He’d known it the second that they walked onto the ship and set sail from the Earth Kingdom back toward the Fire Nation, but Iroh has always been one to hope for the best. Now that the worst has happened; now that he knows that it’s all been a trap, that they are to be prisoners, he sets his plan into action.
Of anything that his niece might expect, Iroh supposes this is likely at the bottom of her list. Perhaps that is why it’s so easy to lay his hands on her. Perhaps that is why she seems genuinely shocked and confused as he pulls her tight against himself and sets the blade of his hand aflame, a threat and a warning to the soldiers who have surrounded them.
At his back, Zuko’s breathing is laboured, panicked. He merely hopes that his nephew can keep it together long enough for them to get back on the boat and commandeer it. It’s the only way they’re getting out of this now.
Even this plan is a bad one. Iroh doesn’t assume that they’ll get far, but perhaps having Azula as a captive will be enough to stall his brother. The younger man does not love much, but Iroh suspects that, in his way, he does love his daughter.
He at least loves what she represents. Taking her will make him angry, but it will also force his hand toward caution.
The real trick, Iroh knows, is keeping her contained.
“Do you trust me, Zuko?”
“What — ? Of course Uncle…”
“Then do exactly as I say.”
“You two won’t get away with this,” Azula growls, all teeth. There’s always been something a little feral about the girl hidden beneath her polished façade, and it rears its head at him as she realises the situation she’s unwittingly walked herself into.
She’d been too confident in her victory. Her fatal flaw.
“Perhaps now would be a good time to keep your thoughts to yourself, Princess Azula.”
“Uncle?” Zuko’s palpable panic brings Iroh back to the task at hand.
“You will go to the navigation deck and take control of the ship, taking out the remaining soldiers as you go,” Iroh tells Zuko patiently. “First, however, you will detach the boarding plank from the dock once I have come up onto the deck with your sister. I will deal with those left on the deck.”
“Okay…” Zuko still sounds panicked, but there is control there. He is coming around from his shock, and Iroh is thankful that it has not taken him all that long.
He is crushingly used to having his expectations disappointed. Iroh will try to do better for him.
In the mean time he keeps his vice grip on Azula, ready for resistance, and edges them all up onto the deck of the ship. He gives a fierce look to the men who have come to defend their princess, his own teeth bared.
“You will all jump overboard,” he commands them harshly, “or you will watch as I permanently damage the heir to the throne. Do I make myself entirely clear?”
These are all men who would have jumped to say that they admired Iroh. The men that held him in great esteem for his feats in his youth. They are also the men who agreed to bring him and his nephew back to the Fire Nation to be wrongfully imprisoned by Ozai. Iroh has no love for them, though he does feel the smallest twinge of sympathy for their position.
Better men would have opposed the idea.
“Do not listen to him,” Azula orders then, voice like steel. She sounds like a commander, and she’s only fourteen. She’s only a girl. His heart clenches at the idea. “You will follow your orders and relay him and the disgraced prince to their jail cells, there to await trial for this newest form of treason!”
“Think more deeply about this, Princess Azula,” Iroh suggests, dragging her to the center of the ship’s deck, “you are your father’s only heir. If you die where would that leave him?”
“That’s oddly self sacrificing of you.”
“I’ve always been this self sacrificing.”
“Somehow I doubt that that is the case.”
“What would you know?”
The soldiers still hesitate, and Iroh waits, trying not to hold his breath, anticipating anything.
One by one, they turn and climb to the rail of the ship, jumping overboard.
The boat jerks beneath them. Iroh looks up, sees his nephew through the viewport. They pull away from the shore and Iroh waits with Azula in hand, narrowing his eyes as they slowly leave the Fire Nation main port behind.
“You’re going to regret this, uncle.”