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Jeong Jeong's POV
I saw them hobbling into my camp, the younger of the two men (barely out of boyhood) leaning heavily against the other. His clothes were so badly burnt that they were falling off in places as he limped and his footsteps were heavy, uneven and awkward. Short matted hair framed his weary eyes; his lips were pulled in a tight grimace of pain. The old man supporting him muttered words to the youth that I could not hear but I assumed they were ones of comfort. The old man reminded me of someone that I had forced myself to forget, back when I still fought without a purpose. But it couldn't be him. The man I remembered was a royalty and these two before me were dressed in Earth Kingdom rags. Though he still looked familiar, very familiar, even without the Fire Nation armour and topknot… but I brushed the idea from my mind. No, I decided, it could not possibly be him.
I observed them for a while, concealed in the forest foliage before offering a hand. I usually let people get on their way, whether they were injured or uninjured – I had no place in life to decide who should live and who should pass on. However, I believed that the two had stumbled into my camp because fate wanted me to assist them.
As approached them, I caught the old man's eye recognizing him instantly. I would know that piercing amber gaze anywhere, though now they seemed wiser and more enlightened. It seemed that General Iroh had recognized me as well for his demeanor darkened as he turned to face me. We had never gotten on well in the army. Our ideas were completely contradictory. It was during the Siege of Ba Sing Se when I had escaped the tyranny of the Fire Nation.
I didn't like the General much. Kill one man; you're a murderer. Kill a hundred; you're a serial killer. Kill thousands; you're a war hero. And kill he did. He was ruthless but precise and won battles with chilling ease.
It was soon after we had broken past the first wall of Ba Sing Se when I had left. I couldn't take the madness anymore. Too many people were being mercilessly slaughtered and far too many were civilians. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, they were all massacred in the siege. Every hour saw more lives being lost but the 'great' Dragon of the West was too blind to see.
So that was how I had become known as 'the Deserter.' Because I had done what was right, the Fire Nation had branded me as a coward and a traitor. But I didn't care. Fire was destructive. Soon the Fire Nation would see the error of its ways and would regret that day. The fire that raged inside it would break out. There was no discipline left in the country that I had disowned and the lack of it would be their downfall.
I wanted to demand that Iroh and the adolescence should leave at once but the young man gave a groan of pain as his knees gave out beneath him. Iroh was kneeling by his side a split second later, the threat of my presence seemingly to be forgotten. This was not the same General that I known. He had changed and clearly for the better. The old warlord would never have let his guard down.
I offered that they come into my shelter. Night was falling rapidly and the temperature dropped steadily with it. Iroh accepted graciously and dragged the teenager in.
My hut was dark; the shadows only punctured by a dozen tiny candles. I despised my element. Fire was the element of destruction and greed. I hated how I was cursed with its burden. It took much discipline for me to master the flame and control it's every movements.
Iroh and I sat it silence; his comrade's rhythmic breathing as he slept was the only sound. I didn't ask the young man's identity. It wasn't my place.
After a while, Iroh broke the tranquility speaking of small insignificant things until finally he landed on the failed Siege of Ba Sing Se.
"You know, after you left, your army fell into chaos. It was easy for the Earth Kingdom defenses to tear us apart."
Iroh spoke it like a statement in a calm and carefully controlled voice but I could feel his inner flame was tainted with accusatory. I didn't regret my actions though. Ba Sing Se and the Avatar was the only force strong enough to stand against the hungry power of the Fire Nation.
"Many of my men died, my son Luten among them."
His voice cracked as he mentioned his son but still I felt no guilt. I didn't think he wanted me to feel any either. He was just filling me in on what had happened.
"Fire is a destructive element. We must learn to bare its blight," I replied. "That is why I have dedicated the entirety of my life to controlling the flame."
"There is more to fire than just that, you know. Fire is an element of creativity. Without it, the Fire Nation would have never have made such tremendous technological advances."
"Advances in weaponry," I cut in.
He ignored my comment and carried on speaking.
"Fire is also the element of light, guidance and warmth."
"And rage, hate and greed."
"My point is that fire has many sides. You should not be so quick to condemn it."
I scoffed. I've had over half a century to learn its horrific truth. Obviously he had been fed too much propaganda to see the wrath of the flames. He should learn to see reason before he tore himself to shreds.
Iroh let out a long exaggerated sigh.
"Men only see what they want to see. You are no different." And with that, he lay down beside the young man and promptly fell asleep.
I spent the rest of the night meditating, strengthening my hold on my internal fire. I had developed a complicated breathing pattern to enhance my control and it was a skill that had taken years to adapt and needed much concentration. My focus was interrupted when the teenager began to stir and regained consciousness. I ignored him but his impertinent voice drew me out of centre. He demanded to know who I was and why he was in my shelter. I gave him a short explanation keeping my eyes closed and paying minimal attention to him. He accepted my answer, scowling though. I had only just fallen back into my trance when he disturbed me again asking what I was doing in a most disrespectful manner.
"You are too weak to understand," I snapped, finally opening my eyes and shooting him an irritated glare. He was testing my patience.
He outwardly bristled as I called him weak. His flame coloured eyes narrowed and his posture stiffening despite whatever injuries he had. I could feel the sparks of his inner fire spitting angrily. This youth clearly had no control over his element.
"I am not weak," he hissed, the temperature of the room raising considerably a long with his temper.
"You can barely contain your own element. Fire is destructive," I repeated for the second time in less than four hours, "Without a proper hold, it with be your own demise. Firebending is like holding a ravaging beast by the ears. You cannot tame it or it will throw you off and kill you. You must have complete and total control of its power; it will never be a friend or a pet. I can see that you have already been scarred by your own element. Fire is so erratic that it will burn even its master if not under proper restraint," I said sagely casting a calculating look at the numerous burns that adorn his body. An ugly scar that tattooed his face was highlighted in the firelight. The old wound looked angry and raw standing out far more that it normally would in the sun. It was a clear testimony of an uncontrolled flame.
The man growled furiously. He couldn't see how feral his element had made him. Irate sparks gathered at his fists and his aura was filled with pure rage. I watched calmly as he struggled to cool himself and smoother his anger. Once it subsided he threw a smoldering look at me.
I could feel his own self-doubts by the way the inferno inside him flashed uncertainly as it raged. The man was lost and injured. The burden of fire was ripping him apart.
"You do not even know who you are," I continued.
The wildfire in his eyes blazed even more intently but this time no flames licked his wrist. He was compressing it all inside building up the firestorm.
"At least I'm not afraid of what I am. At least I'm not hiding like some hermit like you. That's why you constantly try to imprison your fire," the man snarled.
"I will not surrender myself to the power of fire. I am its master. Not the other way around. Fate has planted the seeds of pain on us firebenders because she wants us to control it."
"I won't let some bitch named fate control my life. I follow my own destiny."
"A fish must follow the river whether he likes it or not. All that he knows is that wherever it takes him is not his choice and even though he follows where it flows, he cannot see the end."
"I'm not a fish. Don't compare me to one."
His temper erupted once again causing the room the heat up further and my candles to flare. I sighed at his arrogance. He was just another naïve firebender, too proud to admit he was only human.
"Learn to control you element or risk your own demise," I warned him.
"What are you talking about? You speak about controlling fire but you say you can't tame it. You want to restrain an element that has a life of its own." The candles around me seemed to dance more wildly as the man spoke. It was like they agreed with him. My hold over them seemed to be weakening.
"My uncle once told me," he continued, "that an acorn can't grow in the shadow of the oak. You can't subdue the fire that is apart of you. You're too afraid to admit you're scared of your own element so you seek total dominance. You're just some old coward who's afraid of his own shadow."
Something inside me snapped.
"Get out," I roar, waking Iroh who had managed to sleep through all the commotion.
I had no desire to speak such an ill-mannered youth. Iroh and the young firebender departed into the rising sun, the youth still limping heavily.
I returned back to my meditating but my thoughts were disturbed by the young man's flaming eyes and fierce words that had burnt a hole in my mind. I let the flames have free reign watching them glimmer, twist and curl reflecting my turmoil of emotions.
I hope Iroh, Zuko and Jeong Jeong weren't too OOC. I just wanted to try writing some one-shot where Zuko doesn't angst too much and know-one dies. (Luten doesn't count). That and I wanted to get the point about Jeong Jeong being afraid of fire across.
I've always wanted to do a story or one-shot where Jeong Jeong and Zuko meet. And when I re-watched the Deserter and saw Jeong Jeong telling Aang that he was weak, I could just image Zuko's reaction if Jeong Jeong was telling him the same thing. But then I had the trouble of how to make the two meet because Zuko wouldn't just stop and say 'hi' and Jeong Jeong wouldn't invite him in for a cup of tea so I had to throw Iroh in too. But there have been the stories where Iroh and Jeong Jeong like each other so I thought I'd be different and make them dislike each other since there was no canon evidence that they were friends. While I was thinking of how Iroh and Jeong Jeong would react I thought – what if Jeong Jeong deserted at the Siege of Ba Sing Se? That would weaken the Fire Nation army and along with Luten dying, it might have pushed Iroh back all together!
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