For Pei Yi, because I know how much she likes this pairing.

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The next bright bolt
by afrai

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Having acquired an immovable calm his brother would have done well to learn, he was set to be the ideal surrogate parent for Zuko. Zuko's mother had told him bedtime stories and kissed his hurts away. Iroh weathered the storms of puberty and offered Zuko tea at the end of it. He was old, and he had not wasted all his years in war. Perhaps he spoilt Zuko sometimes, but at least he loved him, knowing the way of it better than any other in their wolf-like clan.

Still there were times, even now, when the world turned inside out, so that what had been serenity was the thin ice under which sea monsters thrashed. Faces lost their meaning. Voices became shapeless noise. Every shadow was a lurking horror.

Then Iroh, blurred with sorrow, faltered. If he allowed Zuko to bury his face in his thigh and whisper, stifled and hungry, "Uncle"; if he closed his eyes and lay his hands on the sides of the boy's head where he should have turned him away -- if he perpetrated this most terrible inaction, this worst of betrayals, it was only because doing so meant that he did not see his son in the darkness beneath his eyelids. That twisted, enflamed skin under his fingers served as a reminder, if nothing else could. At no other time would Iroh have believed that one failure could justify another, but they were neither of them the people they used to be. At least he loved him.

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