For the first time in weeks, the rising sun didn’t wake him. Really, it should have been Zuko’s first clue that the day was bound to be terrible. That and the trolls running around in his head, hitting everything loudly.
Iroh kept shaking his shoulder, and Zuko almost set him on fire for being awake at such an ungodly hour. Except it wasn’t—it was half an hour past dawn. His uncle set down a bowl of fresh jook near his head and rested his hand against Zuko’s forehead. Zuko swatted at the hand. Was it too difficult to understand he should be sleeping right now?
"Well, you don’t have a fever," Iroh muttered. He pushed both hands under the corners of Zuko’s jaw to check his lymph nodes. "And there’s no swelling—oh, what’s this?"
The left side of Zuko’s face got squished into the sleeping mat as his uncle poked something under his right ear. Zuko grumbled about the mistreatment. Iroh chortled.
"Oh, Prince Zuko, however did this get here?” The old man leaned back and caught Zuko’s weary gaze. Zuko did not like the knowing gleam in his eyes. “You were with a lady friend last night.”
Zuko flushed. “Uncle!”
Iroh stood up, still laughing quietly to himself. “You should eat something, nephew. It will help with your headache.”
Zuko didn’t really hear him. He had ducked under his blanket. No, no it hadn’t been a “lady friend" had it? He cursed softly.
“We need to be at the teashop soon," Iroh called from the other room. The volume made Zuko’s head throb and he curled around himself, hiding further in the blanket. He heard the door slide open and the floorboard squeak. "Nephew, you need to get up!"
“‘M not going,” Zuko bit out. “Feel like shit.”
He expected his uncle to chastise him, but Iroh laughed again. Zuko grumbled, kneading his forehead.
"Well, since you had such a good time last night, I suppose I can make your excuses." Zuko could hear his uncle’s shit-eating grin.
He mumbled a dull “thanks” and twisted himself further in the blanket. And it was only there, in the smothering safety of a moth-eaten piece of cloth that Zuko let himself remember just who had put that mark on his neck.