The night air was a welcome escape from the cramped banquet hall. Izumi had no idea how a palace banquet hall managed to feel claustrophobic. It might have been the avatar trying to use her arm as a headrest after the fifth cup of wine.
Izumi and Tenna walked up to a terrance that had about half a dozen vines and twisting and intertwining with each other.
“Kind of a crazy night,” Tenna said. “All this rushing around… I never even got to congratulate you on your new grandson.”
“Thank you,” Izumi said with a nod. There was no doubt about it. Tenna was having a baby. It didn’t feel as clear to Izumi as her father described it. More like she could simply tell there were two heartbeats coming from Tenna… one normal adult heartbeat, and one tiny heartbeat fluttering away like a hummingbat’s wings.
Oh, why not just say it? She was sick of ettiquite. “And I see congratulations are in order for you as well.”
Tenna went bright red. No shock, though. That was Izumi’s biggest worry; that Tenna didn’t actually know yet.
“You can tell?” she asked. Izumi smiled and Tenna went red again. “Of course you can.”
“If it makes things better, I wouldn’t have thought about it if my father hadn’t mentioned it.”
“Lord Zuko knows too?” Now Tenna had gone from looking embarrassed but pleased to just plain disappointed. “Arg!” she said, leaning against the terrace. “At this rate, the whole royal family will figure it out before this kid’s daddy does.”
“You haven’t told Bolin?” Now Izumi really did feel bad. How did Tenna know and not Bolin?
“I’ve… been waiting for the right moment,” Tenna said after a long silence. “We’ve been so busy touring and well… trying to yell over a bunch of screaming fans isn’t exactly the moment I had in mind.”
At this, Izumi smiled. Finally she had a way to make up for her nosiness. She walked a bit up the garden path until she was within sight of a guard. She signaled him, and he hurried over.
“Yes, your highness?” he said.
“Bring Nuktuk out here,” Izumi said. “I wish to speak him.”
“At once, your highness,” the guard said, and hurried off. When he returned a few minutes later, it was clear that Bolin had thought he’d done something horribly wrong. He was hanging his head and shuffling his feet like a child expecting a scolding. The guard bowed one more time before leaving them alone.
“You wanted to see me?” Bolin said nervously.
“I did,” Izumi replied, trying to sound as stern as possible. Tenna stepped up behind her. Bolin exchanged glaces with his wife and now looked even more worried.
“Is this about the mustache painted on Firelord Ozai’s portrait?” he asked. “Because I promise there is a perfectly good explanation for that…”
Izumi raised her eyebrows. She did not know about the portrait. It sounded amusing. She’d have to go have a look at it. Perhaps now would be an excellent time. She patted Tenna on the shoulder. “He’s all yours.”
“Huh?” Bolin questioned.
Izumi said nothing more to either of them. Instead, she simply grasped her hands behind her back and walked up the garden path towards the hall of Firelord portraits to inspect Bolin’s work. She’d gotten about halfway there when she heard a shout loud enough to echo across half the palace grounds, “Woo-hoo! I’m gonna be a daddy!”
“Well, isn’t this a happy reunion?”
Zuko didn’t need to turn around. He knew that voice better than anyone. “Hello, Azula.”
She never took kindly to being ignored in their youth, and this hadn’t changed much in their old age. She strode up to him, right into his light of sight. The years hadn’t treated her too badly. And like Toph, she could still perform some impressive bending when she put her mind to it. Zuko would never have gone so far as to say their relationship had been fully mended. But after everything they had been through together, after Azula’s brushes with insanity, and her eventual return to their family, he liked to think they at least were on the level of listening to what the other had to say.
“I have to say, these mover things,” she said. “Not a fan. I prefer the real deal.”
“Live theater?” Zuko asked.
“Exactly. When the actors perform badly there, I can set them on fire.”
“You’ve always had a way with words.”
They smiled at each other. Azula wasn’t Azula if a conversation with her didn’t involve some threat of murder or arson.
“All kidding aside, though,” Zuko said. “Why are you really here?”
The smile faded from her face. “Because I need to be. Because your daughter has already been having discussions with that nincompoop Wu. Because she plans to divide our great country and reduce the royal family’s power to almost nothing.”
Zuko sighed. This was not the first time Azula had voiced this concern. Nor, he feared, would it be the last.
“Whatever Izumi does with her power, I’m hardly in a position to argue against it,” he said. “And anyway, that’s all speculation. Everything I’ve seen points to her plans to pass the crown to Iroh.”
“Hmph. The only one who could be worse,” Azula spat. “You’re so busy tending to what all the other nations think of us, you’ve lost focus of what’s going on right at home. Iroh has spent half his life living outside the Fire Nation. People in Republic City might love him, but no one here does.”
“You said the same thing when Izumi came into power.” He raised his hands in mock surrender. “‘Oh, no! Beware, brother! Putting a nonbender on the throne will mean chaos in the streets!'”
“And I admitted I was wrong, didn’t I? I mean, I’m arguing that Iroh’s nonbending sister should take the throne instead of him. You should be proud of me, Zuzu. I’ve become quite the progressive thinker.”
Zuko groaned. He never did stop hating that nickname, and Azula never did stop using it. Some things never changed.
“We have to trust Izumi’s judgment,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”
Azula laughed. “Zuzu, if I spent my whole life trusting others’ judgment, I’m pretty sure we both would’ve died several times over by now.”
Zuko made no response to her comment, and seeing she wasn’t getting anywhere further with him, she let out an exasperated sigh and turned to leave. “Well, whichever. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.”