I had spent all morning helping Pao set up his new area for his plants and herbs. We planted some seeds, and watered them, and I talked to him about when to water and stuff like that. I hadn’t really talked to Zuko much, I was waiting for him to come to me first.
After not much longer of waiting, he did. “Uh, Mara?” his raspy voice behind me put a twinge in my stomach.
I turned around to look at him, “Yes?”
“I just wanted to apologize for last night,” he hung his head, “My uncle convinced me that it was a good idea and I –” he sighed. “I don’t know why I agreed to go along with it.”
I thought for a moment, he did have a habit of not thinking things through. “Thank you for coming to me. It means a lot. I understand that people make mistakes, but know that you are meant to learn from them. I won’t as easily forgive you if you do it again.”
What the heck is wrong with me? I shouldn’t be letting him off this easily! But then he looked at me, with those beautiful amber eyes... Ugh dammit.
He smiled at me, making everything melt away. I smiled back at him, and tucked a stray hair behind my ear.
“Oh, I almost forgot, I picked up something for you from the market this morning,” he ran off somewhere and then came back with a small thing of flowers.
“Oh, they’re so beautiful!” I gasped, going up to him and smelling the white and blue flowers.
“I’m so glad you like them, I had the shop lady help me pick them out,” he smiled, handing them to me. I smiled at him and tried to contain my joy.
“Mara! Mara, come look!” I heard Pao yelling from the back of the shop.
“Coming!” I called back, setting my tea down and going to where his voice came from.
“Oh, Mara! Look!” Pao rushed me over to our plant area, and motioned excitedly to it.
Barely sticking out of the soil were little green stems with tiny leaves starting to form. I smiled, “Pao that’s wonderful! You are doing such a good job, I barely have to help you.” I nudged him.
“What’s going on?” Zuko came around the corner with a tray of cups, looking somewhat confused. His hair had grown, it was now on his forehead, almost reaching his eyebrows.
I laughed lightly, “Pao was just showing me that we have some baby plants coming up out of the soil.”
“Oh, uh, nice.” Zuko obviously wasn’t sure how to react.
“Nice? It’s amazing! Growing right before our eyes!” Pao was very excited.
Zuko raised an eyebrow at me and I laughed quietly.
A little while later, a few men came in, two guards and one man that was dressed a lot differently than everyone else, making us think that he isn’t from around here.
Iroh poured them tea, and then started to walk back over towards us.
The men stood after taking a sip, and the one with fancy clothes said, “So you’re the genius behind this incredible brew. The whole city is buzzing about you.”
Iroh turned around.
“I hope Pao pays you well,” the man continued.
“Good tea is its own reward,” Iroh smiled.
“But it doesn’t have to be the only reward. How would you like to have your own tea shop?” The man said.
I gave Zuko a questioning look.
“My own tea shop?” Iroh sounded shocked. “This is a dream come true!”
This caught the attention of Pao, and he ran over. “What’s going on here?” he stood in front of Iroh protectively, “Are you trying to poach my teamaker?”
“Sorry Pao, but that’s business for you, am I right?” the man laughed.
Pao didn’t give up though, “Mushi, if you stay, I’ll make you assistant manager. Wait, senior assistant manager.”
“What’s the difference?” Zuko asked me quietly.
I shrugged at him, I had no idea.
“I’ll provide you with a new apartment in the upper ring. The tea shop is yours to do whatever you want, complete creative freedom.”
Zuko started clearing a table next to us, but still listening to the conversation.
“I even get to name the shop?” Iroh asked.
“Uh, senior executive assistant manager?” Pao offered.
Okay, now he’s just putting a bunch of words together. Iroh handed the teapot that he had been holding to Pao and bowed to the man, accepting the offer. Pao groaned and walked away.
Zuko started to pass the group, and Iroh called, “Did you hear nephew? This man wants to give us our own tea shop in the upper ring of the city.”
“That’s right young man, your life is about to change for the better.” The man added.
Without turning around, Zuko responded, “I’ll try to contain my joy.” He slammed the tray down on a table and walked out of the shop.
Iroh gave me a questioning look, and I shrugged my shoulders, going over to him.
“Just give him some time. He’ll warm up,” I told Iroh.
We cleaned up a bit, and Iroh was ready to go. He wanted to start packing since the man wanted to move us as soon as possible.
“I’ll come visit and check in on the plants, I promise,” I told Pao as we were about to walk out of the shop.
He nodded at me and smiled, “I hope so.”
“As long as if you keep doing what I told you, you will do just fine,” I smiled back.
Iroh and I walked out of the shop. Zuko hadn’t come back since he stormed out earlier, I hope he’s okay.
“Have you seen Zuko?” I asked Iroh as we walked down the street.
“No, I haven’t. I’m sure he’s back at the apartment.”
He was not at the apartment.
“Maybe we should go look for him?” I suggested, starting to get worried.
“Mara, I’m sure he’s fine. Don’t worry about him.”
I sighed and slumped down on the couch. Iroh was packing his things, and trying to come up with names for his new tea shop. Some of them were pretty good, but others... not so great.
“What do you think of the Jasmine Dragon?” he asked, breaking the silence.
“Oh I like that one, that’s up there on the list.”
Iroh grinned at me, “Aren’t you going to pack your stuff?”
“I already did, I don’t have much.”
“Ah, I see,” he thought for a moment, “Sometimes, my nephew can be a pain, and he doesn’t always understand things the way that he should, but I believe that with time, he will let go of his old self and become who he was destined to be.”
I sat up, “Who do you think he is destined to be?”
Iroh laughed lightly, “I have seen good in him, but he has had problems finding the right path. I hope that here he will be able to find that good in him and recognize that is who he is meant to be.”
I nodded, “When we first met, he was different. He seemed caring, quiet, determined. But after that fight with Azula when we found you, that part of him got pushed to the side. I’ve noticed that since then, he’s been more angry, irritated, and almost... explosive,” I sighed. Iroh was nodding sadly, he must know what I am talking about. “I just wish the other Zuko would come back.”
“He will. It’ll just take some time.”
After a while, the front door opened, and Zuko stepped in.
“Ah prince Zuko, there you are,” Iroh started. Zuko looked at me, and I smiled at him. He didn’t smile back. “So I was thinking about names for my new tea shop.” Iroh continued, “How about the Jasmine Dragon? Mara likes it.”
I nodded in agreement. Zuko didn’t seem like he was listening, and he started to pull something out of his vest.
“It’s dramatic, poetic, has a nice ring to it,” Iroh said, as Zuko brought up a piece of paper to show him.
“The avatar is here in Ba Sing Se. And he’s lost his Bison.” Zuko’s voice sounded cold and distant.
I stood up and walked over to Iroh to look at the paper.
“We have a chance for a new life here. If you start stirring up trouble, we could lose all the good things that are happening for us,” Iroh said, handing me the paper.
Zuko was standing in front of the window, looking out. “Good things that are happening for you,” he turned around quickly. “Have you ever thought that I want more from life than a nice apartment and a job serving tea?”
“Some people long for that life,” I said quietly.
“There is nothing wrong with a life of peace and prosperity. I suggest you think about what it is that you want from your life, and why.”
“I want my destiny,” Zuko turned back to the window.
“What that means is up to you,” Iroh responded.
I sighed, here we go again. Now that the avatar is back in his mind, we’re losing him again. “Zuko, I know you are used to palaces and servants and all of that fancy stuff. But this here is a good life, one that many people long for. Safe, away from the war. I know you may not like it, but the avatar gives a lot of people hope for a better future, just like you hope for something more in your life.”
Zuko glared at me, and stalked off towards our room. I sighed and sat back down on the couch.
“The Tea Weevil!” Iroh exclaimed suddenly. “No, that’s stupid,” he shook his head.
I laughed to myself. What is so wrong with this life that Zuko sees?