It was getting dark now, Zuko hadn’t come out of our room yet. I was getting tired, and was laying on the couch. Iroh was still occasionally rattling off ideas for the tea shop, whether it was the name, decorations, or a menu. I ended up drifting off on the couch, and was awoken to the front door opening.
I rubbed my eyes and sat up, seeing Iroh in the doorway. “Iroh? What is it?” I grumbled.
“Nothing to worry about, just going out with Zuko. Go back to sleep,” he responded, then walked out and shut the door behind him.
I sat there for a moment, not sure what was happening. But if Iroh was with Zuko, then I don’t have to worry about it, Iroh would take care of him. I settled back down on the couch, and tried to go back to sleep. I tossed and turned for a while, but eventually gave up on sleeping more. I got up and decided to practice some of my stances and breathing, I had been slacking off since leaving home.
I assumed my stance, shifting my weight from side to side, gliding my hands with it. I breathed deep and slow, trying to clear my mind. But a face consumed my thoughts, just like it always does. I smiled, his hair had grown so much since we first met. Looking back on our interactions, he has really been up and down a lot. I wonder what he was like when he was with the fire nation, I have never seen him in fire nation clothing or armor. Was he angrier when he was with the fire nation? Would that come back if he was able to go home?
I remembered our interaction a week before, after his fight with Jet. There was so much passion in him that I had never seen before, and the way he spoke to me... I think I’m falling for him. This all happened so quickly, and I feel like I can’t stop myself. Should I tell him how I feel? No, maybe I should keep it to myself, at least until I know more about him and how he acts and reacts to things. But it’s so hard to keep my emotions inside, I have always liked expressing how I feel to others.
I sighed and dropped my stance, and just then, I heard the front door open. I turned around to see Zuko and Iroh coming through the door.
Zuko didn’t look so great, I gave him a weird look as he slumped in the door, dragging his swords behind him. He wasn’t wearing his normal clothes, he was wearing an all-black outfit with brown wraps on his wrists and calves.
“You did the right thing. Letting the avatar’s bison go free,” Iroh said, shutting the door.
“What? What happened?” I asked, still watching Zuko as he didn’t react.
“Prince Zuko tracked down the bison and instead of capturing it for himself, he set it free.”
“Really? Wow that’s great I –”
Zuko cut me off, “I don’t feel right.” He waivered, touching his forehead.
“What do you mean?” I asked, going over to where he was standing next to the door to the room.
He tried to reach out to a small table next to him, and then collapsed with a grunt.
“Zuko!” Iroh and I yelled, rushing over to him.
I touched his forehead. “He’s burning up,” I said worriedly. We dragged him inside our room and onto the mat. As Iroh took off his shirt, I grabbed the blanket from the mat and placed it over him. Iroh grabbed a bucket of water and some rags, dipping them into the water.
Zuko’s forehead was covered in sweat, he rolled onto his back and groaned. I could see on his face that he was in pain.
“You’re burning up,” Iroh told him, “You have an intense fever. This will help cool you down.” He placed the rag on his forehead.
“So thirsty,” Zuko barely got out, opening his eyes and starting to sit up.
“No, stay down Zuko,” I say as Iroh and I gently push him back down.
“Here is some clean water to drink,” Iroh grabbed a different bucket that was off to the side, “Stay under the blankets and sweat this out.” Iroh lifted Zuko’s head and held a ladel of water to his mouth for him to drink.
Zuko grabbed it and tilted it upward, then threw it to the side and grabbed the bucket. He pulled it towards him and then dumped it into his mouth, spilling water all over the floor. He then threw the bucket against the wall on the other side of the room and laid back down.
Iroh and I exchanged a concerned look as Zuko coughed lightly. Iroh covered Zuko with the blanket again, and I pulled up the water from the floor.
“Let me try to heal him Iroh, please,” I pleaded, placing a hand on Zuko.
“No Mara, this is something he needs to work through himself.”
“What is wrong with him?” I asked Iroh quietly.
“His inner selves are battling each other, the good, and the bad.”
I creased my eyebrows and looked at him worriedly. I knew what that meant. Whatever side of him won would take over, and that would be who he fully became.
Iroh made a pot of tea and poured a cup as Zuko groaned and shifted again.
“You should know this is not a natural sickness,” he told him, “But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying tea.” Iroh brought his head up once more and held the cup to his lips.
Zuko took a sip, I could see on his face that he didn’t understand. “What, what’s happening?”
“Your critical decision, what you did beneath that lake, it was in such conflict with your image of yourself, that you are now at war within your own mind and body,” Iroh gave him more tea.
“What’s that mean?” Zuko asked, and then started coughing. I could hear his confusion in his voice.
Iroh brought him back down on the floor and said, “You are going through a metamorphosis, my nephew. It will not be a pleasant experience.” He shook his head. “But when you come out of it, you will be the beautiful prince you were always meant to be.”
Iroh handed me the cool rag since Zuko was now turned towards me. I dabbed his forehead with it and said, “Wow Zuko, one good choice sent you into an existential crisis, look at you go.” I smiled at him, trying to sound and look positive. But the truth is, I’m worried about him.
Iroh decided that he would meditate while I tended to Zuko. After a while, Zuko started to stir more often, and groaned. He rolled onto his back, I could tell something was happening. He was sweating more, and his eyebrows were tightly knit together.
All of a sudden he yelled and shot up into a sitting position, scaring the crap out of me.
“Zuko! Are you alright? What is it?” I said quickly, touching his arm.
He sighed and sat there for a moment, and then brought up his hand and touched his scar.
“It’s going to be okay Zuko, you’ll make it through this,” I said, glancing at Iroh who was completely unphased.
Zuko looked at me gratefully and then laid back down. I pulled the blanket over him again and dabbed his forehead. I started humming a song that Osana used to sing to me as a child when I was scared or sick. This got Iroh’s attention, and he opened his eyes, listening.
“That is beautiful, what is it?” he asked me.
I smiled, “It’s a song that was sung to me when I was little when I was sick. It’s been a while since I’ve heard it, but it still comes into my mind sometimes.”
“Why don’t you sing it for us?” Iroh asked, grinning.
“Oh, I don’t know...”
Zuko groaned again, his eyebrows tightly knitted together. I sighed and cleared my throat.
“I know it’s all you’ve got to just be strong
And it’s a fight just to keep it together, together
I know you think that you are too far gone
But hope is never lost, hope is never lost
Hold on, don’t let go
Just take one step closer
Put one foot in front of the other
You’ll get through this
Just follow the light in the darkness
You’re gonna be okay,”
I sang quietly, as Iroh rocked back and forth slowly to the rhythm. I smiled and rang out the cloth to cool it down again.
“You have a beautiful voice Mara,” Iroh complimented, smiling.
I blushed, looking at the ground. I stifled a yawn, it was getting late.
“You should get some rest. I’m sure he will be fine.”
I nodded and laid down on the floor next to Zuko. “I’ll stay here, just in case. If anything happens I’ll let you know,” I told Iroh.
I heard him chuckle to himself as I drifted off, and felt a warm blanket cover me, then the door closing.
Light flooding through the window and the smell of tea brought me out of my sleep. I yawned and sat up. Zuko was still sleeping, so I grabbed the rag out of the bucket of water, rung it out, and placed it on his forehead.
I got up and walked out of the room, closing the door gently as to not wake him up. Iroh was in the kitchen making tea.
“Good morning Mara, would you like some tea?” Iroh greeted me with a smile.
I smiled back, “Sure, that would be nice.”
He poured me a cup and handed it to me. “Zuko seems to be doing better this morning,” he said.
“That’s a good sign,” I smiled, “He’s still sleeping.”
“Good he needs his rest. We will be moving to our new apartment this afternoon.” He grinned widely.
I smiled encouragingly, “That’s great, I bet you’re excited.”
He nodded in agreement. We both turned to the room when we heard rustling. I creased my eyebrows and walked over, opening the door. Zuko had just shifted positions. I stood in the doorway watching him.
Iroh’s voice behind me made me jump, “I can see now, by the way you look at him that you care for him. I haven’t seen that in a while,”
I blushed and turned to him, “Yes, I do care for Zuko. But I am finding that is not as easy as it once was.” I sighed.
Iroh chuckled, “Ah yes, my nephew can be a difficult one. That is why I appreciate you sticking with it.”
I laughed lightly, “Well, he was in a different place when we met. Not as difficult as he is now.”
Iroh laughed as well, “I would have loved to see that.”
My smiled faded, thinking of how he was back then. “The first time I ever saw him angry was when we clashed with Azula, and that was a few weeks after we met.”
Iroh nodded in understanding, “A family bond is strong, whether it is a good bond or a bad one. Hopefully one day, he will not be affected by those bonds any longer.”
I looked back at Zuko, he was still lightly sweating, his face was more relaxed than last night, but still showing pain. I wish I could take it all away, but like Iroh said, this is something he has to work through on his own.