Brewed with Love
Outside Zuko's window in the Western Air Temple, the setting sun sank into the earth and bathed everything in a bloody red. Shadows reached forward in long tainted black tentacles. It was the last day before they tried to invade the Fire Nation again. And Zuko could not help but wonder if it would be his last day alive too.
Zuko reached gingerly for his uncle's arm. He knew he should tell Uncle that he was sorry for… well, pretty much everything. He knew he should tell Uncle that he was proud to be a member of his family, that he considered him as a real father and that he l… lov… um… cared for him. But it felt far too awkward for Zuko to say that dreaded 'l' word.
Uncle looked at him inquiringly and Zuko snatched his hand back in embarrassment failing to mask his action as a flamboyant way to rub his nose. Zuko felt his mouth open stupidly and gabbled the first thing that came into his mind.
"Would you like some tea?"
Iroh's questioning look was replaced by a jubilant grin.
"Of course Prince Zuko," Iroh replied, his eyes lighting up at the very thought of the holy beverage.
"There's some ginseng leaves and two cups in my bag."
Iroh rushed over to Zuko's bag that lay in a tangled heap on the bed. Inside he fished out a pouch of tea leaves enough to serve two portions. He rummaged further, looking for the cups and was deeply touched by what he saw. Sneaking a quick glance back at his nephew who was gazing out of the window to make sure he didn't see what Iroh was looking at.
Iroh gently pulled out a portrait of himself and ran a weathered hand over the canvas. The picture was faded and worn but the sentiment held in it was still present. He smiled to himself. He knew that Zuko cared for him and sought him for guidance and acceptance but it pleasantly surprised him that Zuko would have taken a picture of him on his journeys. He could feel his eyes prickling with an uncomfortable heat. He placed the portrait back inside and took out the cups handing them and the tea to Zuko without making proper eye contact. He didn't want Zuko to see him break down like a senile old man over some picture.
Zuko filled the cups with water that splashed into the cup making a happy gurgling sound, warmed them one at a time in his hands, and added the tealeaves. He passed a cup to Iroh hoping that the tea was passable. Iroh looked at him with an utterly shocked expression and squawked at him, "What are you doing?"
Zuko cringed at his Uncle's sudden outburst almost dropping both cups in the process.
"You cannot just make tea like that! The water isn't hot enough," Iroh continued. "You must tenderly bring it to boil under a constant heat to bring out the flavour and then let it cool again for the flavour to condense."
Zuko was extremely tempted to just tip the tea on his uncle's head and to snap at him for being such a pain for complicating something as simple as tea. Nevertheless, Zuko bit his tongue, took back the cup, and heated it gently until it was bubbling merrily.
"Do you smell that, Zuko?" Iroh said with his eyes half closed in pleasure as he wafted the steam from the up towards him with a lazy hand. "That, my nephew, is the glorious smell of life."
Zuko's eyebrows knitted together in concentration as he sniffed in vain for the 'glorious smell of life'. He couldn't smell anything except something that was faintly sweet that also seemed to be fogging up his brain. Wrinkling his nose, he shook the sensation from his head quickly. This was why he disliked tea, especially ginseng.
"Now cool it," Iroh advised.
Iroh watched as Zuko focused on bringing back down the temperature drawing away the heat. He could see the amount of effort Zuko was putting in to control the temperature. His brow was furrowed and his shoulders were taut with concentration.
"Relax, Zuko. Tea is meant to calm the mind, not to make one tense."
"I'm not tense." Zuko ground out through gritted teeth and Iroh couldn't help but quietly laugh at the irony.
However, Zuko's shoulders slackened noticeably and his jaw wasn't clenched quite as tightly though his eyes was still strained on the liquid with as much intensity as before.
Steam spiraled and danced into the air and the smell of ginseng became even stronger, much to Iroh's joy and Zuko's distaste.
"Now heat it back up," instructed Iroh.
A look of mutiny flashed across Zuko's face. What was the point of heating something up, then cooling it down and then heating it up again? What did Uncle want him to do next, stir it four times to the left, once to the right and repeat whilst tap dancing and singing 'four seasons'?
Muttering crossly, Zuko heated the cup yet again and passed the simmering tea to Iroh who to Zuko's relief accepted beaming. Zuko could not help but smile back.
Iroh brought the tea slowly to his lips inhaling its wonderful aroma. He took a tentative sip and an immense pride flooded him. The tea was near perfection. Its subtle flavours like ecstasy washed over him and its warmth made him feel deliciously fuzzy.
"Excellent, Zuko. You have grasped the concept of the most important ingredient in tea brewing – Love. Love is what makes good tea so special and unique. Love is what makes tea, tea."
Zuko merely raised an eyebrow and managed to turn a skeptic snigger into a cough. He didn't bother to point out that what made tea, tea were the tea leaves.
"I'm just curious though. Why were you carrying tea in your pack? And of all teas, why ginseng?" Iroh asked slyly though he knew what would be his nephew's answer. "I thought you hated the stuff"
"I do. But you don't. And I was carrying it because…" Zuko shifted uncomfortably under Iroh's frustratingly all-knowing gaze and looked away. "Because I wanted to make you … happy. And errr… I wanted to apologise… for everything and stuff. Not that I think tea will correct every wrong that I've done or anything. I just wanted to… you know… because I… um…. you know," Zuko gestured wildly as if he was trying to pull words from the air. "And you like tea so I just wanted to… make a gesture… Because I…Just, just because I felt like it." He finished lamely reddening with every word he said.
Zuko downed his tea trying to hide his embarrassment. He drank too quickly and spluttered, choking. Iroh chuckled slightly at him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Zuko, I love you. And I'm proud of you. I'm proud that you've become the man you are today and that you are my nephew. But I am especially proud that you have learnt to brew tea like a master". Iroh gave Zuko an affectionate shake.
Amber met amber as Zuko made eye contact with his uncle and at that moment, Zuko knew that every sin had been forgiven and from that point on, it was a fresh start.
"Yeah well, family sticks together. We'll stick together" Zuko replied gruffly.
Iroh grinned toothily at his nephew and for the first time, his nephew grinned toothily back.
So after looking at my list of fanfic I realized with great horror that though I call myself a rabid Iroh and Zuko friendship fan, I don't have any full length fluff based one-shots without angst in them. So here is a one-shot with all our Iroh and Zuko fanfic goodness and Zuko just being so adorkably lovable.
Constructive critism helps me grow and will be gratefully recieved ;D