Iroh and his soldiers docked without much fanfare. Not that they went unnoticed; a small fleet of United Republic warships showing up on the Fire Nation’s shores was not exactly commonplace. But their peace flags flew high, and for the most part, people seemed more curious about these strange newcomers from a country filled with a variety of benders than about the actual reason they showed up.
As soldiers unpacked supplies and settled in to camp outside the palace, Izumi met with Iroh in the throne room. Just to make things official of course. The flaming pillars on either side of the throne really brought home the effect. She watched the yellows and oranges dance across her son’s face as he entered.
“Your highness,” he said with the obligatory bow.
She wanted to jump up, to grab him and say that she was so happy to see him safe. Instead she cleared her throat.
“You don’t have to be that formal,” she said. “This will be your throne some day, after all.”
He shifted uncomfortably at the reminder. “If that is what you chose. There’s still my sister.”
“That’s not a possibility, and you know it.”
To this, he made no reply. For all his firebending skills, Iroh’s heart was never in the Fire Nation. Growing up, he called his home old-fashioned, how there wasn’t a single waterbender here and hardly any earthbenders. “You should see the United Republic,” he went on after his first visit back home. “You should just see it, Mother. Firebenders, earthbenders, waterbenders. I wouldn’t be surprised if some airbenders come to call it home one day, too. It’s just amazing.”
”If he’d had Ozai for a father, I imagine such talk would have ended in banishment,” she’d thought to herself with a shudder. Of course, Ozai never would have stood for a nonbender on the throne, either. How far their country had come in her lifetime alone. And yet, it still seemed so far behind.
“So?” she finally asked when it was clear that Iroh wasn’t saying anything else. “Has… everyone in your party arrived safely.”
He nodded. “My wife and Kaja are in the palace rooms right now.”
Izumi felt a small flutter of excitement in her stomach. She had to admit, she had never thought the idea of her child being old enough to have a child would please her in any conceivable way. But the memories that flowed back to her when Iroh had informed her that the new little prince was on his way… well, she would just have to check in and make sure the rooms were comfortable for Iroh’s family. As soon as possible.
”A new little prince,” she thought. And then she wondered if Kaja would ever think of himself as a prince. Or if he’d go the way of his father and put as much distance between himself and the Fire Nation as possible.
Iroh coughed loudly. “If there’s nothing else to discuss, I suggest we hold a meeting of our military personnel as soon as possible.”
Izumi shook her head. “Let your soldiers rest, Iroh. They’ll thank you for it later.”
Iroh grunted like “rest” was some old-fashioned Fire Nation concept he’d left behind years ago. Still, he nodded his consent. He’d never take a suggestion to rest himself, no matter how much exhaustion ate away at his calm façade. Insisting that it was the weak soldiers, not him, that needed the break, was Izumi’s best method for forcing rest upon him. There were certain tactics a mother never forgot.
The library was old and smelled like dust. Bolin crossed his arms, determined to keep a firm-looking face. Once again, Mako wasn’t paying attention, too involved with the papers on his desk to notice his little brother standing right in front of him. This bothered Bolin on a deep, personal level, so he decided to get Mako’s attention by force. There were two things his brother always reacted to: Bolin’s romantic life and Bolin socializing with people Mako didn’t like. “So, yeah, me and Fuse are getting pretty close,” he said, leaning back on a shelf full of scrolls. One of them poked him in the back, and he edged to the side. “Yeah, eating pastries. Having deep, interesting conversations, riding dragons. I’ll admit, it’s getting serious.”
“Uh-huh,” Mako replied. He stood, pulled a scroll out from behind Bolin, and sat down without another word.
Bolin groaned. Okay, tactic one had failed. Time for tactic two. He walked over and leaned over on the little desk, making it impossible for Mako to see the top half of what he was writing.
“What the–?” Mako said, glaring up at him. Well, at least Bolin had his attention now.
“You’re thinking something, bro,” Bolin said. “I can tell because of that… that ”thinking” look on your face. So what is it, already?”
Mako rolled his eyes. “Okay, fine. I think something’s weird with Firelord Izumi. She’s keeping some kind of secret from us. Now get off the desk.”
“Oh, what? Like she knew the combustionbender facility was buried in her nation all this time and just chose not to do anything about it?”
Mako didn’t answer. Bolin knew that was never a good sign. “Come on, Mako. You’ve been on edge ever since we came to the Fire Nation. And you’re a firebender, for crying out loud.”
“I’m a firebending citizen of the United Republic,” Mako spat back. “I’m no more Fire Nation than you are Earth Kingdom.”
Bolin straightened up. It was true that Republic City would always be his home, but he always felt a certain connection to the Earth Kingdom, too. Call it his family roots or something else equally deep-sounding. He’d sure never had any animosity towards it. Mako seemed to feel the opposite about the Fire Nation.
“Look,” Mako sighed, tucking his pen behind his ear. “All I’m saying is that the Fire Nation royal family has done a lot over the centuries to protect itself and keep its power. And Firelord Izumi hasn’t exactly been making moves to turn over any authority to her citizens like Prince Wu did.”
“Yeah, but, the Fire Nation’s been at peace while she’s been ruling it, too.”
“I’m not so sure it has,” Mako said. “I’m finding evidence of a lot of uprisings that for some reason never got too big in the press. I mean, you can read about them if you really want to know, but no one seems to have explored them in any depth. You don’t think that’s weird.”
“No,” Bolin answered. He did, but no way would he say that.
“Well, I do,” Mako snapped back. He lifted Bolin’s arms off the desk. Bolin didn’t make any attempt to put them back. “And if you’ll excuse me,” Mako said. “I’d like to get back to work.”
“Fine then!” Bolin snapped, headed for the door. “I’m leaving! You do your… your… Mako thing! Alone!” He stormed out, hoping to make some nice loud stomping-away sounds down the hallway. Unfortunately, he’d only taken three steps when he bumped into Korra.
“Ow,” he muttered when their shoulders collided. Korra kept her focus forward, like she didn’t notice him at all.
“Hey, Korra!” he called out to her.
“Mmm. Hey, Bolin,” she replied, and kept going. Bolin watched her go, feeling twice now like he’d more or less dropped over everyone’s radar-of-anything-important.
”At least I’ve got Pabu,” he thought in an attempt to cheer himself up. Then a small smile formed on his face. ”And Fuse. I’ve got her, too.”