Zuko sighed. It was a rather deep sigh, the one reserved for an especially bad plan. ‘Uncle, this is a terrible idea.’
‘Nonsense, Zuko!’ said Uncle Iroh cheerfully as he packed his best tea set in a box of straw for transit. ‘Bruce Wayne is one of the biggest philanthropists in the city! If we can cater his events, we can make connections...’ Iroh clapped his nephew on the right shoulder, with his characteristic exuberance and the gentleness he only showed his nephew. ‘This is just what we need for our fresh start.’
Zuko said a whispered prayer to Agni before he picked up his personal favourite tea pot, decorated with a handful of Fire Nation spirits he rather liked. ‘Can I pick the robes, at least?’
(He could not pick the robes.)
Zuko moved through the party with a thousand yard stare, his Earth Kingdom robes trailing after him. They weren’t half as well made as his Fire Nation set, of course, but they were apparently more in fashion, for Gotham. Irohs’ teacups were on a dainty little tray with tiny paper umbrellas advertising the Jasmine Dragon. Since he was just a little too far to bend the elaborate candelabras littering the edges of the room, he moved the steaming tea in slow, even circles, watching the umbrellas spin as he carved a path through the room.
‘How does that work, young man?’ said an inquisitive voice that was suddenly at his left elbow, in the large blind spot of his burned eye. Zuko jumped, barely managing to keep the liquid from spilling.
‘These umbrellas! Marvellous! Do they come with motors?’ He stuck a thin finger into one of the little cups, pulling out the umbrella and holding it between two sharp nails coated in green paint, peering at it from different angles.
‘N-no?’ said Zuko, though it came out more as a question. The spinning had stopped, at this point, as he could barely force to his lungs to work, much less bend steam, which really came closer to water bending than fire bending even if technically he was causing the heat currents to move, and was that air bending? He wasn’t sure, Uncle would know, where was his Uncle-
‘Nygma! It’s been awhile!’ There was a sudden booming voice to Zukos right. It was attached to a sudden looming man - built like an earth bender but as intimidating as anyone of Ozais’ generals. The curious man apparently felt so too, stumbling back to avoid him. He finally arrived in Zukos eyeline - tall by any measure except against the dark man, thin as a pick, and as terrified like he was facing a rattling badger snake.
‘Bruce-Bat-Wayne-Man!’ he stuttered out, continuing to back up. ‘I didn’t realise this was one of your children! So sorry- I’m going to go, well, anywhere else!’ He pulled a large grenade out of his suit pocket (what) and slammed it into the ground, releasing a large plume of smoke (What). When it cleared, Nygma was clearly visible a few feet away, hiding behind a pot plant. His saviour didn’t find this unusual, for some reason.
‘Thanks?’ said Zuko, in an uncertain tone. The tall man nodded, and they both stood awkwardly for a second. He quickly picked up one of the tiny china tea cups, barely able to fit one of his fingers through the handle, and taking a long sip.
‘Iz good,’ he said, giving an uncertain smile.
‘Thanks,’ said Zuko, more surely this time. ‘My uncle makes all our tea. He gets the leaves special from-‘ he stopped, suddenly, mouthing the shape of the word home. ‘He’s very talented.’
The stranger stared him down. Zuko got the same odd feeling he had when his Uncle had described seeing the moon spirit or the Avatar state, which was ridiculous, because this man wasn’t even a bender, and he had a tiny teacup painted with turtle-ducks hanging off two of his fingers. ‘I would like to hire you again. Perhaps a more private function?’
‘Hire us?’ Zuko took a deep breath, instinctively reaching out to the nearest source of heat, moving the tea in whirling circles as his eye widened.
The tall man held out his free hand. ‘Bruce Wayne. Billionaire, philanthropist... tea appreciator.’
Zuko awkwardly swapped hands with his tray before grabbing Mister Wayne’s palm. He had a gentle grip, though probably more out of consideration than a lack of strength. ‘Zuko-‘ Oh god, I don’t have a surname, I can’t give him my title, can I? ‘-Fire.’
‘Ah.’ The silence stretched once more, thick and viscous. ‘That’s- unfortunate.’ Bruce shifted his weight, nodding a little at Zukos eye.
Zuko shook his head rapidly. ‘Oh! Oh, no- this- wasn’t an accident. It was... inherited.’
‘Inherited,’ Bruce repeated.
Zuko stared at the bottom of his nose. It was a nice nose, as noses go, and freed him from eye contact while not being overly impolite. He had had quite enough of the consequences of impoliteness. ‘Yes?’
‘From your uncle?’ Bruce asked.
‘Oh! No, no... my, uh, father,’ Zuko muttered to the end of Bruces nose, desperately wishing he was anywhere else- training with Azula, back in the North Pole, being eaten by the Avatars bison...
‘Hmm,’ said Bruce Wayne, billionaire, philanthropist, tea appreciator, and owner of an impressively thoughtful murder glare. ‘Can you introduce me to your uncle, young man? I believe we have a lot to discuss.’