Categories > Cartoons > Avatar: The Last Airbender > Not Alone

The Request

by ingrid 3 reviews

Post-episode for "The Chase" (2.8) What happens when you realize that you can't go it alone? Zuko-centric, with Iroh and the gang.

Category: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Rating: PG - Genres: Angst, Drama - Characters: Zuko - Warnings: [!] - Published: 2006-05-30 - Updated: 2006-05-30 - 2792 words

Not Alone
by ingrid


The night was spent lying on the ground with his ear pressed to Iroh's chest, listening to every wheezing breath, debating whether they were growing stronger or weaker.

That one seemed all right. And then, this one was fainter than the last, I think and perhaps that one was a little better and so on, until the dawn rose over the ruins surrounding them.

They were still in the street. Iroh was too heavy for Zuko to move alone, so he did his best to make things comfortable. His jacket folded beneath Iroh's head; a ripped sack found behind some shed did well as a makeshift blanket.

Everything around them will still smoldering, though not as badly as before. While smoke rarely bothered those of the Fire Nation, Iroh's labored wheezing was not a time to revel in this, so Zuko sat on his heels, diligently fanning away the dark wisps snaking around his uncle's face.

Zuko rocked back and forth as he did this, staring off into the distance, his eyes stinging, no doubt from the smoke. Iroh would be rising soon, he thought, ignoring the sick churn of his stomach.

Once he did, they would go back on the mission -- slowly, out of respect for Iroh's injury -- but more wisely this time. Zuko would show more patience and learn from his mistakes, as dear as they were. He would be quick and clever, like the foxsnake, instead of the rash fool he'd been so far.

Oh, and if Azula somehow survived, Zuko would be absolutely sure to kill her before anything else.

Because ... yes ... Azula would have to die at his hand and no other's.

Zuko's dry lips cracked into a grin at this thought and it was only a violent coughing fit from Iroh that brought him back to reality. "I will find you water," he said immediately, ignoring the thin trickle of blood creeping from the corner of his uncle's lip.

Iroh shook his head. "Stay," he said, his grip tight on Zuko's wrist. "There are things I would tell you before I pass."

"You are not passing! Don't ever say that again!" Zuko cried angrily. Iroh's pale face crumbled and Zuko felt the knot in his stomach tighten almost unbearably. He took a deep breath. "Forgive me, uncle. Just ... please do not speak such nonsense." He crooked a finger into Iroh's collar and pulled it even looser, hanging as it was from Zuko's endless tugging. "You will be well. I promise."

"No, my boy, I don't believe so." Iroh sounded so tired. So terribly tired. "Stay with me and let me tell you what I must. For I am surely dying."

Zuko rose, his fingers curling uncontrollably into fists. "Why must you always contradict me? I say you will not die!" The smoke was too thick to bear, that must be it, Zuko thought as hot, wet rivulets ran down his cheeks. Furiously, he wiped them away. "Speak to me no more of dying." He backed away. "I'm going to get water for you. I will make you tea. You will get well."

Iroh sighed and closed his eyes. "As you say, nephew."

/And once you are well, I am going to kill Azula/, Zuko thought, his fingers clenched around the waterbag. He began to search for fresh water and felt a vicious stab of triumph when he found some. He ran back to Iroh's side. "Here, my uncle ..." he said, falling to his knees besides Iroh, pulling open the water bottle's brittle cork. "I found water for you."

It splashed a little and Zuko cursed, but his oaths faded away when he saw ... that look ... on Iroh's face. He'd seen it before -- in father's court of execution, at the end of battles, in the small towns where disease and violence reigned ...

It was the look of encroaching death. This time, there was no denying it.

The water bag fell from his hands and he made no move to stop its contents from spreading out over the dust. "Uncle," Zuko whispered, hardly daring to breath, lest, somehow it took away any of Iroh's precious air.

Iroh's eyes opened halfway, then shut again, revealing a glimpse of grief that pierced Zuko to the heart.

It was a look to change a man's soul. "Uncle," Zuko repeated, desperately, holding onto the old man's hand with shaking fingers. "I know I ask much of you, but I must request one more thing. Please ... whatever may come ... I ask that you hold onto life until I return." He released Iroh's hand and rose. "I beg of you. Until I return."

Somehow, a tiny grin cracked the death mask. "I can't promise," Iroh rasped. "But ... I will try."

Zuko was already on his steed. "That is all I ask."


Finding the Avatar and his friends wasn't difficult. In fact, finding them was something Zuko excelled in . It was everything else he was a miserable failure at.

But not now. He couldn't fail now.

They made no move when he approached, instead they stood quietly, waiting, as if they were expecting him.

Zuko dismounted. He then did something he hadn't done since the day his father turned him into an outcast. The only difference was, this time?

He felt no shame.

Falling to his knees, Zuko put his forehead to the ground, and said only one word: "Please."

There was a long moment of silence. Zuko could feel their suspicion, but he made no other motions; he didn't plead his case. They knew why he was there and they would either help him or they wouldn't.

That was their choice to make. He couldn't blame them either way. He would hesitate, certainly.

Finally, the Avatar spoke, not to him, but the others. "We need to help him."

Zuko glanced up, hardly daring to hope. The water bender, the one who said she could assist, was already pulling her things together, while her companion stared at him with extreme suspicion.

"You have to be kidding," he said, pointing at Zuko. "You do know who we're dealing with here, right?"

"Be quiet, Sokka," the water bender admonished.

"No, I won't be quiet! I can't believe you'll let yourself be tricked into helping this guy. He doesn't want our help, he wants to lure us into some other trap and it'll be "oh no, we've been stupid" ... all over again!"

The small earth bender traveling with them piped up. "I'm pretty sure this is for real. I met his uncle. He cares for him very much."

"Big deal! He doesn't care about us, except as something he can hang on the wall as a trophy for the Fire Nation."

The Avatar interrupted. "You have a point, Sokka. I'm not going to deny that, but ..." He paused, glancing at Zuko. "But, if he is sincere, this is an opportunity we might not get again. An opportunity for peace."

"What?" Sokka sounded bewildered. "We save the old guy and everything is okay again? You have to be kidding me."

"It's a start," said the Avatar, holding out his slim hand to Zuko. "Which is better than nothing."

Zuko stared at the Avatar's hand for a long moment, before taking it and allowing him to help him rise to his feet. "My uncle is still where he fell," he said. He turned to the water bender. "Can you really help?"

She shrugged. "I can try my best."

Zuko nodded, allowing them to escort him to the great flying bison, who peered at him with wary eyes. He climbed aboard, as if in a daze. This is a dream, he thought as the beast took to the skies, the unlikeliest of all companions surrounding him.

Whether it was a nightmare or not, only time would tell.


Iroh was still breathing, but barely, by the time they returned. The water bender took her place by his side and sent them away, to the far end of the street to begin her work.

Zuko busied himself with making a fire, which took seconds. He tried to make tea, but he wasn't very good at it. The earth bender took over at the pot, while the Avatar sat quietly in a meditative position, looking into the flames.

Sokka merely sharpened his knife and glared at Zuko, without blinking.

That was fine. Zuko, for the first time in his life, was too heartsick to feel anger, too tired for rage. He waved away the tea the earth bender offered, before remembering himself.

"I'm sorry," he said quickly, taking the cup. "My manners are poor and I'm distracted."

She laughed softly. "That's okay. I'm not that polite either, or so some people tell me." She paused. "Katara's a good healer. It's their specialty, water benders."

Zuko clutched the tea cup so tightly, it might have shattered in his hand. "I hope so."

Sokka snorted. "Yeah and once he's better, it's back to business as usual, I'm sure. Just give us a running start, okay?"

"Sokka," the Avatar sighed. "Not now."

"I understand your anger," Zuko said. "I can only promise you on my honor that my seeking harm upon you is over. Whether my uncle is healed or not." He took a sip of the tea, scalding as it was. "I ... I am done with this. I have failed in many things, but I will not sacrifice my soul for my father's deadly ambition. No more."

Sokka snorted again, but didn't reply.

The Avatar picked up a stick and began to trace small designs in the soot-covered dirt. "You don't have to be alone, you know ..."

Zuko put down the cup, his jaw tight. "Yes. I do. But thank you for the offer."

"Offer?" Sokka looked up, horrified. "Wait ... what offer?"

The Avatar rose and nodded toward an approaching figure. "Katara's coming, I think."

Heart pounding, Zuko jumped to his feet. The water bender looked exhausted, almost stumbling as she walked and Zuko's heart sank. She couldn't do it. Uncle is dead and I am truly alone. I did not listen to him. I did not tell him that he is more a father to me than Ozai ever was. He was the father of my heart and I abandoned him and was unkind. Now he is dead and I will never speak to him again. This is how I am punished. Oh, my uncle ...

The Avatar stood beside him, his slight hand resting on Zuko's arm. Zuko didn't care, especially when Katara's pushed the damp hair away from her eyes. They were bloodshot and he waited to hear the fateful words ...

"I think he'll live," she said, breaking into a weak smile. "I think I did it."

Beside him the Avatar blew out a relieved breath, as did the earth bender. Sokka shrugged, but Zuko ... he could hardly believe his ears. "He ... lives?"

Katara nodded, her eyes kind. "Why don't you go and see for yourself?"

Zuko was off and running, even before she finished. Even from afar, he would see Iroh sitting up, rubbing his head, as if he'd woken up from a particularly deep nap.

Zuko nearly skidded into him, before dropping to his knees and pulling him into a tight embrace. Shamelessly, he cried, as a boy might upon a parent's shoulder and Iroh patted his back, making shushing noises.

"My poor boy, tell me, what is wrong now?" Iroh asked softly, the familiar twinkle of laughter in his voice. "Did you spill all the tea? If so, don't worry yourself so greatly over it. I'm sure we can find some more."

"You know why I'm crying, you old fool," Zuko exclaimed, suddenly laughing through his tears. He pulled back and looked at his exhausted, disheveled uncle, thinking it was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. "And why is everything always my fault?"

"Isn't it?" Iroh asked, before laughing along with his nephew, their joy echoing down the street.


A day and a night passed, with Iroh nearly as good as new by the second sunset.

A quiet understanding stood between all of them, except for Sokka, who seemed angrier and more confused as time passed, but Zuko respectfully ignored his tantrums.

He was so relieved at his uncle's recovery, the young idiot could have thrown a punch and Zuko would have let it land without incident. As far as Zuko was concerned, they could go on their way, never cross paths with him again and he'd be quite satisfied. He would travel with his uncle and, if he were lucky, kill Azula the first chance he got.

Life would be just fine after that.

The Avatar seemed to want something else, but didn't appear to know how to go about asking for it. The others also seemed to be waiting for something, but what, Zuko couldn't say.

It was Iroh, as usual, who broke the uncomfortable impasse, over, as usual, a steaming cup of tea. "So, I suppose you'd wish us to travel with you from now on?"

The Avatar smiled brightly. "I'd like that very much."

For the first time, the exact same expression of confused horror came over Zuko and Sokka's faces. "Uncle ..." Zuko hissed.

"Aang," Sokka said, holding his head as if it hurt. "You cannot be serious."

"I'm very serious," Aang said, speaking directly to Iroh. "It is the only way. For people of the four nations to walk this path together, along with the Avatar. It's the only way we can save the world. The Fire Nation can't be left out of it. We will never be at peace, never be a whole, unless you are with us."

"I am a retired general," Iroh said, stroking his beard. "I'm not very knowledgeable in the ways of peace, but I think I see what you mean." He looked up. "What do you think, Zuko? Should be travel with these kind people and stop the war from destroying us all, or should we walk alone and wait for Azula to come along and kill us? Because I don't think we'll get away from her twice. She's a very ... determined ... young lady."

Zuko swallowed hard. "Uncle, while I am grateful, we can't forget that these people ..."

"Saved my life. Saved your life, too, probably, and wish to save the entire world, if they can get the help they need. But ..." Iroh shrugged. "As always, I will leave the final decision up to you."

Zuko blinked. The voices inside screamed in protest -- 'your honor! your throne! your pride! your birthright!' -- but something ... something else stirred as well. Like a sunrise, realization rose within him; that the wild fight he'd waged for all those things might not have been worth it.

In truth, the throne was Iroh's, not Ozai's. Ozai stole it from his brother, and the Fire Nation had suffered for it, greatly. The war had cost them dearly, their best and brightest were dead and the nation had turned away from its history as a cultured, good people, into something harder ... something hated. His land had not benefited from the war, not in any way that truly mattered and why should Ozai be allowed to run wild with his rage ...

When Iroh could do so much more for their people? So many better things and for the first time, Zuko saw things in a greater -- clearer -- light.

"We don't need to be at war, do we?" he asked softly.

The Avatar nodded in agreement. "We don't. If there is harmony among the elements ..."

"The entire world will be at peace," Zuko finished for him. He glanced at Iroh. He had made his decision. "I think I will listen to your wisdom in this matter, uncle."

Iroh raised an eyebrow at him. "You said you're going to listen to me? Now I think I'm really going to drop dead."

Zuko addressed Aang. "We will share this journey with you. Your burdens will be ours, as your battles. Our fate will be as one, I say this as son of the Fire Lord."

"A very trustworthy reference," Sokka muttered, crying out in pain when Katara's whacked him on the arm. "Ow! What did you do that for?"

Zuko ignored him. There would be trouble, of that there was no doubt, but for now ... there was something greater on the horizon. Without him even realizing it, Zuko's ambitions had grown, matured into something more encompassing then merely gaining the love of a mad father ... he could gain the respect of an entire world. A world he would help to save.

And for the first time, Zuko thought, glancing at those surrounding him -- he was not alone.



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