehow knows . . .”

    “ - and that he too acknowledges this child for the hope I believe he represents?” Iroh finished for her. “A hope for our people, yes, but also for all the world beyond?” Perhaps, he will help the Fire Nation recover the honor it has so lost in recent years, but even in the hushed darkness of the shadows, Iroh could not grant those rebellious words a voice. Perhaps he is the dawn of a new age, I will say – at long last. Those too were treasonous, too, in all technicality – no matter the love he held for his people, and he knew that it was not yet the proper time to give them a voice. Not yet.

    “Yes,” Ursa turned to look back down at her son. “At the very least, he truly is my hope.”

    Iroh inclined his head, and could not agree more. “What will you call him, then? My brother has left that honor to you, I hear.”

    For a long moment, Ursa looked lost in though before she answered: “Zuko. I think I will name him Zuko.”

    “Zuko?” Iroh asked, a brow raised. A dual name, chosen for both Roku's father and the first firebender born from Agni the dragon. A strong name; inherent of much and promising more. “It is a good name,” Iroh approved. “Perhaps nontraditional for a firstborn,” he couldn't help but applaud, “but fitting.”

    He could feel the rightness of the name hum in his bones. Outside, the moon seemed to shine even brighter as she prepared to relinquish her place in the sky to the sun. The wind whispered, blowing lingering drops of rain from the tree fronds against the tiles of the roof once more.

    “If Ozai wishes to name a child of ours after his father, then he shall just have to wait for his lucky one,” Ursa made bared her teeth to say. But her ire passed as quickly as it first came. She could not too long hold on to her umbrage, not with her child finally there in the world before her. Her Zuko.

    “Zuko, then,” Iroh greeted the boy in his arms anew. “Zuko.” At the sound of his name, the baby blinked, and gave a toothless expression that passed well enough for a grin. He squirmed, his little arms batting free from his blanket as he made a gurgling noise. His large, golden eyes were already turning towards the window. He knew something big was happening, even if he didn't understand just what it was quite yet.

    “I believe he can feel the dawn approaching,” Iroh was pleased to understand – a firebender had indeed been born to the royal house, he had no doubt of it. “The sun is rising, and he can sense its heat.” He turned to Ursa to ask permission, knowing of the father's tradition he was technically usurping. But, he argued within himself, a child of Agni should never be alone for his first sunrise. “May I?”

    “Yes, please,” she winced, trying and failing to rise from bed, “I would myself, and yet – ”

    “No, no – you stay here, please, and rest,” Iroh reached down to place a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Rest, dear one. You deserve all this and more.”

    Ursa did not fight him. Instead, she fell back against her pillows with an exhausted sigh. Her eyes were already drooping by the time he approached the doors to the balcony, fast heading for a well earned slumber. When he glanced back over his shoulder, he could only see a faint sliver of amber still drowsily regarding him before he pushed through the doors.

    Heartened, Iroh tucked the babe closer to his chest, and walked out into the dawn. Here, a fresh breeze, still heavy with the scent of rain greeted him as the wind tickled through his hair. Above the royal city, the full moon's light was fading as shades of scarlet steadily intensified across the horizon. Respectfully, Iroh inclined his head to the face of Tui, and then turned his attention to the sunrise.

    In his arms, Zuko was looking up with wide, wonderous eyes. Slowly, red-violet gave way for crimson-vermillion and then a deep, dusky orange. When the blazing orb of the sun first peaked its crest to burn away the remnants of the stormclouds, Iroh felt his own inner-fire flare. He breathed in deep, and felt his senses ignite in greeting of the day.

    For the arrival of their guardian spirit, Iroh exhaled, and tilted his nephew up into the steadily growing light.

    “Welcome, Zuko, into the house of Agni, and into my heart," he didn't see the harm in uttering the father's blessing, drawing the shape of the circle against his nephew's brow. It was but a small thing, by then, and it felt right. "May your fire never go out, and your warmth touch all those around you with light,”

    A new day was truly dawning, Iroh could not help but think as the babe opened his eyes to the sunrise . . . and it was clear to all those with eyes to see it.


    FIN






    End Notes: Soooo, maybe I veered away from the character study inspired by the song for that dollop of mush and oh so subtle imagery at the end, there, but I just couldn't resist. What can I say? I'm only a weak author in the end. Gah, but I grinned like an idiot while writing the last thousand words of this - and I hope that you felt similarly while reading. [face_love] A big, hearty thanks for anyone who made it through to read this far, again! [:D]


    ~MJ @};-
     
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2019
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  2. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Game Host star 7 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Exquisite blend of familial tensions fueled by disappointed hopes and spurned affection and losses too heavy to bear. =D= The wonderful parallel in the weather was equally compelling. [face_thinking] I adored Iroh's POV - his insightfulness mixed with forthrightness and compassion. Ozai ... :( he is so close to being his true self but then his father's rejection stomps that bit of warmth so he turns that around and rejects his own son in a vicious circle. :eek:
     
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  3. Findswoman

    Findswoman Force Ghost star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 27, 2014
    Sorry it's taken me so long to get around to commenting on this, which I've been meaning to do for a while—I enjoyed it a lot! I confess that I know absolutely zero about A:TLA, but I could understand and follow everything in this story thanks to your clear spelling out of the way elemental magic works in this universe. This definitely a very creative new take on the images of "air" and "flame" from the song that was your prompt, and this Ozai definitely is someone for whom "love is an empty, airy name"—and not just in the mildly tongue-in-cheek way that the original song presented it. I won't lie, it's not easy to read of both Azulon and Ozai basically rejecting little Zuko—and Ozai's stony responses to his wife were heartbreaking to read, too, after all she's been through with a difficult breach birth—and it's all apparently because neither of them can get past these various prophecies about "unluckiness." (I feel there's something of a "once burned, twice shy" type thing at work with both father and grandfather here—and there's that flame image again, isn't there! :D ) Such a contrast with Iroh—what a warm, loving uncle, and I love that his avuncular warmth extends to Ursa, too. The final image of him taking his baby nephew out to see the sunrise is such a beautiful one. After all, little Zuko has Agni among his ancestors too, not just Azulon, and hopefully with his uncle's and mother's examples he'll grow up to see that love doesn't have to be empty and airy—it can be a real flame, a warm, sunlike flame.

    Wonderful work, and a fantastic contribution to the Restoration Songs challenge—thank you so much for sharing! =D=