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Chapter 17 (The Spirit Within, Part 1)
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The Spirit Within



Written by


Last chapter

Chapter 16 (The Spirit Within) [1]

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Chapter 18 (The Spirit Within) [2]

It was more than thirty-two months after the news of Lu Ten's death had reached the Fire Nation capital that Iroh, Dragon of the West, great General and hero of the Fire Nation army, former heir to the throne, and the failed invader of Ba Sing Se, returned home. He refused to talk about where he had been, or what he had done. He only said that it was time for him to come back.

He arrived at his home in the palace, expecting Lan Chi to greet him with cries of welcome, as well as with hugs and kisses. All that met him, however, were some of his servants. It was not even a complete staff – most had left to find new work, believing that their employer would never return.

He heard about his niece's predicament from the housekeeper, in Hua's disapproving tone. Left unsaid was you could have prevented it had you been here, but Iroh understood the insinuation. Hua refused to tell him what had prompted his brother to send Lan Chi to the Academy.

"I won't tell tales," she sniffed. "If Lady Lan Chi wants to tell you, she will."

So Iroh called for his carriage and made the short trip to the Royal Fire Academy for Girls. He arrived just after lunch, when the second half of the school day was just beginning. The head mistress's secretary recognized him immediately, and, after a brief moment in her superior's office, ushered him into the headmistress's private office.

The headmistress stood behind her desk, her hands folded demurely in front of her, a wide smile pasted on her face.

"General Iroh!" She said brightly. "What an honor to have you here in our humble school! What brings you to the Royal Fire Academy for Girls?"

Iroh settled himself on a chair in front of her desk and gestured for the woman to sit down. He waited for her to seat herself before speaking. "I've come to bring my niece home."

Her eyebrows shot up. "Indeed? I wasn't informed that you were taking Lady Lan Chi from us. Is the Fire Lord in agreement with this?"

"I am Lady Lan Chi's uncle and her guardian. I do not need permission from the Fire Lord to take her home."

"No, no, of course not, General. I was merely wondering if the Fire Lord was aware of your intentions?"

"The Fire Lord is well aware that I would not allow my niece to stay here while I am in residence. Now fetch my niece and have her trunks brought so that we may leave immediately."

The headmistress bowed, but her stare was icy. "Very well, General."

Lan was sitting in her mathematics class, staring out the window and ignoring the teacher. She had been doing that quite a lot lately, since the battle with Mai. Although she was not exactly ashamed of her performance that day, thinking of it still brought a fresh wave of humiliation over her. Luckily, things were not as bad at the school as they had been for Lan. She was not certain whether the other girls had simply tired of torturing her, or if, after her defeat at Mai's hands, they had started to feel sympathy towards her. Whatever the reason, she was not sorry.

Still, school work held no interest for her anymore. The only thing she enjoyed was the only thing she had ever enjoyed at the school – Master Jiao Ao's Self Defense and Fighting class. Her master had given her free rein to design her own training, and she had chosen to concentrate on archery. It was very soothing to her. The familiar motions of putting arrows to the bow, sighting the target, the constant thwack of the arrows hitting their mark. All of it gave her a measure of peace.

When the head mistress's secretary came in that day, Lan looked at her with apathy. The secretary whispered something in the teacher's ear, and the teacher threw a puzzled look at Lan Chi. Lan's heart began to thump in her chest.

"Lady Lan Chi. You're wanted in the office."

All eyes in the room turned to Lan. She did not blush and her face was a mask of indifference, but, inside, her pulse was racing. Why did the headmistress want her? Had she done something wrong – again? She reviewed recent events in her head, but there was nothing that she had done that would merit punishment.

She followed the secretary through the cold, silent halls, and, when the woman gestured her into the private office, Lan experienced a moment of dread. Please don't let it be Ozai. Please, please, please, please, please.

Then she saw him, sitting with his back to her. She would know him anywhere. He had heard the door open, and stood and turned to face her.

His hair was gray now, and there were lines on his face that had not been there before Ba Sing Se. His eyes, too, were different. Sadder, wiser, more accepting. When he saw her, he broke into a wide grin and opened his arms.

"My little duck. How glad I am to see you."

Lan burst into tears and rushed into his embrace, heedless of the secretary who looked on in astonishment.

She cried for Lu Ten and for the worry over Iroh's well-being. She cried for being abandoned, and mistreated, and she cried for her loneliness. Most of all, she cried for joy that her uncle had finally returned. For many minutes her tears flowed, and then she wiped them on her sleeve, and looked up at Iroh. "Please tell me you're taking me away from here."

"Yes." He nodded. "Let's gather your things and go home."

"That won't take long."

They left the room together, his arm around her shoulders. "You've grown so much! You're a young woman now!" It was true. When he had seen her last, she had been a child, and now she was at least five inches taller, and her body had taken on a more feminine shape.

She began to lead the way to her room. "A lot can happen in four years."

"Very true."

"Are you back for good?"

"Yes. My place is here now."

"Ozai is Fire Lord." She did not look at him.

"I know."

She stopped, then, and looked at him. "Where were you?"

"On a journey."

"You don't want to talk about it."

"I can't talk about it."

She nodded slightly, and they began walking again, and were silent until they reached her chamber. He sat down on a small stool while she began pulling things out of drawers. Her back was to him, and he noticed something.

"You cut your hair!" He marveled.

Her hair had grown since the incident with Azula, but it was still less than half as long as it had been before. "No, I didn't. Azula cut it." She continued to empty her drawers.

"You let Azula cut your hair?"

"I didn't let her. Three of her friends held me down and she cut it off with a knife."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

She was angry suddenly. "Why does everyone feel a need to apologize for Azula, except Azula?"

He shrugged. "Because we know how horrible she can be, and we feel helpless to stop it."

She blushed at her own rudeness. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you." She tried a weak smile. "Azula's behavior is not your fault. But don't apologize for her. She did it of her own free will, and she hasn't apologized. So I won't accept your apology on her behalf."

"Fair enough. I should apologize for myself, though. I'm sorry that I left you for so long."

She finally stopped packing and looked at him. "I know."

"Why did my brother exile you here?"

She turned back to her task. "You mean you didn't hear?"

"Hua refused to tell me. She said that it was your story to tell."

She turned and faced him again, her arms across her chest. "I spent the night with Zuko." Her gaze was unflinching.

He was silent for a long moment, nodding slowly, trying to digest her words, his face drained of color.

"In his bedchamber. In his bed." She continued, sparing him nothing. "And the Fire Lord found us together."

"Found you together." He repeated.

"With some help from Azula."

He nodded again. "Lan, did you have – relations with Zuko?"

She looked puzzled. "What kind of relations?"

The color returned to his face and he turned a deep red. "The kind between a husband and wife."

It was her turn to blush. "Why does everyone ask that?"

"Because you are a girl and you spent the night with a boy in his room. It's a natural thing to ask."

"No. I didn't." She turned back to the growing pile of belongings on top of the bureau.

"Why were you in Prince Zuko's bedchamber?"

She shrugged. "Princess Ursa had just died. I wanted to – comfort him, I guess."

"That was a very foolish thing to do."

"It didn't feel foolish at the time. It felt like the right thing to do."

He came over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "You're right. I am being hypocritical. I raised you to be a caring young woman. I cannot fault you when you show concern for another human being. And I shouldn't. It was the right thing to do – it was just bad luck that you were discovered."

She leaned back against him. "Thank you, Uncle." She had been carrying that doubt, that she had done something wrong, inside her for a very long time. It was a relief to know that her uncle understood.

His eye was caught by the miniatures on the bureau. "What happened to my picture?" He could see that it had been wrinkled, and smoothed out, and that there was a small hole at the top.

"A prank. Don't worry. I got even."

A low chuckle escaped him. "What did you do?"

"I shoved her into a bush. And I told her if she ever touched my things again, I would knock her teeth out."

"I'm glad all those years of training by the royal tutors did not go to waste."

"You learn to stand up for yourself very quickly at this school."

"Well, I have always wanted you to be self-sufficient."

"Then you've gotten your wish." She slammed the now empty drawer. "There, I'm done."

Iroh looked at the meager pile of underclothes, toiletries, ribbons, and her miniature portraits.

"Is that all?"

"Everything I want."

"No books?"

"No. We have books at home."

"No other clothes?"

"Oh, I almost forgot." She went to the wardrobe and pulled it open. She took out the clothing she had been wearing, almost three years before, when she had been brought to the school. The clothes she had been wearing the night she visited Zuko.

"I'll be right back." She escaped to the bathroom she shared with the other girls on her floor. Inside, she peeled off the hated uniform and donned her own clothes. The pants were much, much too short, and she had to struggle to get them over her hips. The blouse, too, was much too small, leaving her midriff bare and hugging her breasts shamefully. She surveyed herself in the mirror. Scandalous. Somehow fitting – she had come to the school the object of a scandal, and she would most probably cause a scandal when she walked out wearing these clothes. She finally donned the outer robe, and was relieved to see that it covered most of her indecency. This would do. She scooped up the uniform and went back to her room, where Iroh had carefully bundled all her belongings into a bed sheet.

He gave pause when he saw her attire, but quickly shrugged it off. "Ready to go?"

"One more thing." She gathered all of her uniforms out of the wardrobe. "Now I'm ready."

She left the room without a backwards glance, Iroh following in her wake with the rest of her possessions.

Classes had released, and there were hundreds of girls milling about on the bottom floor. Lan marched through them, head held high, as if daring them to talk to her. No one did. Iroh thought he caught a glimpse of Azula, but when he turned, she was gone.

Iroh's carriage stood in the driveway, but Lan stopped before reaching it. She dumped all of the uniforms on the brick walkway.

"Uncle Iroh, will you please do the honors?"

It took a moment for Iroh to understand her meaning. "Are you certain?"

"Quite certain. I won't be needing these again. Ever."

He chuckled and produced a flame, which he shot at the pile of clothes. They caught fire easily, and Lan watched them burn for a moment.

"Let's go. I'm sick of exile."

Once the carriage had rolled past the gates of the school, Lan felt the tension drain from her. She was free! She would never have to return to the Royal Fire Academy for Girls. Never wear the uniform, or feel the eyes of her malicious classmates on her. She couldn't remember feeling such relief. She turned to her uncle, and wondered again where he had been. She was certain he would not tell her. He had made that clear. Still, she had other questions that he might answer.

"Uncle Iroh, why didn't you ever tell me you wanted me to marry Zuko?"

He turned knowing eyes on her. "Hua was gossiping."

"It's not gossip if it's true. Is it true?"

He regarded her. She had changed so much since he had been gone. Not just physically, but psychologically as well. She was guarded and cynical, and there was a distance to her that had not been there before. Before she had been free with her laughter, generous with her affections, and open with her emotions. He did not know this Lan Chi, and he was sure that it would take time to understand her, and to break through the shell she had built around herself. He remembered when she had first come to him at five years of age – she had been much the same way – like a little turtle crab. It had taken the love and affection of Iroh, his wife, and Lu Ten to break down the shield she had constructed. Now, it would be up to him alone. He wondered if he was ready for the challenge.

"Yes, it's true. Had I become Fire Lord, I was going to betroth you to Zuko."

She nodded, her eyes on the hands folded in her lap. "Thank you," she said quietly.

"What for?"

"For choosing a good husband for me."

"We should discuss Zuko some more." He put his hand on hers. "But not now. There will be plenty of time to talk."

His carriage pulled up in front of the palace, but, to Lan Chi's surprise, it did not stop at the main entrance. She looked at him quizzically as they rode past it to the servants' entrance.

The carriage stopped there, and a servant opened the door and lowered the step for them to alight.

"Are we to use the servants' entrance from now on?" She asked as they approached the doors.

Iroh looked at her sideways. "Would it trouble you if we did?"

She grinned at him. "Uncle, I would be happy to enter and exit our home through a hole under the wall."

He laughed. "I would object to it. I would get stuck indefinitely, I think. Luckily, it is not as extreme as that." He escorted her to an ornate set of double doors on the opposite wall. It was manned by two of the Royal Guard. "This is our new entrance. It is separate from the main entrance, but it goes directly to our home."

She gave him a lopsided smile. "So there is little chance of running into any member of the Royal Family."


"Your brother thinks of everything."

"Yes. To the detriment of many, I think."

The doors opened, and they were ushered in. It was a long hallway, obviously newly painted.

She looked at Iroh with wide eyes. "Did he put this in since you came back?"

He chuckled. "No. Apparently, there was a visitor to the palace several months ago who, how shall I put it? Put Ozai's dander up, and he decided that the family quarters deserved their own entrance."

Lan looked sheepish. "Uh, that may have been me."

He was surprised. "You'll have to tell me about that later."

"Will I?" She sounded apprehensive.

"Oh, yes." He smiled.

They reached their home soon enough, and her homecoming was joyous. Hua and Jianyu hugged her tightly and proclaimed themselves ecstatic. Iroh had been able to hire back some of his other servants, as well, and they were quite happy to see the little girl who had enlivened their house so much, although she was no longer little. Lan Chi herself was no less ecstatic, a smile not leaving her face for many hours. The few things she had brought back from the Academy were quickly settled in her old room, and she looked around it with satisfaction. She was home again!

"I think we'll have to go through your closet tomorrow," a voice from the doorway said.

"Hello, Hua. Come in. I'm sure you're right." She removed the robe to reveal the tightly fitting clothes beneath.

Hua nodded. "You have grown. If Prince Zuko could see you like that, I'm certain he'd want to do more than just hold your hand."


She shrugged. "You're growing up, Lan. It's not hard to see. Prince Zuko is growing up. It's just natural."

Lan shook her head. "No. I'm through with Zuko. I've learned my lesson. Keep away from Fire Lord Ozai's children."

"Prince Iroh told me that Azula cut your hair."

Lan flipped the braid over her shoulder. "It's almost grown back. Good as new."

"Are you as good as new?"

She shook her head. "No. I don't know if I ever will be again. But I learned a lot there. Like how to hold a grudge. And how to bathe and wash my hair in less than five minutes. And how to sit with my back against a wall during meals."

"Things you never would have learned here."

"Right. So I'm grateful for the experience. It's made me strong. I'm ready for whatever life throws at me."

She found Iroh in his study, poring over papers on his desk, like old times. She paused in the doorway and watched him, smiling. After a short while, she pushed off the door jamb and entered.

"Some of the best memories of my life are in this room."

Iroh looked up and smiled, as well. "Mine, too."

She settled on a cushion against the wall. "Sitting in here with Lu Ten, studying. Hour after hour. I loved it. I loved it more than anything else in my life."

He nodded and looked around. "I have wonderful memories of this room, as well. Seeing the two of you here together."

They were both silent, lost in the past.

Iroh finally spoke. "Are we going to have that talk now?"

"I really don't want to." Her eyes were shuttered.

So different now, Iroh thought with sadness. "We will have to have it sometime."

She sighed. "If you are going to ask me a million questions about Zuko, I won't answer them. I have answered enough questions about Zuko to last a lifetime."

"Not just Zuko. Everything. We've been apart for a long time, you know."

"Believe me, I know. Will I get to ask you questions?"

"I don't see why not."

"Will you answer them?"

He hesitated. "I would like to answer them all, but no. There are some things that I cannot talk about."

She looked down at her hands. "Yes. You've said. But, if you refuse to answer questions, then so shall I."

He nodded once. "Fair enough. If you ask a question that I will not answer, then you can refuse to answer the next question."

"And you pledge that you will tell me the truth – about anything I ask?"

"Yes. I will. I am too old; there is too little time left for me to be wasting it on lies and half-truths."

"So it shall be a policy of one hundred percent honesty between us, then?"

"I think it best. After all, you're old enough for the truth, no matter how ugly. Don't you think?"

"Yes, I do."

"And you promise to always tell me the truth, as well?"

"Why not? What will lying to you ever gain me?"

He smiled. "Nothing. You already know that I love you – unconditionally – and nothing you can ever say can change that."

"Well, I feel the same."

"I'm glad."

She looked at him unblinkingly. "All right, then. Complete honesty. So, who shall ask the first question?"

He smiled. "First, I think I'd like some tea. Would you care for some?"

"If I drink tea now, I shan't be able to sleep."

The smile lifted the corner of his mouth further. "I don't think either of us will be sleeping tonight." He tugged on the bellpull that linked to the kitchen. "So, would you like to ask the first question?" He asked.

"Shouldn't it be age before beauty?"

"I am ceding to you."

"Aren't you chivalrous?"

"Is that your first question?"

"No." Hua came in at that moment.

"Ah, Hua. A pot of tea, please. And two cups. Would you like to request a special blend, Lan?"

She smiled at Hua. "Just some ginseng tea, please, Hua."

Hua nodded and was gone.

Iroh smiled. "You know ginseng is my favorite."

"Yes, I do. Of course I do. I spent four years of my life ordering your tea."

"That was one of the things that I missed while I was – gone. Your wonderful blends."

"Thank you." She was pleased.

"So back to the questions."

She shrugged. "Fine. My first question: have you seen Ozai?"

"Yes. My turn."

"What? No. That was a one-word answer." She protested.

"We set no minimum number of words for answers."

She gave him a dark look. "Fine, Old Man. Ask your question."

His eyebrows shot up. "Old man? What happened to your good manners?"

"I lost them at school. My turn."

Iroh's jaw dropped, and he chuckled. "You win this one, Little Duck."

She smiled, although it didn't reach her eyes.

Just then, Hua came back. She placed a cup before each of them and poured, then left the pot with Iroh and excused herself.

"So, my next question." Lan took a sip of tea. "Tell me what happened with Ozai. All of it. At one time. I don't want to draw everything out of you piecemeal."

"You've become very feisty."

"I've always been feisty. I just show it more now."

"You certainly do." He drained his cup and poured another. "So you want to hear what happened with my brother."


He sighed. "Where to start? I suppose at the beginning. I arrived here at the palace, and, I can tell you, I caused quite a stir. They didn't know I was in the city."

"Did you sneak in?"

Iroh smiled and gave half a shrug. "Well, not exactly. But I did, perhaps," he looked at her slyly, "have a friend help me get in the city quietly."

"So you did sneak in."

"Some might say that. Well, anyway, that's neither here nor there. When Ozai realized I was in the palace, he requested my presence in the throne room. My own father's throne room." He shook his head.

"Did he have the flames on?"

Iroh looked at her sheepishly. "Not for long."

It was her turn to look surprised. "You turned the flames off? How on earth did you do that?"

"I learned that secret a long time ago."

"Tell me how you did it!"

"It would do you no good. You aren't a firebender, after all."

She was crestfallen. "Oh." She waved a hand at him. "Go on."

"Thank you," he chuckled. "I turned the flames off, just because I could, and he became a bit –" he searched for the words.

"Hot under the collar?" She suggested mischievously.

"Ho, ho! Good one, Lan."

She smiled. "Thank you."

"Hot under the collar?" He chuckled again. "Yes, hot under the collar. Very hot under the collar."

"What did he do?"

"Well, he set the Royal Guard on me –"

Lan gasped. "He did not!" She covered her mouth.

"Yes, indeed."

"And you dealt with them easily, I presume?"

"You know me well."

"I know that you do not suffer fools well."

"It was very foolish to set the Royal Guard on me."

"Then what did he do?"

"Well, let's just say that he was ready to listen to me, then."

"Ah. And what did you say?"

"Is that another question?"

"Uncle! Do not prevaricate with me now!"

"Oh, ho! I won't, my dear! I merely said to him that I was returning home for good. I then assured him that I would not contest his right to the throne if he allowed me to return to my life."

"You'll be adviser to the Fire Lord?"

He shrugged. "As much as he'll let me advise him." Iroh looked thoughtful. "He's rather stubborn, you know."

"I do know," she said, matter of factly.

"Hmm. I wonder how you know that."

"I'm sure you'll ask. Did you tell him that you were bringing me home?"

"It is none of his concern. He is not your guardian, after all."

"That did not stop him at all while you were gone." She took a sip of tea gone cold.

"Well, I am back now. I am back, and I will be here for you. And for Zuko."

She put the cup down slowly. "Zuko?"

He looked at her wisely. "Should I not be here for Zuko?"

She was flustered. "What? No! I mean, uh, yes. Of course you should be here for Zuko."

"Good, because I believe he needs me now. Ozai engaged his own firebending teacher from his youth for the poor boy! The man was a tyrant twenty-five years ago! Now he's a cantankerous tyrant." He waved his hand dismissively. "I had Ozai fire him."

Lan gave him a hard look. "You told Ozai to fire him, and he did?" She was incredulous.

"Yes. It may have taken a bit of persuasion, I admit."

"I suppose promising not to contest his reign is pretty persuasion, indeed."


"Uncle?" She asked, swirling her tea in her cup. "Did you ever – suspect that Ozai would try to take the throne while you were away?"

He looked serious. "I would be lying if I said that the thought had never occurred to me."

"Did you ever think that – Azulon would choose Ozai over you?"

He shook his head. "No. I can truly say that the thought never crossed my mind."

"Do – do you think that he did?"

"Do I think that my father chose my brother over me?"

She nodded.

"If I did not, then I would be accusing Ozai of usurping the throne. And, since I have no proof of that, then I must accept what my brother tells me."

She was reluctant to broach this next subject, but felt she had no choice. "There is – something that I know, Uncle, about the night that Fire Lord Azulon died."

He took a sip of tea. "Oh, yes?"

"Something that Zuko told me. Something that Azula told him. Something that no one else knows."

"Hearsay is not the most reliable source of information, Lan Chi."

"Yes, I know," she said quickly. "And, I will not tell tales. I just think that – perhaps you should ask Zuko about it."

He saw that it was very important to her, and he nodded. "Perhaps I shall." He smiled. "Now, enough about Ozai. It's my turn to ask questions."

She sighed. "Fine. Go ahead." She expected him to ask for a detailed explanation about her antics with Zuko.

"Tell me what happened with Ozai." He deliberately echoed her words from earlier.

"I thought you said enough about Ozai?"

"Ah. What I should have said is enough questions about Ozai from you. I have not asked any questions about him. So, tell me your tale of Ozai."

She colored and looked into her cup. "It's not a happy one."

"Little that involves my brother is happy. Would you like more tea?"

"Yes, please." She came across the room with her cup, and he poured her another. She settled down on the cushion next to him, and he put his arm around her. She allowed it to remain, and then, leaning against him, she told him everything, both meetings with Ozai, and what led her to them. When she had finished, he was silent for a long moment.

"I had no idea that you had fallen in love with Zuko." Concern etched his face.

She sighed. "It doesn't matter. Ozai as good as told me that he'd rather see me dead – happily – than married to Zuko."

Iroh sighed. "That sounds like my brother. Did he threaten you?"

"He said that, if I continued to be an issue, then – I wouldn't be an issue anymore."

Iroh set his jaw. "That is unacceptable."

She knew that tone. She sat up and looked at him intently. "You must not say anything to him, or pursue this, Uncle. You know how dangerous he is!"

"Should I be scared of my baby brother?"

"Please, Uncle, please! Do not pursue this. I beg you!"

"You needn't be worried, Little Duck."

"But I am! I am! Promise me – please promise me that you will say nothing to him. If you do, I shall – I shall run away! And I can do it – you'll never find me!"

He was taken aback by her vehemence. "So you'll just give up Zuko, because Ozai says so?"

"Yes, I would."

"Just to protect me?"

"It's not for you. You don't need my protection. I do need yours, though." It was a little bit of a lie, to preserve his ego. She knew that she would let Zuko go to save Iroh, if it came down to that. A sacrifice of her happiness was nothing compared to ensuring Iroh's safety.

"We shall protect each other, then."

"Good. Because I could not bear to lose you again." She impulsively threw her arms around him.

He stroked her hair soothingly. "You will not, Duck. I promise you that you cannot rid yourself of me so easily."

They continued to talk throughout the night, Lan sharing much of her time at school, and Iroh sharing some of his travels through the Earth Kingdom. They talked about Lu Ten for a long while, and Lan asked the question that she had been scared to ask even herself in the long months since his death.

"Uncle, you promised to be honest with me."

He nodded. "Yes, I did."

"So, tell me, please, about Lu Ten."

"We have been talking about him for the past half hour."

"I – I need to know, Uncle, about how – he died."

Pain undimmed by the passage of time showed in Iroh's eyes. "What do you want to know?"

Tears came to her eyes. "Did – did he – suffer?" She continued on. "Because I – I could not bear it, if he did." The floodgates on the emotions she had kept bottled for so long opened, and her next words came very quickly, without thought, without censorship. "Although, there is nothing that I could do to change it, of course, and, of course, I know that you do not want to talk about it, and I do not want to know, not really, and you said that you would always tell me the truth, and I know that I said that I wanted that, but I do not know if I want the truth, because I – I really cannot bear the thought that he – he felt – any pain." The tears ran freely down her face throughout her rambling speech.

"Oh, my darling little duck." He enfolded her in his arms, and held her as she sobbed. "He did not, dearest. It was over in an instant. He was – at peace." And that, at least, was the truth.

"Oh, Uncle, I miss him so much! Every day! Every day I wake up and wish that his death was all a horrible, horrible nightmare. More than anything else that has happened in my life, more than anything, I wish that undone."

"I know."

"I would give up my life – gladly – if it meant that he were here."

"Don't say that. You still have so much life to live."

"I don't care. I loved him more than I ever loved anyone else. More than even you, Uncle."

"I know. And we are all we have, Duck, and it is left to us – to mourn, Lan Chi. It is left to us to go on. And we must."

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