“Why are you here, Swordmaster? Eating all of our food?”
Zuko glares at Piandao while he helps himself to some roast duck.
Piandao sighs, exasperated because, of course, Iroh didn’t tell Zuko he was coming. This is just like Omashu all over again!
While Zuko glares at Piandao with his arms folded, Piandao counts all the ways this is a bad idea. Piandao’s never trained anyone this young. Zuko’s still recovering from his Agni Kai. Piandao hates the ocean--
“Well?” By now, Zuko’s foot tapping against the deck has become more of an annoying pounding cadence that marks every second of time Piandao will never get back.
“I’m here to instruct you in the way of the sword.” There. That was easy enough.
Iroh, from behind Zuko, gives Piandao a thumbs-up and hopes he doesn’t act up like he did that time he got them all thrown into jail back in Omashu.
Iroh, waving his hands furiously, mouths “We talked about this, Piandao! Lie! Lie! Lie! Be nice! Lie!”
Piandao stares beyond Zuko’s shoulder and thinks Iroh stops jumping around just as Zuko looks over his shoulder, offering Zuko a timid smile.
“I lost a bet.” Iroh grins so big it looks like it hurts his face. Oh, sure, it wasn’t the nicest lie. But Iroh knows that Piandoa is trying his best.
“I don’t need your Lost-a-Bet sword lessons!” Zuko declares and Iroh’s smile fades.
Zuko tries to stomp off, but Piandao’s next sentence causes him to do a heel-turn.
“Oh? Because I saw you waving your little knife around earlier when you thought no one was watching. You definitely need some Lost-a-Bet sword lessons.”
Zuko stomps toward Piandao, quickly closing the distance between them. If he’d wanted someone onboard to make fun if his knifework, he would have invited Azula to come along. He starts ranting but all Piandao hears is, “Blah blah blah firebending blah blah honor blah blah blah Avatar blah blah…” He’s heard it all before. Well, except for that part about the Avatar. That was new.
Piandao makes loud slurping noises through his straw. The louder Zuko yells, the louder Piandao slurps. Zuko continues his rant while Fat refreshes Piandao’s drink. Piandao is impressed that Zuko can go so long without taking a breath. He wonders if Zuko realizes that his ears are actually smoldering...
“So, you see?” Zuko finishes. “I need someone who can help me with my bending. I doubt I’ll have any use for a sword when I go up against the Master of All Four Elements.”
The silence that passes between them is only punctuated by the sound of the waves lapping against the side of Zuko’s rusty old boat. Iroh’s breath hitches in his throat as he clutches his teacup. Zuko, who suffers from a stunning lack of social awareness, seems bored until he hears a sound from Piandao that causes him to see red.
It’s a terrifying belly laugh that causes Iroh’s blood to run cold as the teacup he’s been clinging too shatters when it hits the deck. He’s never actually seen Piandao laugh. No one has. The entire Order has a betting pool going over who can make Piandao laugh. He imagines that it’s one of those situations where, if you see This Guy laughing, you should probably run.
Zuko’s never been much for running.
Piandao stops laughing as if someone had flipped a switch inside him, leaving Zuko confused when he watches Piandao’s face turn into a stone mask.
Piandao has a plan. He sees Iroh mouth the words “Don’t insult his mother!”
Piandao has no plan.
“Fair enough,” Piandao says. “I’ll disembark at the next port-of-call since you obviously don’t need my help. Probably for the best.”
The smack of Iroh’s palm against his forehead is so loud it echoes, scaring away a flock of seagulls who were only flying overhead not bothering anyone.
“And why is that?” Zuko hisses. Iroh grimaces.
“If I wasn’t honor-bound to your uncle, I would have rejected you as a student, anyway. I’m old and tired. I don’t need all this drama.”
Zuko storms off in a huff, slamming the door to the lower decks so hard it bounces open. From inside, they hear Zuko yell, “And take your grumpy butler with you!”
Piandao bends down to meet Iroh’s gaze, leering. He whispers, “That guy needs therapy, not sword lessons, you tart!”
Iroh offers Jee a weak smile. “That went well, don’t you think, Lieutenant?”
Jee shrugs. He’s been watching this shitshow the whole time but has no idea what’s going on.
Iroh nods and smiles. He’s made tea. He’s looking forward to this little summit. “You’ll see, Prince Zuko. It’ll all work out in the end. I have a good feeling about this.”
Piandao sighs as well. He comes to the table armed with his straw. He’s ready for anything. Fat makes sure Piandao’s glass is full for maximum effect.
Zuko turns to storm off again, only to find Iroh standing behind him looking sad.
Zuko sighs again, takes his seat, and starts to speak.
Piandao fires off a warning slurp while his cranky butler stares at Zuko like he wants to put him in a stew pot.
“Shall I get you another glass of juice, Master, and another straw?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Iroh says.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Fat growls, grabbing Iroh’s teapot and throwing it overboard. “Do not engage me unless you have business with the Master.”
Piandao sits across from Zuko, staring, waiting like a viper looking for prey, while Zuko scratches his bald head. Iroh cries, looking down into the vast unforgiving ocean at his fallen pot of Jasmine and he wonders if there’s an Agni.”
Zuko watches his uncle hunched over the deck rail, crying over spilled tea. “I could probably use some lessons…to help me with my overall training. I need all the help I can get if I’m to take on the Avatar. ‘I’ve trained with wepons before. It’s good exercise for the mind and the body.”
Iroh hears the resignation in Zuko’s voice, the eagerness to learn, the humbleness and humility. Suddenly, his ruined tea no longer matters.
Piandao looks at Iroh’s big stupid smiling face and thinks Fat looks around for something else to throw overboard.
Piandao nods and puts his straw down, a clear sign that he’s ready to talk business.
“Well, your boat doesn’t have any lifeboats. I already checked. Aaaand we’re still about a hundred miles away from the nearest port-of-call. I already checked. So, yes, for lack of anything better to do, I will train you!”
“Thanks,” Zuko mumbles, “...I think.”
Piandao goes inside and returns with a brush and some ink. “Your lessons start now.”
“You forgot the paper.”
“Nobody likes a no-it-all, Prince Zuko, especially when they don’t actually know-it-all.”
Piandao fills the brush with ink and proceeds to write on Zuko. “You’re the paper!”
Zuko fumes, trying not to completely flip out while Iroh groans when he reads the word “honor” emblazoned across Zuko’s chest plating.
The sound of boots hitting against the metal deck plating while men scurry like frightened field mice to their designated posts are heard all around them. Zuko thinks he hears Jee in the background, snickering. When he turns to look at the man, Jee looks out at the ocean, whistling innocently while pretending to admire a rain cloud.
“This is ruined!” Zuko yells, slapping the ink out of Piandao’s hand. “You’ll replace it!”
“You cannot take back a stroke of the pen or a stroke of the sword,” Piandao points at Zuko’s chest.
Zuko looks down at his soiled uniform as his “honor” drips all over him. He feels himself deflate. “I understand. If that were a sword...”
Piandao slurps and smiles.
Piandao points to Iroh who’s beaming with tear-filled eyes. “This one’s an ocean of emotion.” Zuko nods his agreement.
Fat grumbles under his breath as he stalks off.
“What’s his problem?” Zuko asks.
“He wanted me to stab you.”
Zuko looks at everyone who’s still standing around and he can just feel the swell of anger within him rising. “Why the flame don’t we have any lifeboats!?”Iroh clears his throat, wiping the beads of newly-formed sweat from his brow. “You see, Prince Zuko, that’s actually a very funny story...”