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Come Marching Home

Title: Come Marching Home
Prompt: a soldier (#9 People)
Characters/Pairing: Iroh + Lu Ten, Ozai
Warnings:none, pre-show
Summary: “I’m going with you.”

“Do you have to go?”

Iroh paused in putting his armor on and turned to his young son. “Yes, I do.”

Lu Ten frowned and held onto his father’s sword. The scabbard was heavy and it dragged on the floor, but he kept the hilt from scraping on the tiles. “Will you be gone long again?” The last time his father had left, he had been away for almost a year. Aunt Ursa had read many a letter from the front lines to Lu Ten, but it hadn’t been the same as having his father back home beside him.

“I don’t know, my boy. It depends on how fast we can overtake this portion of the coast.” One of the Fire Nation’s strongholds on the edge of the Earth Kingdom had been overcome by revolutionaries, and the Fire Lord was sending out both of his sons to put the rebellion down there and to expand their grasp on the territories elsewhere.

It would have been as easy to simply send Ozai, but their father had taken Iroh aside and requested that he go to keep his younger brother’s line of destruction in check; Ozai had the habit of doing more damage than was necessary and the fertile lands would be valuable for growing crops to feed their people. It wouldn’t do to send colonists to a burnt wasteland.

“Then I’m going with you.” Iroh watched as Lu Ten’s chin tipped up and his eyes took on a stubborn glint. “I’m old enough; I can be a soldier too.” As if to prove his point, Lu Ten tried to pick the sword he was holding up higher. His arms shook with the strain, but he kept it upright.

Iroh’s eyes softened. “And one day,” he said, fastening the last clasp on his armor, “you will join me on the battlefield.”

Lu Ten’s eyes fell. “But today isn’t the day.”

Iroh plucked his sword from his son’s hands and strapped it to his side. “No, it isn’t.” He knelt and took both of his son’s shoulders in his hands. “Where I need you to be is here, at home.” He didn’t know how to explain, but he also needed his son to be the eleven-year-old boy that he was. Once Azulon died and Iroh became Fire Lord – a stage in life that Iroh hoped would happen many, many years down the road – Lu Ten would have to grow up as Prince Lu Ten, heir to the throne. As it had happened to him, his son would have to grow up quickly, spending hours with tutors on proper protocol and procedure to prepare himself for the day he became Fire Lord Lu Ten. There would be little time for playing and games.

Lu Ten nodded. “So I can practice my bending?”

Iroh sighed, grateful that Lu Ten was an agreeable child. “Among other things.” He gathered his son into a hug, his hand cradling the back of Lu Ten’s head, his hair sliding through Iroh’s fingers like silk. “Behave for your aunt, she’s going to need your help with young Zuko.” He looked over his son’s shoulder to see Ozai with his wife and newborn son. He couldn’t make out what his brother was saying, but he kissed Ursa’s cheek before turning to mount one of the two komodo rhinos waiting for them.

“I love you, my boy.” He gave Lu Ten one last hug before joining his brother. Kicking the flank of the komodo rhino, he led the contingent of soldiers out of the main gates.

“I love you too, Father!” Iroh swiveled in his saddle and watched as Lu Ten ran along the path next to them as fast as his legs could carry him. He stopped a little ways past the main gate, his arms waving madly in the air as he waved goodbye.

“Your son needs to learn restraint,” Ozai muttered, his lips curving downward in a frown.

Iroh shook his head. “Just you wait, in a few years your own son will be running along beside him.”

“I should hope not.”

Iroh sighed. And that, he thought as he watched his brother take the lead, is the difference between you and me.

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