“Do you think it’s you or me?”
The question wafted softly from the bed, taking Iroh by surprise. He turned away from the window’s view of the garden and looked through the dim, moonlit room to his wife. Janya was lying on her back in bed, already under the coverlet. One hand rested on her chest, while the back of the other was pressed elegantly against her forehead as she stared up at the engraved mahogany and red silk curtains of the bed frame.
“You’ll have to be more specific about what you’re asking about,” Iroh said good-naturedly, though inwardly he wondered if this was a discussion that warranted tea. Ah, why was he even wondering? All discussions warranted tea.
“Children, Iroh,” Janya said.
...Especially this one. “Ah,” he said, already going for the emergency tea set on the bookshelf. He threw a fire dart at the wall sconce by the bed, and at the sudden flickering light Janya blinked and turned her head. Iroh put the tea set on the bedside table before poking through his emergency tea stash. “Ginseng, dragon well, or jasmine?”
“We don’t need to talk about this right now,” Janya said. “I was just thinking about it...it can wait.”
Iroh doubted she believed that. “No, no,” he hummed, “it’s alright. It’s something we should talk about, and since you’re already thinking about it right now, we might as well!” He held up the boxes of tea. “What would you like?”
Janya gave him a resigned smile. “Dragon well,” she said.
Iroh nodded and immediately went about making it. “Would you hand me the water, please?” Janya pushed herself up into a sitting position and handed over the pitcher on her bedside table. “So,” he said, filling the teapot from the water pitcher and putting it over the candle. He superheated the flame to get the water warming. “What’s this about children?”
Janya watched the fire lick the underside of the teapot. “We don’t have any,” she said, “and not for lack of trying.”
Iroh shot her a mischievous smile. “I don’t know, I certainly wouldn’t mind trying harder…”
She flicked sparks at him, smirking.
“But there’s no rush, you know, no rush,” he continued, tending the candle flame. “We’ve only been married a few years - ”
“It’s been seven years, Iroh,” Janya said flatly.
“Ah, yes, but with someone as wonderful as you, the time flies by so quickly!” Iroh beamed at her
She crossed her arms, mouth twisted in a stern smirk. “You shameless flatterer.”
“You like it when I flatter you. Anyway, we married very young. We have plenty of time, there’s no rush.”
Janya snorted. “Don’t tell your father that, he’d have a heart attack. We won’t be young forever, you know.”
“Bah,” Iroh said, taking the teapot from the fire and pouring the hot water over the tea leaves. “My father has little room to talk, when he was born Fire Lord Sozin was eighty-two!”
“Fire Lord Sozin had four other children before him,” Janya reminded him. “And they all died on the first day of the war, so really he was very lucky your father was born.”
Iroh shrugged. “We’re still younger than my father was when I was born - we have about ten years until he can really start complaining! He was in his mid-thirties!”
“And he claims that waiting that long was one of the stupidest things he’s done over the course of this war,” Janya said. “That’s the thing - we’re at war , Iroh. And you and I are always off on the front lines. Anything could happen. You need an heir, the sooner the better.”
There was a long moment of silence while Iroh tended the tea. The dragon well steeped slowly for a few minutes. When it was a pale shade of green, Iroh sat down on the bed and handed his wife the teacup. “You are correct,” he said, picking up his own drink. “But I’m worried you’re feeling unduly pressured about this.”
Janya gave him a disgruntled look. “Of course I’m feeling duly pressured. This is an even more important duty than any army I’ve ever led! The Fire Nation needs to have a secure line of heirs. You need a kid. I have yet to provide you with a kid.” She sipped the tea. “So, I was thinking. Because we have had plenty of opportunities to conceive, and nothing’s happened. Maybe the problem is with...one of us. So. Do you think it’s you or me? Because if it’s me, that’s alright, we can work around that. But if it’s you , that’s - well - you’re the one who needs an heir, Iroh.” She gave him a stern look.
He laughed. “What are we, inbred Earth Kingdom nobles? I’m certain we’re both capable of conceiving. It’s not as though either of us has a family history of impotence!”
“It took your parents over ten years to have you,” Janya said.
“Actually I’m quite certain that’s because my parents were married as much to the war as they were to each other,” Iroh chuckled into his teacup. “I’m sure that in time, we’ll have children. It just takes patience. But there’s no need for us to worry - my father has an heir and a spare!”
Janya sighed and had another sip of tea. “I suppose if we never end up conceiving you can just name Ozai as your heir along with any children he might have.”
“That is an option,” Iroh agreed. “Though I’m not sure how good of an heir Ozai would be. He’s a bit of a brat; you’ve spoiled him so.”
“Well someone has to,” Janya huffed. “You certainly don’t and I think your father forgets he exists half the time.”
“If it wasn’t for my mother my father would probably have forgotten I existed half the time as well!” Iroh laughed. “The war is his child as much as it is his spouse.”
“Well said,” Janya hummed, drinking the last of her tea. “Still, as much as I love Ozai, he’s...not your child. And while he and any descendents he might have are legitimate heirs to the throne he’s meant to be the line’s last defense, not the first. And we certainly can’t have him as both! That’s poor strategy, Iroh.” She shook her head. “Frankly I’m appalled at your entire family’s lack of planning when it comes to keeping the line going. Fire Lord Sozin lost four heirs in one fell swoop, and yet for the longest time your father only had you . Why didn’t he learn from his father and have ten kids?”
“He was worried too many heirs would lead to political infighting,” Iroh said. “His strategy focused on keeping the Fire Nation unified so we could focus on the war.”
“On the one hand, that makes sense,” Janya sighed. “On the other hand, he literally had all his eggs in one basket until Ozai came along. What was he planning to do if anything happened to you?”
“I’m not sure,” Iroh admitted. “Perhaps the same thing Fire Lord Sozin planned to do should anything happen to him?”
“...Find a distant cousin and name them heir?”
Janya gave him an unimpressed look. “How is it,” she said, “that your family is capable of the most brilliant and sophisticated long- and short-term strategies in history, managed to wipe out an entire enemy nation in the course of a single day, amassed vast tracts of foreign territory, and managed to keep a world-wide war going strong for over sixty years - and yet, when it comes to a succession plan, you have no idea what you’re doing?”
Iroh laughed. “When you put it like that, it does sound pretty bad!”
Janya groaned and turned her face heavenward. “Terrible strategy,” she muttered to the ceiling. “Just terrible. I think your mother realized it, too. No wonder she had us married so young.”
“She did also want grandchildren,” Iroh sighed.
Janya grimaced. “Yeah. Can you imagine if she were here? She’d pester us so…”
“She would,” Iroh hummed. Fire Lady Ilah had been ecstatic at the idea of grandchildren, but Iroh and Janya had barely had the chance to give her any. They’d only been married a year when Ilah had died in childbirth.
It was silent for a moment. Iroh looked back towards the window, where he could just barely see the garden illuminated in the moonlight. Janya looked down into her empty teacup, pensive.
“Janya,” Iroh said at length, “you do want to have children, don’t you?”
His wife turned to look at him, and very slowly a stern frown crawled onto her face. She pointedly put down her empty cup and crossed her arms. “Of course I want children!” she said. “You know I want children!”
“I’m just checking,” Iroh said. “All this talk of duty and strategy…” The entire conversation had been so... practical .
“Oh, that’s just your father rubbing off on me,” she said, rolling her eyes. “And while those are perfectly valid reasons, of course I also want children for myself! I think all the doting I do on Ozai makes it clear how much I like them! I like them, I want them, I - I want us to have children.”
Iroh smiled and reached for her hand, gently rubbing her knuckles. “Good,” he smiled. “So do I.”
She smiled back. “Besides, I’d hate to disappoint your mother. She wanted my fabulous genetics in your bloodline, after all.” She flipped back one of her long, glossy black locks.
“She wanted your height,” Iroh said flatly.
“Ah, yes. What were her exact words? ‘I want my grandchildren to be at least average’?”
“It’s not my fault I inherited Sozin’s build,” Iroh grumbled.
Janya giggled and leaned forward. “Don’t worry,” she said, kissing his cheek. “Our children will be wonderfully average in height. They’ll be able to reach the top shelf and everything...won’t have to walk extra fast to keep up with everyone else...won’t need to ask their spouse to bend over so they can kiss them…”
“I don’t need you to bend over right
so I can kiss you,” Iroh said, and he did just that.