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She is already seated at the table, bound in a straight-jacket to her wheeled chair and wearing a metal mask over her nose and mouth, when he is shown into the room. There is a chair for him, but he does not sit down immediately. Instead, he smiles. “Hello, Princess Azula. May I join you?”

Her eyes flash at him murderously, brows crease dangerously downward.

“I see that you cannot speak,” says Iroh. “But you can still move you head, can you not? I will respect your wishes.”

She raises her eyebrows ever so slightly now, then looks at him for a moment, considering. He looks back, smiling patiently. Finally, she rewards him with a single regal nod, as she had grown accustomed in the preceding months.

“Thank you.” He sits down across from her, produces a tea set from his bag. “Would you like some tea?”

Again, she raises her eyebrows at him.

He understands why, and looks down. “I did not realize that you would be restrained in this way. But luckily I have a straw in this set! I believe between the two of us, we can think of something…”

She rolls her eyes, like she’s bored, like she cannot believe her visitor’s nonsense. But she nods again.

“Excellent. I think you will enjoy this, Princess Azula. It is a Ginseng blend, one of my favorites…”

Once it has steeped and he has poured two porcelain cups, he moves his chair to beside where his niece sits. After placing a straw in one of the cups, Iroh lifts it close to where he knows his niece’s mouth sits beneath the muzzle, where there are several small holes for air—and just the right size for straw. “Princess Azula, if you can manage to part your mouth slightly…” After two attempts, she does and manages to wrap her lips around the straw once Iroh has gotten it through the mask.

He holds the cup up for her as she sips. “I hope you like it.”

They sit silently, awkwardly, Iroh thinks, and not only because she cannot respond. He does not know what to say to her, has never known what to say to her. When he came back from the siege, he saw his son everywhere, in every one of his men, every man he slaughtered, in every one who walked around the court, and he knew how to love them, as he had loved his son. But he had never had a daughter.

And he does not think he ever really knew her at all, before, more than by name. (For Agni’s sake, he had sent her a doll from Ba Sing Se, thinking that she would like it, because young girls like dolls, do they not? Never mind that he had agonized over Zuko’s gift, sent him something meaningful and historic from the front, with wisdom on it appropriate for him, specifically...he sent his niece a doll because young girls like dolls.)

And when he saw her for the first time after, saw her trying to manipulate Zuko into offering himself up as prisoner, and then giving hot pursuit when that failed, he thought only she’s crazy, and she needs to go down, because he thought of Zuko, saw that Zuko needed him, especially then.

It is only now that Iroh realizes that she did too. That she still does.

And he does not have the right words to say to her, not yet. But he will keep coming back until he does, and after.

When she has finished the tea, he places the cup back on the table and removes the straw from her mouth. Iroh looks at his niece, tries to think of something to say. He can’t.

So he rises, gathers his tea set. “It was good to see you, Princess Azula. I will return soon.”


As he leaves, he finds the head doctor, asks whether it is quite necessary for her to be muzzled.

“Well, sir,” responds the man. “She can breathe fire and is highly unstable. So, if she’s not on her own in her room...for your own safety…”

“You forget that I too can breathe fire. I am perfectly capable of protecting myself.”

“Of course sir, but—”

“I would like her to please be unmuzzled the next time I visit.”

“Next time, sir?”

“Yes.”

“But the Fire Lord himself has only—”

“My nephew has many demands on his time. I, however, am retired.”

The doctor gapes at him for a moment, before bowing his head. “Of course, sir.”


Sure enough, the next time he is shown into the room, the following week, she is there, still bound to her chair, still in her straight-jacket, but this time, her face is free.

“Well, if it isn’t the great General Iroh,” she spits. “Liberator of Ba Sing Se, come again to honor me with his presence. What’s wrong? Fire Lord Zu-Zu too busy for you today?”

“Hello, Princess Azula. May I join you?”

“Why even bother asking? It’s not like I have a choice.”

“But you do. One should always have a say in who visits one’s home.”

“This isn’t my home!”

Iroh sighs. It’s a fair point that she has made. “Nonetheless, I will respect your wishes. I will leave, if that is what you desire.”

Her eyes flash with something other than fury for the briefest instant, but then they are back to their typical cold and aloof. “Oh, very well,” she says as though she couldn’t care any less. “Go on, sit down.”

“Thank you.” He pulls out the chair and sits. “Tea?”

“Do you ever think of anything else?”

“I do enjoy it.”

“Yes, well, I don’t like having things forced down my throat.”

“You do not have to drink it.”

“Yes, but even if I want it, you fool, I’m tied up. You’d have to pour it into my mouth like I’m an invalid. I have no control.”

“I see your point,” says Iroh, stroking his beard. “Perhaps if I brewed us each a cup and put yours in yours in front of you, we could leave it there until you want a sip. You could tell me, and then I will lift it to you and put it back down.”

“Fine.”

So he lights lights the teapot, lets it steep. Azula’s eyes follow his hands as he pours.

“This looks different than the last one.”

“It is; this is a green tea blend that I discovered in Ba Sing Se!”

“It seems like you were actually happy there.”

“Yes,” says Iroh, moving his seat closer to hers. “I was. Would you like a sip of tea now?”

She nods, and Iroh brings one of the cups to her lips and gently tilts. When she pulls her head back, he places the cup back on the table in front of her, and takes a sip of his own.

“If you were so happy there,” she asks in a voice dripping with implied criticism. “Why don’t you just go back? Now that they’re free again…”

“I plan to. But I wanted to be here for a few months, to support my family.”

“You mean to support Zuko.

Iroh looks at her intently for a moment. “Not exclusively.”

Her eyes widen manically, she blinks. “More tea.”

“Of course.” Iroh complies, lifting the cup for and replacing it when she is done.

“Would you have done the same if I had become Fire Lord?”

“Princess Azula, if you had become Fire Lord, I am not sure it would have been safe for me to return. I am not sure I would still be alive.”

“Yes, well, you are a traitor.”

“I disagree.”

“You betrayed the Fire Nation!”

“I believe I acted in the best interests of the Fire Nation and her people. But we do not need to talk of such things.”

She opens her mouth like she wants to say more, but at the last moment seems to change her mind. Instead she says only: “More tea.”

Iroh nods, again lifts the cup for her, lets her drink.

“Speaking of betrayals,” says Azula once the cup has moved from her mouth. “Zuko betrayed you.

“Yes, he did.”

“After you voluntarily went into banishment with him and stood by him for over three years, he betrayed you!”

“Yes.”

“He let you rot in prison for months!”

“You are correct.”

“That didn’t disappoint you?”

“It did more than disappoint me. I was devastated.”

Her eyes are wide again, almost bulging. “And...and you didn’t...you still...are here with him?! You still want to help him?!”

“Of course I do.”

Why?!”

“Because I love him like my own son.”

“But he betrayed you! He disappointed you!”

His forehead creases, and he looks directly into her eyes. When he speaks, it is softly, his voice hardly louder than a whisper. “Love is not conditional, Princess Azula.”

And then it happens quickly, so quickly that Iroh has time to shield his face with his hands, but not to fully block: Azula lets out a wail, guttural and pained, and her breath is firey, blue and hot, the light it spills onto her face reflecting in the tears that suddenly pour down from her eyes. When Iroh does realize what is happening, he swiftly bends the fire away from his face, backs away from the blast radius.

“It is alright, Princess Azula,” he reassures her, despite himself. “There is no shame in this. Take as long as you need to.”

She continues. Her cheeks are red and wet, the air around her is loud and blue, and Iroh does not know what to say.

He continues to try to sooth her, speaking loudly so as to be heard over her wail. “It is alright. There no shame in this. No shame…”

And finally, after nearly a quarter hour, when she finally starts to calm, when pants replace the wailing and small puffs of smoke replace the flames, the realization of what Iroh has to say dawns on him like the sun.

He approaches her slowly, kneels down in front of her, places his hand gently on her knees. “I should have showed you that love is not conditional, Princess Azula. I should have been better. I am sorry.”

She looks up at him, then down at his hands. When she speaks, her voice is quiet. “I burned you.”

Iroh looks down, and sure enough there are blisters forming from the blotchy red skin on his palms; he hadn’t noticed. “It is not the first time, and it will not be the last. Shall I heat up your tea?”

“But I burned you.”

“I know, it is alright”

“But you’re…”

“Not conditional, Princess Azula.”

“No, but there has to...I have to be...there has to be some kind of punishment!” She squirms, only to find that the straight jacket keeps her contained, throws her head back as if in an attempt to bang it against something. Then she sees her hair hanging, swings her head forward so that it is in front of her mouth, inhales…

“No.” And this time, Iroh sees what she is going to do before she does it, throws his hand over her mouth to quell the flames that she is about to use to ignite the hair. “You do not need to be punished, Princess Azula.”

Her eyes widen, she inhales through the gaps in Iroh's fingers, exhales.

He repeats himself: “You do not need to be punished.”

Another breath.

“You do not need to be punished.”

It is only when he feels her muscles relax, limpen, under his hand that Iroh removes it. “Shall I heat up your tea, Princess Azula?”

She nods weakly.

He picks up her cup and heats it with a single puff of air from his nostrils. “Would you like a sip?”

She nods again.

He lifts the cup to her lips, lets her drink.

They sit in silence as she finishes her tea, and then continue to do so for several minutes afterward.

“You seem tired, Princess Azula,” Iroh says, finally. “Shall I let you rest?”

She looks at him, eyes more desperate than he has ever seen them, and he understands.

“I will return again tomorrow,” he assures her.


When he walks into the room the next day, his hands are bandaged, but he nonetheless carries his tea set.

“Hello, Princess Azula. May I join you?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“Tea?”

Azula nods.