It happened when Iroh was walking down the street. He would have completely missed it if he wasn’t startled by a loud crash of boxes to his left that caused his eyes to flicker in that direction.
He paused his steps to quickly look if anyone got hurt. It seemed like someone was trying to transport boxes into a restaurant, but the crate tipped over causing the boxes to crash. A handful of people have stopped like him and stepped forward to help.
He vaguely heard staff yelling at people by the commotion to step away and waving them off, but he was not focused on that.
His steps staggered like his heart. He stood there frozen and blinked because how could it be him.
Before he could fully decide what to do, he was already running toward the familiar figure, his name on his lips. However, his voice caught in his throat and he couldn’t push past the lump in his throat to shout out to him. The only sound that came out was a choked off gasp.
He maneuvered around the people on the street as he picked up his pace. He doesn’t know how far or how long he ran but he was soon standing in front of his nephew who was looking at him with his mouth parted and eyes widened in shock.
Both of them stood stock still staring at each other.
Iron took a small step forward while reaching for him. His hands stilled inches away from his arm.
He didn’t want this illusion or dream to end. It was most likely a dream. He hates them more than the nightmares of that night, but they were the only ways he could be in a world where his nephew was still alive.
He began to step away trying to ignore the hot tears running down his face and the ache in his chest because he shouldn’t waste this dream on mourning. He willed his trembling lips into a smile.
Then someone bumped into Zuko causing him to stumble forward and Iroh instinctively caught him by the elbows as he flailed a bit.
He felt his heart stop. Sometimes his hands would go through Zuko’s body like its air when he touched him. Sometimes, Zuko would disappear. Sometimes, he would be holding his cold body.
None of those things happened. He didn’t wake up. Zuko remained in his arms. He felt warm and real. His dreams have never been this cruel before.
He let go like he has been burnt and stumbled backward again.
Iroh choked. He hasn’t heard this familiar raspy voice in months.
Unlike the dreams he has about his other son, Zuko never speaks, not even to call for help.
And this is what convinces him that this could be happening.
He throws himself back at Zuko and crushes him to his chest. Zuko lets out a surprised huff before clinging back just as tightly. Iroh burrows his head into the crook of Zuko’s neck. Tears quickly dampen both of their shirts but they both ignore it.
Iroh is already thinking of safer places for them to go to continue this reunion, but he couldn’t bring himself to move.
He was also starting to pick up on more from his surroundings that further confirmed that he wasn’t dreaming. But the fear remained.
If this was a dream and he ends up waking up, Iroh wasn’t sure he would survive.