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Endings and Beginnings

Title: Endings and Beginnings
Author: iceprincessd
Rating: G
Prompt: Colors (#1 gold silk)
Characters/Pairing: Iroh + Lu Ten
Warnings/spoilers: none
Summary: When one door closes, a window slides open.
Author's Note: This has been rolling around my head for a while now. Iroh’s one of my favorite characters in this series, but I haven’t really gotten a handle on how to write him. First in the series for ten_by_ten.

The exact same time that Prince Iroh’s son drew his first wailing breath, his wife quietly sighed her last. Iroh had been there to witness both; his hand clasping his beloved’s, willing her skin to say warm even as her life drained away.

The midwife had warned them that the pregnancy would be difficult early on. Iroh had doted on his wife more than usual, not letting her do hardly anything. She had laughed at him, kissing him sweetly and reassuring him that women had carried children for centuries; that what she was going through wasn’t anything new. She had been so caught up in the joy of it all, taking time to carefully decide every last detail of their soon-to-be-born child’s nursery from the furnishings all the way down to the color and material of the blankets. He had been caught up in her enthusiasm, marveling at how his heart could be full to bursting with the love he held for her and still have room for someone that he hadn’t even set eyes on yet.

Now, eyes dry, Iroh could only stare at the red and wrinkled child the midwife held. Bending down to gently close his wife’s eyes, he kissed her forehead – her hair still damp with sweat and stuck to her skin – and left the room.

The following days were a blur. He remembered people offering condolences, his father telling him that funeral arrangements were taken care of, and the piercing cries of an infant that he no longer wanted being quieted by someone. He spent the better portion of those days curled up in his now too-big bed, the pillow cradled in his arms still smelling like her. When the time came, he woodenly stood and stared as flames licked at the shroud-covered body, smoke stinging his eyes. Surprisingly, no tears fell.

After the third week, the whispers started. The Dragon of the West was now a shell of the man he once was, moving through his life like a ghost. He hardly ate, rarely slept, performed his duties mechanically, and most importantly of all, refused to see his newborn son. A son. He hadn’t looked at him since his birth.

“You’ve mourned for long enough.” His father’s words made Iroh’s head snap up.

“I didn’t know that there was a time limit.”

“Normally, no, but you are not only a man that has lost his wife. You are next in line to rule this nation when I die. That places you in the position where weaknesses are frowned upon.” The words were stern, but his eyes were kind. It was no secret that Fire Lord Azulon favored his eldest son. “Let her go. She would not have wanted you to live like this, to have you die alongside her.”

Iroh walked away and didn’t sleep that night.

The next morning, he stood on a hilltop overlooking the sea. It had been their place, one where they first shyly met in their youth and then later on went to when they wanted to be away from everything and everyone else. The urn in his hands was cold and though it was now empty, it felt strangely heavy. The scent of recently scattered ashes tickled his nose, though he swore it resembled her perfume instead. He set the urn down beneath the tree that had witnessed so many of their moments together, knowing that she would have wanted it there.

“His name is Lu Ten.”

Iroh didn’t turn to see who had come up behind him. Ursa was the girl his younger brother was courting; she and his wife had been close since she came to the palace. “I know his name.” She had picked it, liking the way it sounded.

“And yet you do not see him.” A swish of material sounded as she walked closer to him. His shoulders tensed when he heard the tiny sounds of a baby. “I wish you didn’t hate him so.”

He closed his eyes. “I don’t. I…” He didn’t know how he felt.

Ursa continued. “It’s very sad that this child has not only lost his mother, but his father as well.” She stood beside him now. “He’ll never know her, but you can make certain that he knows you.”

Iroh turned his head, finally looking at the infant wrapped in red and yellow silk. Lu Ten had changed since the last time he had seen him; his skin was pale and smooth instead of red and wrinkled, his head full of dark hair. Ursa gently transferred Lu Ten to his arms, her hands silently showing him how to hold the child. She quietly took several steps back, allowing him his first real moment alone with his son.

His vision blurred. Tears stung as they slipped down his cheeks, the first in many weeks. How he could have ignored this child, this perfect mixture of his love and himself, was beyond him. Pressing trembling lips against Lu Ten’s forehead, he breathed in a new scent: powder, baby, life. It didn’t wash away the comforting jasmine that would forever remind him of her, but it did remind him that there was something here to live for.

There was a saying in the Fire Nation that when one door closed, a window slid open. It was usually saved for military maneuvers that failed only to provide another opportunity of attack, but it came to Iroh just then. Yes, his wife was dead. It wouldn’t ever change the way that he felt about her. She had given him a great gift, and now that this small life had cleared away the layers of grief he had been hiding under, all the wonder and love he had experienced before his birth came rushing back.

He ran a finger over Lu Ten’s cheek, marveling at how soft his skin was. “It’s just you and me now.” Please, let me do this right.

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