Beta Read by APigInRollerSkates. A huge shoutout and thanks to him!
Itachi had lived this new life for many years, yet he still did not know what to make of his new father. However, the recent incident in which Azula was exhausted to the point of collapse made Ozai come under the Uchiha's radar. Itachi didn't care for his new father nearly as much as he did Fugaku, but he still respects him out of love for Azula. She dearly loves their father and outright killing him might result in Azula experiencing the same fate as Sasuke, even if his actions are done out of love.
Interactions with his father are rather sparse, Ozai does not seem to like interacting with Itachi much. It's almost as if when he firebends in front of his father, Ozai, while impressed, has some sort of deep resentment towards him. Outside of training and dinner, there is thick tension between Ozai and Itachi. However, what doesn't make sense to Itachi is that even with these negative feelings Ozai has for him, he still trains him.
He speculates that something happened between his father and mother as in a single night, he could feel the winds change directions abruptly. However, Itachi didn't dive deep into their affairs. As long as Ozai stays in line and doesn't do something drastic, he will keep his sword sheathed.
Itachi wants to use his Sharingan to interrogate Ozai but it's too dangerous to use it here, the Sharingan has new limits, ones that he doesn't know of. Every time his Mangekyō Sharingan activates, it puts a strain on his body and expends far more chakra than a typical Uchiha would. Meaning that if he were to use his dōjutsu, it would tire him out more than Hatake Kakashi's Sharingan did. With that restraint, if he were to use Tsukuyomi (月詠), he could be bedridden for at least a week or even die.
It was with these thoughts in his mind, Itachi decided to talk to his father. It's a bright morning when he disturbs his father in his royal office, with light shining through the windows as well as the sound of chirping birds. Yet the atmosphere that Itachi brought with him is like the coldness of his blade. He could almost feel the heat emanating from the man, the inner fire within him releasing heat to intimidate anyone who graces his father's presence.
Itachi is used to these kinds of things, and facing a man with the dōjutsu of the Six Paths can make things like these seem minuscule in comparison to others.
There laid on the table is an imported Da-Hong Pao Tea the servants poured earlier. "This tea is imported from the colonies, Zuko. They said only kings of the Earth Kingdom were the only ones who could afford such a luxury, but now, we reap the benefits from those imbeciles." Ozai snorted before taking a sip of his tea.
Itachi inspected the tea that was present on the table, the heat steaming from the cup. He quickly grabbed it and gave it a quick whiff before taking a quick sip. Indeed, the Da-Hong Pao is a complex Oolong Tea, quite superior to a standard one, but he felt that something was missing from the tea although we couldn't place it. Kindly placing the cup on the table, again he shifted his attention to his father. "I didn't know you were fond of tea, father."
Ozai smelled the tea and closed his eyes. "Only the best kinds of tea are worth my attention. Such teas are selected through rigorous processes, making sure they truly are the best. Those that don't make the cut are nothing but the rabble. However, the best ones who already have amazing taste still need heat for them to truly bring out the greatest of flavors. Don't you agree?"
Itachi internally sighed. "I don't, father."
"Why?" Ozai asks with his brow raised, slowly swirling his cup while studying him.
Itachi knew that he was trying to intimidate him with that long stare, but he put up a face of indifference. "A skilled brewer can make a mediocre tea leaf into an exquisite tea when brewed properly. A luxurious tea leaf may have an advantage at first, but if they aren't brewed consistently and kept up to standards, it will be surpassed by good brewing. Or in other words, poor brewing can ruin a great tea leaf, making a mediocre drink."
Ozai narrowed his eyes and gave a hum. "An astute assessment, Zuko. I see you've learned from my tutelage. One must be pushed to exceed their limits if one is to improve. While I do agree that poor brewing can cause weakness in a strong tea leaf, even an experienced brewer with a poor tea leaf can not surpass a mediocre brewer with an exceptional tea leaf. Thus, it is within our nature, our blood, to surpass anyone as long as we are pushed with constant pressure."
"Excessive pressure can lead even the best leaf tasting unpalatable, father," Itachi replied, his voice cool and suave, not letting the hint of Ozai's cold voice swipe at him. "Da-Hong Pao is best when served three to four brews, but if you brew the same tea leaf over and over again, it will lose its taste until nothing is left but boiled water."
Ozai grew quiet at first before giving a snicker, then laughing at Itachi's face, placing the cup of unfinished tea on the table. "You misunderstand me, Zuko. You are astute, I can give you that, but you are still naive. If no pressure or heat is given to the tea, what then? It will not develop its flavor, it will instead be nothing more than a mediocre drink of leaf juice." His smile then turned to a thin line. "I know what I am doing, Zuko, and don't you dare lecture me again."
Itachi didn't give in to his new father's intimidation, no matter how much Ozai tried. "I am not lecturing you, father. I'm merely expressing my thoughts."
"If you wish to express your thoughts, then stop cowering behind a metaphor. I will not listen to a coward. If you have a problem with the way I train Azula, I'd recommend approaching it differently next time. Besides, why are you worried about your sister? Are you not only a coward but weak as well?" Ozai snapped at Zuko.
"Caring about family is a weakness?" Itachi says coolly, trying to act like an obedient son.
"Showing it is, Zuko. Why even bother training with Azula, when you can be refining your techniques? Spending your time with her only diminishes the time you spend to become a fully realized firebender like I am."
Itachi answers promptly. "I choose to spend my time with Azula because she has the same amount of potential I have; she quickly learns when watching my techniques and she is a ferocious firebender. Training her to the point of exhaustion won't do any good, it will only build up resentment until she's out of control."
"It will fuel her to become an even more powerful firebender." Ozai leaned closer to Itachi's unmoving face. "Are you suggesting that I'm a bad teacher, Zuko? Are you insinuating that the one who turned you, honed you, into what you are now is an inadequate teacher for Azula?"
Itachi stood his ground, unwavering even to the threats of Ozai. "All I ask, father, is not to exhaust Azula to the point of passing out. That's all. I'm not implying anything. It would be detrimental for Azula if she continues towards this path."
"Would it?" Ozai asks Itachi, he knows that he ticked Ozai off, the heat in the room is beginning to rise. "I'm training her to become a better version of herself. Through struggle and might she will succeed and if not then she was a failure from the start. I'm not just training her physically, Zuko, I'm also training her will."
"There are better methods than grinding her until she breaks." Itachi slowly raises his voice, his anger subtle but laced in his tone.
"You may have topped your class, but you are still my son!" Ozai slams his fist on the table, there are even small streaks of steam getting out of his nose. "How dare you lecture me about how I should train my daughter! How dare you say that my method won't do any good when it has produced you!"
"Your training methods may have worked with me, but Azula and I are different." Itachi carefully swerves his hand towards the table. "She needs a different approach. We might share the same blood, even the same potential, but if you continue like this it would be damaging to Azula and her firebending."
"Enough!" Ozai shouts at Itachi's face, and it is still emotionless despite the outburst of the Prince. "I've had enough!" He slams his hand on the table, some of the tea spills over the table but neither cares. "I will not have you lecture me, your father!" Ozai let out a huge breath of fire and closed his eyes. "The tea has run cold and my patience is running thin. Get out of my sight, Zuko."
Quietly, Itachi stood up but not before looking at Ozai who was, to his surprise, patiently waiting for him to walk out the room. Inside his mind, Itachi is fuming in anger, almost to the point of his eyes forming the Sharingan, additional chakra exhaustion be damned. Itachi did not let his emotions get the best of him and left calmly, seeing that talking to his new father would bear no fruit.
Itachi dashed towards Azula's room in a quick stride, regardless of servants bowing down in his presence. He reflects on what transpired earlier and how Ozai trains Azula. At this point, Ozai reminded him somewhat of himself. He took great shame on how he manipulated Sasuke, thinking that Konoha would hail his little brother as a hero once he killed him. Unknowingly, he turned Sasuke into a weapon that would instead destroy the Leaf.
He tortured Sasuke using Tsukuyomi (月詠), and in their every encounter he manipulated his little brother as well. Only when he was revived by Yakushi Kabuto did he realize his negligence. While people may call him a successful genius, he is in his eyes, a failure. Instead of turning Sasuke into a hero, Itachi turned him into a rogue ninja.
In the final moments of their last meeting, he gave Sasuke what he deserved from the start, the truth and his own choice on what to do with it.
Ozai's methods, while different, fall into the same category of what he did and Itachi fears it will lead Azula to become what Sasuke became. Itachi needs to drive Azula into a path of good and love rather than hatred and suffering. This leads to another dilemma that Itachi has: will he end up manipulating Azula and not giving her the free will that he purposely robbed Sasuke of?
"No." That is what he answered but Itachi can admit that his plan still has flaws, any plan will. Regardless, he will guide Azula towards a path of love and acceptance, and the choice of who she will be is up to Azula.
His train of thought stops once he faces the doors of Azula's room. He quietly opens the door and sees Ursa tending to Azula personally with no servants around. Azula is on the bed breathing heavily with her eyes half-lidded, on her forehead is a damp cloth. On the other hand, Ursa is feeding her a bowl of congee with a small smile on her face. "Come on, Azula, remember what the doctor told us earlier? You need to eat to gain your strength back."
Azula tries to swat the spoon away from her, but it turns into her just weakly shoving it away due to her exhaustion. "I don't want to, I want to train." She tried to pry herself off the bed but her strength of will alone wasn't enough and she flopped back onto the bed groaning.
"Training won't do you any good, Azula." Ursa places the bowl on the bedside table. "You need to rest, even Zuko knows that."
"I need to get strong like him. I want to train like him every day." Azula, even while weak, groans passionately.
Itachi couldn't see Ursa's face, but he knew she was smiling at his little sister. "Azula, you will be a great firebender like your brother is but he also rests. Take a flower, for example, water it the right amount and it will bloom beautifully. However, water it too much and it will eventually wilt."
"So too much of a thing is bad?" Azula asks and Ursa nods in response.
"It is. That's why you need rest for your body to grow and bloom." Ursa tucks a strand of Azula's hair to her ears. She then picked up the bowl, taking a portion of the congee. "You should eat up, Azula."
With slight hesitation, Azula ate the congee in silence without complaint. Itachi observed everything with a small smile on his face, not letting his presence be known. It seems that his efforts are bearing fruit, at least on one branch of the tree. Even if Azula is still somewhat cold to their mother, Ursa is doing her best to try and give her attention to Azula, which he is thankful for. Hopefully, in time, Azula will warm up to her.
Azula's half-lidded eyes widened as he saw him. "Zuzu?" Ursa's head then turned to him in surprise.
Itachi moved closer, his smile almost leaving his face when he got closer to Azula. It hurts seeing his sister like this, abused and battered, trained to the point of exhaustion. He vowed silently to not let this happen to her ever again, even if his discussion with Ozai was a failure. "How are you feeling, Azula?"
"What do you think?" Azula groaned but he noticed that her eyes became brighter once she noticed him. "I want to train, but everything is too heavy."
Itachi sits on the foot of Azula's bed, "That may be because of the way I've been feeding you, Azula."
"Ha. Ha. Very funny, Zuzu." Azula rolls her eyes but she couldn't help but smile. "But I want to train, I want to become strong like you."
"Take mother's advice for this one, Azula. Even I take the occasional breaks from time to time, training might do good, but as mother said, too much of a good thing can be bad for you." Itachi relaxes and slouches slightly, relaxing. "You will grow strong, Azula, I can assure you of that."
Ursa coughed, still holding the bowl of congee. "And for you to be strong, you need to finish this bowl."
"Fine…!" Azula suddenly grabbed the bowl and scarfed the congee down. She finishes the bowl and takes the glass of warm water almost immediately as if the strength that was gone earlier swiftly came back. "Ha!" Azula points her finger at him. "One day, I will become stronger than you, Zuzu! To the point that maybe you will come to me when you are weak!"
"Azula!" Ursa relents as she retrieves the bowl and places it on the bedside table.
Itachi gives her an encouraging smile much to Ursa's confusion, "Then I will wait for that time to come, 'Zula."
"Children!" Ursa fumes and the two stare at her, "That is not something you two could joke about! Including you, Zuko!"
To Ursa's surprise, Itachi's smile never left his face. "I think it's a good attitude, mother. There will be times when I am sick and the only ones I can rely on are the ones who I care about, just like now. I think that's just her way of endearment."
Azula huffed, laying back on her bed, and kept quiet. Itachi can already see the look of jealousy that she gave to both him and Ursa. "Don't worry, Azula. Today I'm not going to train, I'll wait until you recover from your exhaustion."
"What? Think I'm not going to surpass you fast enough?" Azula chuckles weakly, the energy she got earlier rapidly waning.
Itachi glances up, "No, I'm just doing it so you get enough rest… and so you don't accuse me of cheating… again."
"Cheat," Azula said quietly but Itachi still heard. The two snicker while Ursa just observes them.
Ursa claps her hands. "Alright, quiet you two. Azula, you need to get some more rest."
"But mom..." Azula groaned, dragging out 'mom'. "Can I at least play Pai Sho with Zuzu? Doing nothing is boring…"
"No, Azula. It will just make you sicker." Ursa sternly says as she tucks in Azula's blanket without protest, Azula not having enough energy to fight. "So rest."
Azula took the blanket and hid her lower face. "I'm not even sleepy."
"Then how about this, Azula, Mother." Itachi's eyes soften and his mouth gives a smile. "How about I tell you a story, Azula?" He then saw's Azula's gloomy demeanor turn and her eyes brighten. "Though you have to promise me that you will rest for the rest of the day, that'll be our game."
Azula huffed and gave a smug smile. "Easy, I will win this time, you can't cheat a story."
"I believe you will be interested in this story too, Mother." Itachi places himself near the edge of the bed as he helps Ursa clean the bedside table. Once they are done, Itachi relaxes. "It's called Love Amongst the Dragons, I'm sure you are familiar with it 'Zula."
"By Agni, not that one!" Azula groans. "You cheat!"
"Hey, you told me that I can't cheat a story." Itachi shrugs. "I'm sure you will love it." He says hiding his grin. Itachi knows how much she hates that story. What Azula wants is a story of action and epic battles of the past, she despised sappy love stories. Despite that, Itachi began telling them the story. Ursa smiled warmly while Azula's expression is plastered with boredom. Seeing her expression, Itachi knew she'd rather do anything other than listening to a romance story.
Soon enough her tiredness overtook her boredom and finally, Azula is sleeping soundly on her bed just as he was about to finish the story. Ursa then arranges for Azula to be more comfortable on her bed. "Thank you for helping me with this, Zuko," Ursa speaks to him as they leave the room.
"I'm just doing my part, Mother. We need to both do our part for Azula, neither of us can do this alone." Itachi spoke with firmness as he closed the door gently on his way out. "Doing everything alone is like bearing the weight of the entire world on your shoulders, sooner or later the world you carry will fall."
"You are very well-spoken, Zuko." Ursa places her hand on his shoulders. "I'm glad you visited her. If you saw her yesterday…" Ursa grimaced, her face filled with pain.
"I know, Mother." Itachi sighs. "I will do my best to help you today. I have nothing to do, after all."
"Nothing to do?" Ursa mused and smiled. "Would that mean you also have time to tell me about that book… ummm Samidare? Do I recall correctly?"
"You still remember that, Mother?"
"What? How could I not when it made my little prince cry?" Ursa hugs him. "You are going to tell me about it, or perhaps just parts of it."
"I'm sure you'll dislike it." Itachi snickers and smiles sadly as he looks outside at the garden. "It's a story about death, betrayal, and failure; it's not for everyone. Besides, it's a lost book anyway, that story doesn't matter now, it will just be another memory."
Ursa tried to speak but was cut off by Itachi. "Please, Mother." He could already see the slight grimace on her face. Hiding his past in the veil of a book, while genius at first, is turning into a problem for him. "It's not something I'm comfortable talking about, it's my fault for reading such a book, I do not wish to regale the tales of its horror to anyone else."
Ursa then sighed. "I'm sorry Zuko. It's probably a good thing that book is lost, otherwise, I'd have to have the librarians hide it on the chance of Azula being curious enough to read it."
"A good thing to do," he replied. "Though you shouldn't worry, you and I may be the only ones who know of the book's existence. It seems to be the only thing I've ever misplaced." Itachi smiled and took the used dishes back to the kitchen.
A few days later, when Azula was doing much better, two wooden boxes with intricate designs and a scroll were delivered to Ursa, announced by a messenger. Seeing the note's contents, she happily brought the boxes to the garden, expecting to see her children. There they were on the grass, however, what she did not expect was for them to both be training at the same time. She quietly moved further into the garden as they synchronized their movements together.
She smiled as she sat on the grass, quietly observing them while she placed the boxes gently on her lap. Ursa couldn't help but start thinking about this "Samidare" book and why her son was so elusive about it. He acts as if it's a trauma he's trying to hide; Zuko clearly is impacted by the story, Ursa can't help but be curious. Seeing her child cry was heartbreaking for Ursa.
The last time she tried to learn more about the book and what's going on, she was shut down by her son. She's trying her best to be a good parent for him, but with Ozai and their torn marriage, it's difficult.
From the palace to the academy the name Zuko is admired by all, and her heart swells in pride at the achievements of her son. The stoic but charming prince, excelling at everything he does, but she sees the way he constantly isolates himself. Maybe the book has something to do with it, but then again, her son has been like this since he was born.
However, she set those thoughts aside and admired the serene calm in Zuko and Azula's faces, both concentrated on their training. Their firebending to her is majestic, filled with ferocity and grace, both of which could technically be found in her husband, yet his firebending would never produce the joy and awe Zuko's and Azula's did.
Zuko punched and produced fire, planting his heels to the ground and quickly sidestepping for a kick. Azula tried to imitate the move, but fell to the ground instead, her brother picking her back up.
Moments later, they were done, and immediately noticed her presence. "Mother?" Zuko said as he wiped the sweat off his head.
"Your Uncle Iroh sent you two gifts from Ba Sing Se!" Ursa urges the two to sit beside her but surprisingly only Azula seems excited about the gifts; Zuko's face is rather… distant, nervous even. Ursa opens up the scroll and reads it to them. It was about the current developments in Ba Sing Se, although she knew the details were washed down, cutting out much of the horrific aspects common in war. The siege is apparently going well and the gifts were some of the captured items of Earth Kingdom Higher Nobility, one box even containing an item owned by an Earth Kingdom Prince.
Once she was done reading the letter to them, she gave them their gifts. The smile that Azula wore quickly dissolved into disappointment once she opened the box. "A doll? Really? This is the gift I got?"
"Oh shush!" Ursa scolds her. "You should be thankful for what your uncle is giving you, he is fighting a war out there for our sakes!"
"And he gives me a doll while Zuzu gets…?"
Zuko opens his box and reveals that he got a dagger, a beautiful one at that. He carefully looked at it and unsheathed the dagger, on the blade was an inscription that read "非戰不屈 (Never give up without a fight)". Ursa expected her son to be elated by the gift that he received. While he was certainly not elated, he did not seem disappointed either, instead, he wore a look of reluctance. "… a dagger?! Woah! Let me see! Let me see!" Azula huddled close to him, peering at the dagger.
"Here you go." Zuko gave it to her and she inspected every detail, placing the doll on the ground.
"Not you too Zuko, I expected better from you." Ursa scolds him but he just shrugs, infuriating her further. "Then what exactly do you want from your Uncle Iroh?"
"Just for them to return safely." The reply got the attention of Ursa and warmed her heart, dissipating her prior anger. "Besides, I have this." Zuko unbuttoned his pouch and revealed to her a knife that had a blade shaped like a diamond with a short grip and circular but hollow pole. "A kunai."
"The one you had Master Piandao make for you?" Ursa questions as she observes the knife. At first, she wasn't too keen on her son having such deadly weaponry on him, but he insisted, reasoning that it's just another part of his arsenal like his firebending. "Why not the knife your Uncle gave you?"
Zuko paused for a moment. "It's not that I don't appreciate my gift, Mother. I just feel like someone else should have a weapon other than myself." He smiled as he looked at Azula flinging the dagger in the air. "And now, it's like my gift to her too."
There he was being cryptic again, Ursa thought. Sometimes she thought she had her son figured out, that maybe he was just anti-social and only talks to those who he feels are worth his time. She honestly thought he would be more possessive of the gift. Maybe she is overthinking things, maybe he did give it to his sister just because he wanted to. "You know that is from an Earth Kingdom Prince, Zuko." She tried to reason with him.
"It matters not whether it is from an Earth Kingdom Prince or a lowly blacksmith. There will come a time when firebending alone will not be enough to defend Azula, that's why I don't approve of father just teaching her firebending."
Her face morphed into immediate concern. "Oh, Zuko." She said as she gently touched his cheek. "When I am around, I will never, never, ever let anyone come near you that will harm you or her." Ursa realizes what she said and it hurt her. Ozai had already exhausted Azula nights before and she was not able to stop it in any way, she wasn't even aware it was happening. Zuko's face turns into a slight grimace for a second before returning to his neutral expression. Ursa could tell that her son knew of her thoughts.
Zuko sat beside her and watched Azula play with the dagger in the distance, cutting bushes and tree trunks. He took the doll and placed it on his lap. "I have a bad feeling, Mother. A hunch."
"What is it?" Ursa asked scooching closer to him. "Is there something wrong?" Her voice was laced with concern.
"War never bears ripe fruit, Mother." Zuko's eyes landed on the doll and gently grasped it in his hands. "It only lays death and destruction for everyone, even those in the highest of places. It's been nearly a hundred years since the war started and if this is truly a righteous war, would it not have ended already? Would we not have already stabbed the heart of whatever is in our way and have led our people to a quick and decisive victory? If this was such a righteous war, why are there still so many unnecessary deaths? Even with the avatar dead, there is still no conclusion to this war. This war has no true point, no "righteous" point."
"Zuko, if you are so against the war, why do you train so hard?"
"Just because I detest war doesn't mean I will not fight when it comes knocking on my door, Mother." Zuko threw a smirk. "Azula and I should be prepared when that time no doubt comes, but until that happens, I will enjoy the peace I have." He paused. "As to what my hunch is? To be honest, Mother? I don't know. I just have a bad feeling."
"You spend what little time of peace you have constantly pushing yourself?" Ursa asked him and he quietly nodded. She never knew her son was so fully against the war efforts, perhaps one of the few in the Fire Nation who was. Even she in some capacity supports it as her brother-in-law is out there. Maybe it has something to do with the book Samidare. Honestly, though, she was thankful that her son was honest with her, she's had enough deceit to last a lifetime.
It was then that Azula returned, her face covered in sweat and her hair filled with leaves. "Oh look at you, young lady!" Ursa grabs a towel and wipes the sweat off her face.
Azula then turned to Zuko and handed the dagger to him; Ursa could see the reluctance on Azula's part. "Here you go Zuzu, you look like you need it with that sad stare."
"It's nothing, 'Zula. I just have a lot in my mind right now. Oh, and you can keep the dagger." Zuko grabbed Azula's hands and used them to grasp the dagger gently. "It's yours now."
There was a brief pause until Azula gasped in disbelief. "No way. You're just giving this dagger to me? A priceless dagger from an Earth Kingdom Prince?"
"Well, it's now owned by a Fire Nation Princess." Zuko smiled. "In exchange, I get to keep this doll you want to get rid of. You're rather picky with your gifts." He smirked.
"Well they don't impress me and that doll looks plain." Azula rolled her eyes before trying to hide a blush of embarrassment on her face. "Thank you, Zuzu."
Seeing this makes Ursa's heart swell but there was also a small amount of jealousy in her heart, something she hadn't truly felt before. Ursa can't help but think that Zuko might make a better parent than her in the case of Azula. She sat quietly observing them, Azula didn't seem to even notice her presence anymore, acting like Zuko was the only person in the world. She just took a nap on Zuko's shoulder, relaxing with him in a way she didn't do with anyone else.
Ursa loves Azula, she tries to be the best she can be for her, but maybe that isn't enough. Could she really be a bad parent to Azula?
... and done! After so many months of writer's block I'm finally done with this chapter! First, I would like to apologize for the delay as writer's block happened and playing a bunch of games took my time. Even as I tried many ideas I can't put it in words, it is only on August when those ideas bear fruit and I can finally write again and another week for the beta reader. So again, I deeply apologize for the delay.
Currently I'm just playing New Vegas and damn that game, fucking amazing.
Also, from what I've learned on Emperor of Tamriel and how I handled that story, I will go with quality rather than quantity as I don't want you guys to read yes frequently but the quality begins to dip. And I don't want to repeat that again.
Again, if you have any ideas regarding this story or there is something you want to discuss with me, please, don't be afraid to reach out on the reviews or pms wether it's something you like or don't like about the story! I'm open to any kind of criticism except flames which obviously do no good.
So what do you think of this new chapter guys? If you have any suggestions, constructive criticism, or kind words, please I urge you to leave a review! It helps and motivates me to write another chapter of this story. If you have any criticism please also reach out to me or leave a review as it helps me improve as a writer! Any flames are unwelcome.