A/N - As soon as I uploaded the last chapter, I facepalmed myself. I had forgotten to write my sincere thanks to all those who reviewed, favored, and are following the story! So:
Thank You Very Much from the bottom of my Heart! Even though it's been a year and a half since my last update (sorry guys) I hope this chapter was worth the wait. It's three in one, yay!
Also, even though I don't reply to your reviews, I read them all and plan on replying back at the end of the story to every single one.
Fun fact: Originally this was chapter 2 which turned to part of ch. 2 and later to chapter 3 because it was too damn long. It's even longer thanks to Lin and a few others. It ended up being my largest chapter ever and now we're down to only two chapters left of this story.
Warning: Slight choppiness and switching of verb tenses. Also, possible major let down that this chapter isn't as awesome damn. Multiple POVs as well.
III. The Dragon of the West / The Turning of the Tide/ Together
No one is saving you
What have you done?
It's feeding my mind
Seeing the violence,
Now that you know
How many will die?
'Cause I'm not playing this game
Born from the ashes of hate
I don't want to get lost in his world
Is this what you wanted?
You're walking alone in this madness
[This] screams our goodbye
Your powers are gone
Cannot believe it's an eye for an eye
you'll burn this time
There will be no escape
- "A Demon's Fate" Within Temptation
When General Iroh II had been little, too young to start his necessary "princely" lessons and too old to be around his mother's skirts in important meetings, his grandfather had sat him on his knee in the library and asked if he wanted to hear an epic tale about someone he knew.
"Does it have heroes? Pretty ladies in trouble?" asked Iroh hopefully, slightly tugging on his grandfather's beard.
Slightly wincing, Zuko chuckled as he answered his favorite (and only) grandson while gently prying the little fingers off his beard.
"Of course! In fact, this person was extremely fond of 'pretty ladies' so there will be plenty. Don't you worry, Iroh."
The dowager Fire Lord Zuko sighed deeply then, the death of this person still weighing heavily in his heart even after all these years. He glances up at the huge portrait that hung over the mantle of the fireplace and motioned for Iroh to glance at it as well.
The portrait was of a family of four. Iroh's grandfather then Fire Lord Zuko, in his twenties, stands proud to the right side of an old man while his grandmother Fire Lady Mai, also in her twenties, stands in her silent beauty to the left of the old man. The old man in the middle was smiling jovially, his arms cradling a baby - Ursala.
He was like any other old man Iroh sees every day but somehow this old man was different. He was reverred, honored, remembered in awe. Though Ursala had been only eight when the old man had passed away, he had made enough of an impact in her life for her to name her only son after him.
Uncle Iroh. Great-Uncle Iroh. Great-Great-Uncle Iroh. Who really really liked tea. And beautiful women. The only one to still be able to breathe fire in and out of his mouth. The Dragon of the West. Who deeply loved Zuko enough to be banished with him. This is all Iroh II knows about Great-Great-Uncle Iroh.
Zuko knows this. He knows it is time to tell his uncle's story to his namesake before he starts his education and learns the story from people who didn't know his uncle as well as Zuko himself.
"The story I am about to tell you, Iroh, is about your namesake, my Uncle Iroh. Once Crowned Prince of the Fire Nation, General, and the Dragon of the West." he announced.
Iroh II thinks it will be a boring story after all, not like the stories his grandfather has told him about his adventures with Avatar Aang.
He was wrong.
The story takes two weeks to tell but Iroh II will remember it to his death.
He barely registered a slender strong arm wrapping around his waist before being brought up into the surface, the water obeying it's master until his head broke the surface of the sea and the glorious sun warming his skin, a flare of heat coursing through his blood.
General Iroh II opened his eyes against the glare of the sun and blinked. He breathed deeply before starting to cough violently. The arm around his waist tighten for a moment as they briefly stopped swimming away from the destruction formerly known as the United Forces fleet.
When the fierceness of his cough subsided, Korra said in a voice full of emotions, "It's alright, I've got you."
He turned to see Avatar Korra, beautiful in her element. It was foolish but his heart leaped in joy at this. He must be hallucinating badly. Avatar Korra had dropped the battle to save him? Could she be...? It was foolish of him to hope for something that was unlikely and diverted his thoughts.
"Avatar Korra? You saved my life. Thank you." he said before mentally continuing,'And I am forever in your debt until I complete it.' He manages to catch her eye before she quickly looks away, embarassed.
Then Korra blushed and she quickly started up waterbending them away.
"Yeah, well, you would've done the same for me if the situation had been reversed." she mumbled embarassedly.
It's true. He would've certainly jumped after her. Never mind the consequences of such an act. They fell in silence as Korra concentrated on her waterbending, not wanting to hurt Iroh more than necessary. The silence is a comfortable one, one that ends so soon as they reached where Korra's friends are still waiting. With a burst of water, they barely made it over the fence and into helpful arms.
As they quickly ran to hid from the Equalists, neither of them looked back on the ruins of what had once been the United Nations Fleet.
Lin watched as Hikaru raised parts of the ocean floor with the help of the United Forces earthbenders who had done the same upon seeing what he was trying to do immediately. With the helpful freezing of some portions of water from the waterbenders, the Kyoshi Warriors quickly went to work. Their quick feet barely touched the ice and the patches of earth as they quickly pulled up any survivors and helped them to the shore. The waterbenders submerged themselves, feeling for anyone who had gone too deep under to be detected by both the earthbenders and the warriors.
By the time dusk fell, they managed to rescue all survivors from the ocean and with the Kyoshi Warriors mainly carrying the people with the most grave injuries, all of them headed back to Hikaru's house.
And though, Lin had helped a little by helping people get on shore, helping a man with a broken ankle get to the house, and helped treat wounds, Lin felt she had not helped one bit.
But that will change as one part of the plan was completed and the second part was to begin immediately. From across the room, Hikaru caught sight of her face and perhaps she wasn't good at hiding her emotions because he came over.
"What is the next step?" he asked quietly.
Lin told him, snippets of the conversation occasionally heard by others as she did so.
Iroh I had it all. He had been lucky to have been born first thus securing the throne of the Fire Nation. Though the birth of his younger brother Ozai fifteen years later had slightly shaken his ties to the throne, nonetheless Crown Prince Iroh was the favorite of the two among the Fire Nation.
Iroh's and Ozai's father, Fire Lord Azulon, never showed any favoritism towards the two. The Fire Lady tried not to, but she favored Iroh the most of the two as well.
How could she not? For Iroh was Crown Prince, the very image of Fire Nation ideals. He was handsome with his black hair, piercing golden eyes, a smile quirking at the corner of his lips, and quick wit. Prince Iroh was smart and excelled at everything if not once or twice but eventually he would. A firebending prodigy himself.
Prince Iroh attracted every woman in the Fire Nation. Mothers wanted him for their daughters, daughters wanted him for themselves and so on. He slipped through their fingers no matter how much they clung on, no matter how much his mother tried to get him to commit.
(Here Iroh II interrupted the story by saying this story didn't sound so exciting but Zuko had hushed him, saying the exciting parts will be later on.)
Until he met the beautiful Lady Ursa.
(At this, Iroh II had straightened up and raised an eyebrow in surprise at this plot twist. Ursa was his great-grandmother!)
Fourteen years younger than the Crown Prince, Lady Ursa had come from a family who had, in ancient times, boasted of providing brides to the Fire Lords and Princes of the nation. That family was slowly slipping into disgraced nothing, once having the ear of the Fire Lord and now barely classified as nobility (having married merchants or daughters of merchants), the sole fact that they were descended from Avatar Roku had helped them in being "nobility." Until Ursa had grown up into a brlliant beauty. She was their hope in hitching their star with the royal family's once more. Lady Ursa's dark brown locks were a relief against the familiar black hair of the nation, the slight darkness of her skin betraying her merchant heritage, her eyes sparkling with passion as she debated with Iroh on many issues. She was his equal in everything, it seemed.
Slowly and gently, the Crown Prince Iroh let himself get caught by the Lady Ursa but alas! It was not meant to be.
Fire Lord Azulon wouldn't let the Crown Prince taint the future heir with disgraced -tainted-blood of that particular family. But the descendant of Avatar Roku, the last Avatar of the Fire Nation, was a prize Azulon couldn't let go of easily and so when he announced the bethrotal of the Lady Ursa, everyone had nodded in expectation.
Until he said Prince Ozai as the groom. Wait what?
Prince Ozai, almost a mirror image of the Crown Prince, was overshadowed. Though brilliant and ambitious, he was just there. Suddenly, the nobles started to talk in that manner of theirs that was silent to the royal family's ears, gossiping about this new twist. Have Prince Ozai stolen the bride of the Crown Prince? Will there be an Agni Kai between brothers?
At least, until the Crown Prince Iroh stood up and swore to the Fire Lord Azulon that he will succeed in bringing down the walls of Ba Sing Se, wished the newly bethroted couple sincere congratulations on their marriage, and left to travel.
When the Crown Prince Iroh returned, unsuccessful at his first attempt at Ba Sing Se, he brought with him his future bride from the earth colonies.
When Gommu suddenly pops up from out of nowhere, giving them a scare, and tells them to follow, no one had the energy left to argue with Korra, who readily agreed and told them all that she already knows him. The point was to get off the streets before the Equalist found out their whereabouts.
Still they were surprised to be lead down into the sewers and hidden. Gommu then told them all about what was happening as they quickly settled into their section of the Underground. How few benders escaped into the sewers with nonbenders, how Amon had his Equalists round up every bender and jailed, how Amon and his followers had taken over Air Temple Island, how there was no word or sight from Tenzin and his family, how Amon knew about the United Nations Fleet was coming to Republic City. While listening to Gommu tell them everything, Korra gently pushed Iroh down on a crate before analyzing his burn with a critical eye. It's more severe than any burn Katara had let her heal but Korra was confident she could. After all, she was the Avatar and mastered water a long time ago. She moves towards Gommu to ask for a bucket of water, even opens her mouth to do so when a large warm calloused hand wrapped around her wrist.
"We all need rest. Leave it until tomorrow, Avatar Korra if you deeply insist." he orders softly, his golden eyes almost shutting in sleep but unwavering in determination.
Korra feels her heart might have skipped a few beats at catching his piercing gaze and deeply glups before giving one nod. Had it been anyone else, she would've rose her temper and lashed out, insistant on having her way but this was Iroh, who unfortunately had a point. She herself was barely able to stand steadly on her feet.
Satisfied he released her wrist and did not protest when Korra took him gently and led him to his portion of the ground to sleep on. Asami had thoughtfully laid out blankets for him and he quickly went to sleep.
The rest of the crew soon followed.
The next day, the fight between Korra and Iroh was interesting to witness. Even Gommu watched in amusement as he peeled onions for dinner.
"Please Avatar Korra, save your energy. It will heal soon by itself as long as it is medically taken care of." Iroh said firmly as he locked eyes with her, his chin raised high. This was his "Royal Command" voice, the voice his mother, his grandfather, always used to get their way, to get things done. The voice that gave orders to the public and the public obeyed.
But refreshed and energized from her sleep, Korra refused to let herself get talked out of and jutted out her chin stubbornly. She made sure not to make direct eye contact with Iroh for more than a few seconds because she felt she would cave automatically and what would that do to her pride?
"If I want to heal you, I'm healing you, got it? Became I'm the fricking Avatar." she said forcefully and the way she said it reminded him of the day he first met her all those years ago with his grandfather.
Feeling nostalgic, Iroh relents and the smile that blooms on Korra's face made him crack a half-smile in response. Having already predicted the result of the fight, Gommu had brought with him a bucket of water for Korra and with the cutest concentration face, she began the healing process.
And if she got too close to his personal space more than was necessary, well, that was a bonus (to both of them). He was directly eye level with her bosom and he turned his head to the side. To Korra, the faint blush on Iroh's face as he casted his eyes to the floor made it worth the argument they had as he discussed with the rest about what exactly happened at the harbor.
Unfortunately, she couldn't heal the majority of the burn and she sighed, unintentually interrupting the conversation as she took a step back from him before bending the water back into the bucket.
"That's the best I can do." she said before wrapping up the burn.
Iroh says, "Thank you, Avatar Korra."
Maybe being the Avatar wasn't that bad if it meant Iroh would always address her as such, caressing the sounds of her title and name as if it was something pleasurable to taste in his mouth. (And maybe she'll give him something to taste she thinks before shaking her head to get rid of such thoughts because now wasn't the time to get distracted.) Just her name alone sent shivers of desire down her spine and if he sounded like that normally, how would he sound while being, er, occupied?
She shook her head again and tried to contribute to the conversation the others were having. After a while, they came up with a plan. It wasn't a solid plan but it was better than nothing.
Crown Prince Iroh's future bride had come from the highest of Fire Nation nobility. In good standing with the Fire Lord Azulon, her family had been chosen to govern over one of the Earth colonies. By then General of the armies of the Fire Nation, Crown Prince Iroh was allowed to marry his chosen bride and the Fire Nation had rejoiced at the celebration festival following the marriage. Lady Xiuying had been the opposite of Lady Ursa, and had been kept hidden from potential courters. It was said Crown Prince Iroh had merely caught a glimpse of Xuiying before he asked to court her. Her classic beauty (black curls, gold eyes, the ivory skin of the elite of nobility), melodic voice, and love of tea was what attracted him to her. The quiet intelligence that she possessed was a bonus as well. She was his beautiful flower to keep.
Meanwhile, Prince Ozai and Lady Ursa had yet to be married themselves and by the time they were married, the Fire Lady had died and Iroh's son was two years old. Although he inherited facial features, coloring, and quiet personality from his mother, Prince Lu Ten was Iroh himself all over again. Same achievements. A prodigy following the steps of his father. He soon enlisted into the army and none could say Lu Ten rose in the ranks due to his birth.
Then, Crown Princess Xiuying died from an unsuccessful childbirth, dimming the light of Iroh's and Lu Ten's life. Princess Ursa successfully gave birth to Zuko two days after. An ill omen to be born shortly after a death, everyone had whispered and instead of the joyful celebration Ozai had predicted at Zuko's birth like Lu Ten's, it had merely been acknowledged.
For the quiet golden-eyed, dark tresses to her waist, with a voice to rival the most melodic birds, the kind-hearted once future queen, Crown Princess Xiuying's death was more important than anything to do with the fourth prince of the Fire Nation.
(At the description of Crown Princess Xiuying, Iroh quickly glanced at the hidden portrait in the corner where Great-Uncle Iroh was depicted with his wife and eight year old son. This was getting too depressing for his mood but he tugged at his grandfather's beard to make him tell the story faster.)
And the Fire Nation mourned. Paintings protraying her were quickly draped in black and Iroh deeply felt the loss of Xiuying at his side.
The deceased Crown Princess Xiuying was never mentioned again in the palace unless it was the Crown Prince who brought up her memory. Only once, the Fire Lord had brought up the idea of marrying again and Iroh had skillfully manuevered out of it, saying he had one son and that was enough for him.
From then on, Crown Prince Iroh clung to Lu Ten tightly. Everywhere he went, Lu Ten was there by his father's side. His wife's death had shaken his world. Knowing that he himself could die soon, the Crown Prince tried to live life to the fullest and without many conflicts as possible. He tried to get closer to his brother Prince Ozai- who refused his bonding attempts, patched things up with the Lady Ursa-who had nothing to do with the results of the bethrotal, and tried to be a doting uncle to his nephew Zuko and niece Azula.
But when he had tried to further please his father, everything fell apart.
Asami Sato may be rich and beautiful but she was not a naive airhead like many thought she was. She was not the daddy's girl her father (and everyone else) thought she was. She wasn't stuck up or arrogant like Korra had thought she was in the beginning.
But most of all, she was not the naive blissfully ignorant girlfriend Mako thought she was.
Even before Korra had been kidnapped by Tarrlok, before Bolin had told her about the kiss they shared, Asami knew that there was something going on between Korra and Mako.
She just couldn't explain it. She thought it was comradeship from probending, a hint of sibling relationship, but it wasn't until Bolin told her about the kiss that she realized Mako wanted more from Korra. And that Korra was willing to give more.
Rash, startling naive Korra who had been within reach, within reach and out at the same time. So he had settled for Asami Sato while keeping an eye on Korra. This made her heart clench in heartbreaking pain and anger. She wanted to beat the shit out of Mako for stringing her along but Asami Sato had pride and though wounded, she would accept Mako and Korra getting together with grace, no matter how much she wanted to bash Mako's head against the wall and say, "Make up your damn mind, you sonuvabitch!"
Especially when she sees how attentive he is towards Korra. How he acts more like Korra's boyfriend than hers, more intune to her feelings and clueless to Asami's. A worried Bolin, perceptive when he wants to, would glance over at them and Asami. She slowly started to distance herself from Mako, the business woman in her coming out, to cut her losses sooner rather than later.
This is how Mako slowly loses Asami and gains Korra in the process.
At least until they ran into General Iroh II of the United Forces.
He was handsome, the type of gentleman her father would've approved for Asami- had he been a nonbender. Black hair, flashing golden eyes, tall and honorable, he was an ideal prince.
He was unofficially a prince really since his grandfather had been the last Fire Lord of the Fire Nation before the nation had conceded to try a democracy at the suggestion of Avatar Aang.
Iroh was older than the crew but as soon as Korra's eyes met General Iroh's, Asami had felt a connection form between the two and was proven right during those three days they spent traveling back to Republic City. Even now, she sees there is something between them and feels a thrill of spite to know that Mako had tried to keep an even hand between the girls, only for General Iroh to come and force him to reveal his hand. Perhaps, even tip the contents in disarray since Mako had no chance with either Korra or herself anymore and Asami realized that Mako has not realized he has definately lost Korra. He acknowledges she is slipping away from him as Korra spends most of her time with the general and tries to play the jealousy game with Asami. She curses herself for being weak when it concern Mako, for letting him use her, but Bolin soon intercepts him and rescues Asami.
(Maybe she picked the wrong brother in the end. As a Sato, she was bound to make mistakes before reaching her goal.)
When Mako comes to reassure her of his loyalty, she shrugged him off and went to eat her stew, which was looking delicious but suspicious also. Her instincts were telling her not to eat it but a quick glance around revealed to Asami the others were eating it up heartily. She hesitantly drank a spoonful and it wasn't a five star full course but decent enough.
"This is the best-tasting street gruel I've ever had, Gommu. Seriously!" said Bolin in between gulps. Everyone nodded their heads and Asami raised another spoonful to her lips.
Gommu cheered up.
"I culled it from the finest dumpsters the city has to offer!" he declared and Asami almost choked on her stew before delicately spitting it back out into the bowl. She quickly peeked at everyone and notcied that she was the only one to have reacted to that news.
Sneakily, she placed her bowl behind her for Pabu to eat.
Once lively and crowded, the streets of Republic City were silent and only a brave few pedestrians walked the streets if necessary. Instead of the familiar flash of sunlight against black metal signaling the earth and metal bending police officers, sounds of heavy boots thudded throughout the neighborhoods.
Here and there were people sleeping in the streets. Although Amon had announced that the nonbending homeless could take whatever they wanted from the benders, few had done so. Two guards walked down these streets, glancing at the homeless occasionally.
A heavily bandaged hand (much like a mummy) holding out a bowl filled with one coin suddenly appeared before the two guards, who jumped in surprise.
"Spare some change if you can." rasped a throaty voice.
They turned to see a slumped cloaked figure in the corner, half hidden in the shadows casted by the day. The bandages were not restrained to the hand but everywhere the cloak revealed, including the face. They could see the shadow of an eye under a narrow slit opening between the bandages.
Looking at one another, they shook their heads no and moved on, their steps a bit quicker than before. The begger straightened up a bit and looked at the two suspiciously.
So Korra is doing her own reconnaissance.
Lin Beifong narrowed her eyes in thought as she tightened the cloak around her. It had been easy recognizing the Avatar, (after all, she grew up around Avatar Aang) by her presence and stance only. It seemed Lin will have to include the Avatar in her plans otherwise Korra will end up ruining the execution of it. She rattled the bowl rythmically before she stood up and left.
An hour later, the street was empty of homeless people.
Crown Prince Iroh had succeeded the second time around. The walls of Ba Sing Se were crumbling before his might and soon he will do what no other general had done for their Fire Lord - deliver Ba Sing Se.
He was about to set foot into the city - the first of the Fire Nation to ever set foot in more than a hundred years - when a foot soldier had told him of Lu Ten's death. When the walls had fallen, so had Lu Ten at the hands of the formidable Dai Li.
It is Lu Ten's death that defeats the formidable Dragon of the West.
For a moment, General Iroh debates continuing the battle or retreating and recovering his son's body but the moment is quickly over and he orders retreat and the fetching of his son's body. If the army is surprised, they do not show it and retreat.
The Dai Li did not fight them as they retrieved the body of the fallen Lieutenant General, Prince Lu Ten. The Dai Li had gotten what they wanted: the Fire Nation Army retreating. On the way home, as respect to the Crown Prince Iroh and the memory of the kind young prince, the soldiers wore black in Lu Ten's honor.
The death of his son changed the path of Iroh forevermore.
When he comes back to the palace, Iroh notices that everything has changed. Fire Lord Azulon is dead. The funeral had been hurried, the body quickly burned. While Prince Lu Ten's birth had been celebrated for days, his death was quietly passed over. Only a handful were at the funeral and that was it. The Council had refused to announce another royal death to the nation and, acting as Regent, Ozai had agreed. Perhaps it had been revenge for all those years ago.
It was the final blow that pushes Iroh over the edge and makes him retreat to his wing in the palace. Iroh doesn't bother to notice that on his way to self-imprisonment, the servants no longer refer to him as Crown Prince or Prince Iroh or bowed deeply in acknowledgment anymore.
He doesn't notice that the people refer to Ozai as Fire Lord Ozai or the sudden disappearance of Princess Ursa. He doesn't notice the suspicions of the Fire Nation at the deaths of Azulon and Lu Ten, the disappearance of Princess Ursa from the coronation, and lastly, the missing Iroh, who should have immediately taken the throne as was his birth right. He doesn't notice the firebending prodigy that is Princess Azula, who is the light of Ozai or the broken hearted, now Crown Prince Zuko, who was just lucky to have been born.
Iroh notices the spirit world instead. He chases after it, trying to lift the veil between the human world and the spirit world. He wants to look Lu Ten in the eye once more, to get down on his knees before his son and beg his forgiveness for a father's other obligations. To ask Was it painless and brief, your death? For Iroh, the thought of his boy dying in slow agony was tormenting.
But the spirit world evaded him like a courtesan evading groping hands with ease. It was only when Iroh dreamt of Xuiying crying and revealing he was bringing punishment upon them, that he realized just how wicked the siprit world could be.
Finally recognizing defeat, Iroh stopped pursuing Lu Ten's spirit. On that day, he runs into the Crown Prince Zuko crying in the shadows of the tree in front of the turtleduck pond.
Here was a son without a father, no matter how hard Zuko tried to ignore his father's slights and become better, he was just a necessity for Ozai's line to continue.
He was a father without a son, no matter how hard Iroh tried to reach out to Lu Ten's spirit to say the goodbye he'd never gotten to say.
And Iroh knelt, gently wiped the tears away with the sleeves of his black tunic before drawing Zuko into an embrace and held him until his sobs quieten. He pulled away from the child, noticed how Zuko didn't bear any great resemblance to Lu Ten and smiled.
"How does a cup of jasmine tea sound? It will do us both good, nephew." he asked gently. With a nod of agreement from Zuko, he takes Zuko to the parlor of his living quarters and gently quizzes him on what has been going on in the palace.
He finds out Ozai doesn't bother to put Zuko through the required lessons the Crown Prince went through, stopped the firebending teachers from teaching him anymore because it seemed Zuko was "incompetent at firebending." That was when Iroh opens his eyes and became involved in the happenings of the Fire Nation once more.
No longer was he Crown Prince but he was still a Fire Nation Prince, a favorite of the people, and most of all, he was still General of the Fire Nation Army with no equal.
No matter how hard Fire Lord Ozai tried to persuade his older brother to enjoy other activities, like a tea shop perhaps, he couldn't shut out General Iroh without raising the buried suspicions and rumors of the three royal deaths that shrouded the coronation of Fire Lord Ozai in the court.
So Ozai didn't say anything when General Iroh sent for the best teachers to start immediately on teaching Zuko the lessons needed to become Fire Lord later on in life. When the Dragon of the West himself oversaw the training regime of the Crown Prince's firebending.
This is how General Iroh tries to protect Crown Prince Zuko. When Ozai would compliment Azula on her firebending, Iroh would compliment Zuko on his perfect execution of a move. This is how it goes for two years.
It is Prince Zuko's banishment that revives the formidable Dragon of the West.
The father in Iroh is horrified by Ozai's punishment. How coldhearted his brother was, not flinching for a moment as he firebended and burned the left side of Zuko's face. Not caring as he stripped Zuko of the Crown Prince title, of the throne, of everything Zuko has ever known, and banished him from the Fire Nation.
And so Iroh fought.
Iroh fought for Prince Zuko. He fought for a ship. He fought for a heap of gold to be given to Zuko yearly. But most important of all, he fought for Zuko's title of Prince, his inheritance. Though he controlled his anger, nonetheless Ozai witnessed the revival of the Dragon and conceded to keep Zuko as Crown Prince and Heir to the Royal Throne of the Fire Nation.
When Prince Zuko stepped off the Fire Nation to begin his search for the Avatar, the Dragon of the West followed immediately.
But it isn't until Prince Zuko and General Iroh, marked as traitors and marked for death, surounded by "old friends" that the Dragon of the West truly comes to life and shows everyone exactly why he earned such a title.
General Iroh, former Crown Prince, breathed and roared flames to protect his second son.
The Dragon of the West was back.
"An old friend of mine wants to talk to you." announced Gommu during dinner after Mako and Korra got back from the recoinssance.
Everyone stopped eating and looked at him.
"Why?" asked Mako.
"Do we know this friend of yours?" asked Korra curiously tilting her head to one side.
"She'll explain why but I'm darn sure you all know her." he said, beaming at them. They all glanced at one another before Bolin exclaimed, "Sure, why not? Everyone here is a bad ass and can fight if something happens."
Gommu went to fetch the person and as soon as he came back, Iroh was on his feet and said,"Auntie."
Everyone's jaw dropped at seeing who was General Iroh's Auntie. Still the same as ever, Lin Beifong strode into the room and gave a nod of acknowledgement to him.
"Iroh, it is nice to see you again despite the circumstances that surround us. Tell me, how is the Prime Minister Ursala doing?" she replied in a warm tone.
"Mother is doing very well, Auntie. Last time I talked to her, Mother was mourning the fact the Council was still around. She also told me to tell you that if you don't pick up the phone and call her on her birthday, she'll seriously ban you from the Fire Nation for life this time." he responded, the right corner of his mouth twitching upward on the last part.
"Hmm. Sounds like Ursala is serious this time." replied Lin, mirroring her "nephew's" actions.
It was so uncharasteristic of Lin that Korra stared in shock at her until she realized another contradiction. Lin was not dressed in her metal uniform but in black clothing that resembled it close enough. In fact, Lin's black outfit resembled the Kyoshi uniform greatly.
"Lin, stop conversing with the General. You're scaring the Avatar." a voice broke through from the doorway. He was perhaps slightly older than Lin, with dark bedroom eyes. His looks and built screamed "earthbender." He flashed a grin once he realized he held their attention.
"Hey, everyone. I'm Hikaru." he greeted as he stopped leaning against the wall and strode to stand by Lin's right side. Right behind him, a crowd of people started to come in from the tunnel. There were the Kyoshi Warriors, waterbenders from Korra's tribe along with some from the Northern tribe, more earthbenders, and a handful of firebenders. Majority of the people wore the same colored uniform as Iroh's.
Once Iroh spotted his fleet crew, he immediately sobered and straightened up before saluting everyone, who returned the gesture. Without even hesitating, Iroh moved to stand beside his crew and started to inquire about everyone's injuries. While he did this, Korra moved to confront Lin.
"What happened to Tenzin and his family? You stayed to protect them didn't you?" she asked harshly. Based on the Avatar's accusing tone, Lin automatically shifted to a defensive stance. For a moment, Lin could've sworn she heard Aang and that he stood in front of her, arms crossed, waiting to hear her excuses but she blinked and it was just Korra.
Korra she can handle.
"The Equalists were about to overtake us on Oogi and I told Tenzin to keep on flying while I distracted them. As far as I know, they escaped. I haven't heard anything that would suggest otherwise." said Lin as she crossed her arms and glared at Korra to drop the subject.
Miraculously, she did and looked relieved at Lin's news so Lin decided to reveal why she needed to talk to them.
"I have a plan to take down Amon. It is being executed tonight and having caught you two tramping about in undercover," Lin paused to glare at Korra and Mako before continuing in the brisk tone she used to dictate orders, "I decided you must be filled in and be given a part."
Interested, Korra and her friends leaned closer to hear Lin's plan.
"Hmm... My grandfather would respect the Avatar's instinct. So will I." declared Iroh, his eyes catching Korra's for a brief moment. Korra felt her stomach flutter at how Iroh accepted the fact Korra has to go where Amon is. In that moment, Korra realized just how influential Iroh really was, despite being only a few years older than her. Upon Iroh declaring he was siding with the Avatar's side, the majority of those opposing her confronting Amon had been silenced including Lin, the most vocal of them all. Mako seemed like he was ready to argue more about it and thought better of it.
Instead, Mako shot a look at Iroh and said, "I'm going with you, Korra."
Korra nodded and Hikaru adjourned the meeting by saying, "Well, everyone knows the plan right? If any of you have any doubts, now is the time to voice them."
But no one voiced any and the group dispersed. They were all in the process of saying their goodbyes, Asami giving Mako a kiss on the cheek for his honesty about their rocky relationship and Bolin to Gommu, when Iroh came up to Korra while she was saying goodbye to Naga.
"Avatar Korra..." Iroh started to say before drifting off and looked her over instead. She was younger than him, this he knew well, but the look in her eyes, the way she'll act sometimes, she seemed older than him. It was the essence of the Avatar spirit within, he supposed and it just made him want to get to know Avatar Korra even more. To see if he could discover Korra's true self.
"Yes, Iroh?" she prodded, stepping closer to him than was proper. It was one of those things that intrigued him, how she just dropped all social rules and manners without a thought. 'This would've caused a scandal in the Fire Nation.' he thought. Despite agreeing with Avatar Korra that she must face him, he felt a pang of guilt for not volunteering quickly enough to accompany her-was she ready? He had heard from Lin that Korra had yet to master Air and it troubled him. All the Avatars had mastered their elements before facing an enemy.
All he could do now was give her advice.
"Always be on your guard. Never hesitate towards the enemy for they won't against you." he advised her, staring at her seriously. Those golden eyes of his were piercing, looking deep into her own doubts, Korra mused.
She smiled sadly.
"That sounds like something the dowager Fire Lord would say." she said before she suddenly grabbed his hand and tighten her grip, her blue eyes hardening as she continued, "Don't worry about me, General Iroh. If Amon is in front of me, I won't hesistate at all."
He gave her a nod and took a step back, her grip loosening as she did so. Iroh turned to leave with the group assigned to him along with Asami and Bolin when Korra shouted, "You better be fearlessly kicking Equalist ass too, Iroh! Prove that title isn't just fancy."
Once more, he gave her that smile (which took her breath away again) over his shoulder, and remarks, "Your will is my command, Avatar Korra."
Korra smiles but doesn't comment further. She leaves before he does, not trusting her self-restraint around him. She knows she will not falter when confronting Amon.
(But she does end up hesitating and it ends up being her downfall.)
Everyone immediately stopped at the harsh command that came from General Iroh and looked at him. He paid them no attention, his eyes taking in the scene before him. The airfield was abandoned, ready to be taken over and destroyed, but something nagged at his instincts. His group must have felt the tension as well because they soon settled into casual battle positions.
Except for Bolin, who was never good at following orders (and Mako knows this too well), and kept on walking. He glanced casually at the sole poles that were in the ground, five feet away from one another, and wondered out loud, "Why would they put posts up and not build a fence?"
The word triggered the reactions of Asami and General Iroh, who had both instantly made the connection, and they cried out to Bolin.
"Bolin, wait!" Asami cried out as she ran to catch up with him.
"Don't walk further! It's a-."
Bolin's shocked cry of pain cut off the rest of Iroh's late warning as he was electrocuted by the wireless electric fence and dropped to the ground. A few moments later, Asami reached Bolin and felt for a pulse.
"He's still alive!" she exclaimed in relief.
The element of surprise was gone again but this time, Iroh wasted no time. With a quick apologetic look to Asami and Bolin, Iroh ran towards the fence and jumped, fire propelling him over the fence as the rest of the group did the same. In a flawless display of aerobics, the two Kyoshi Warriors jumped to land on the post briefly before jumping back down to the ground and running towards the airplanes without stopping. The lone waterbender stayed back to help Asami wake up Bolin as the two earthbenders bended stairs up and across the fence before beginning to tear the ground apart.
Immediately, the Equalists appeared and began to fight them. From afar, Asami heard the familiar voice of her father confronting Iroh and Mei Yue and felt like crying. It was the type of crying she left behind years ago, when her mother's grave was freshly new and the flowers in the private greenhouse hadn't wilted yet.
Asami Sato thought she had known her father well but she was wrong...again.
Lin's pride as Chief of police still stung from what happened at the Pro-bending Arena. The Equalists had been right in front of her face and under her nose! And so it was the potential irony that prompted Lin to use Amon's tactics against him at the rally. The largest group in her plan and under her command, they were disguised as normal nonbending people in the crowd of many. Ayame and Ren had been sent off with a waterbender to Bumi's fleet and Lin hoped Bumi was still unpredictable and ruthless in battle.
Since she was the most recognizable of the group, Lin had dyed her hair brown, her hair extended, and makeup to cover the scars on her face. With another change of clothing of black pants and an elegant blouse, Lin Beifong was gone and in her place was Ursa, a mother who had lost her husband to the Fire Nation. She stood at the front of the crowd, close enough to touch Amon when he appeared, and tried to calm her fiercely beating heart.
And when Amon showed up and his eyes rested on her briefly, Lin knew she succeeded in disguising herself.
(But if Amon saw her, recognized her, and concluded she was not a threat, Lin Beifong vowed it would be his downfall.)
"Put an end to this sad story."
Korra never thought she would see Councilman Tarrlok again but she did and with his final request haunting her mind, she desperately thought that by unmasking Amon and telling everyone he was actually a waterbender named Noatak-who was the son of the bloodbender Yakone and knew how to blood bend-she would fulfill it without really confronting Amon.
But when the crowd jeered at their Avatar-"You're our Avatar too!"-Korra knew she had failed and in the process, turned everyone against her. A big political no-no that even she could see and Korra tensed, ready to fight her way out until Amon reveals he had captured Tenzin and his family.
Her heart pounded rapidly, so fast Korra would've suspected Amon was subtly bloodbending her, but she knew how it felt like and knew it was just her body trying to betray her. A quick glance revealed Pema was not among the tied family and that calmed down her nerves.
Korra is ripped away from her thoughts as Mako fired lightening down at Amon and she immediately went into action. Behind her, Lin gives out the signal to follow the Avatar and her people followed.
It isn't until she rescues Tenzin that Korra realizes it wasn't just Mako and her fighting off the Equalists.
His face blank of emotion as he stared straight ahead at Hiroshi Sato, General Iroh II remembers the first Iroh. He remembers the tale of how General Iroh, in his highest glory, had stared at the walls of Ba Sing Se (still formidable to this day) and tried to conquer it.
He wonders if the Dragon of the West felt like he was feeling now. Cornered. Agitated and pride wounded at having left himself be baited into this position.
Republic City was his Ba Sing Se.
The formidable wall were Amon's loyal Equalists, willing to do anything to bring benders down.
Who will be his Lu Ten? his treacherous mind whispered and immediately, he thought of Avatar Korra. Iroh's tired muscles tensed and he instinctively began to draw strength from the sun as his face settled into hard determination once more. Mei Yue had left long ago to stop the unlucky three airplanes that had managed to take off towards Bumi's fleet and the rest had taken down the Equalists before Hiroshi Sato had knocked them down. Hiroshi Sato had positioned his Mecha tank to give the firebender a final blow when a clear voice interrupted their standoff.
"Leave him alone, Dad."
Asami had acquired a mecha tank of her own and was heading towards them, her face resigned.
"Leave him alone? Don't you realize what he is, Asami? One of those bastards that killed your mother! In fact, descended from the bastards who gave out the order!" cried Hiroshi, whirling to confront his wayward daughter. At the very mention of his family, Iroh bristled and opened his mouth to defend them when Asami turned to him.
"Go, General Iroh, I'll handle this. It's between family." she stated to Iroh, who hesitated at leaving her. Hiroshi bristled at having been ignored.
"Listen to Asami, General. Besides, Asami isn't alone. She has me! And Naga and Pabu!" exclaimed Bolin as he proudly stood next to Asami's mecha tank along with Naga and Pabu.
"You must help the Avatar and Chief Beifong, General." pointed out the waterbender, who had entered right after Pabu. With that, Iroh nodded and left the scene.
He heard clashes of metal against metal as he saw Mei Yue commandeered the lone airplane she managed to capture down as low to the ground as she possible could. Iroh gracefully jumped on the wings of the airplane and held on tightly.
"Bumi and the fleet are heading to Republic City! The others have started the fight!" shouted Mei Yue to Iroh as she lifted the plane up to the sky and flew towards Republic City.
The third (and final) time Iroh found himself staring at the walls of Ba Sing Se, he was not trying to conquer it for the Fire Nation nor in name of Fire Lord Azulon.
He was going to take it back from the Fire Nation.
This time, Iroh was not Crown Prince, was not General, was not Uncle nor Father, but Grand Master Iroh of the Order of the White Lotus. He planned on seeing the familiar green banners adorning the walls and he vowed to take down anyone opposing him. Surrounded by other great Masters of the 4 nations, they released everything they had. Every mastery, technique, art they learned years ago was brought out to show their enemies.
When the wall crumbles from the might of his fire blast, he felt an ironic sort of satisfaction. He had spent the majority of his royal life trying to bring Ba Sing Se down, only to accomplish it when he was no longer part of the Fire Nation.
General Iroh was meant to do this.
In the dust of the destruction caused by the battle, Iroh catches a fleeting glimpse of the back of a Fire Nation soldier, a boy really, with his black hair up in a top knot. He turns sideway until half of his body is covered by the dust and half is visible by the sunlight.
Gold eyes crinkled at the edges as the soldier boy smiles brilliantly, the sunlight catching in the gold flame adorning his top knot.
Crown Prince Lu Ten whispers and even though Iroh was far away from his boy, he heard every word clearly.
"My death was swift. I love you dearly, Papa. Be happy."
And disappears as Iroh's vision is clouded by the sudden appearance of red-a fire nation banner falling from above him. Masters from every nation stood besides him as the Fire Nation banners were thrown down and replaced by the familiar green banners that had adorn it from many centuries.
Ba Sing Se was freed.
The spirit world had rewarded him by giving him what he had desperately sought after all those years ago. And not for the first time, Iroh wept in happiness at being reunited briefly with his son.
"I placed my faith in you! And you-! You were one of them all along!" shouted the Lieutenant in fury. His batons crinkled with electricity as he moved into an offensive position. Amon's eyes narrowed behind his mask. It seemed he had momentarily slipped in his act and while it was such a shame to waste talent, it was time for the Lieutenant to go. He couldn't risk him shattering the blind faith the others had in him.
The Lieutenant attacked and by instinct, Amon moved out of the way and lunged forward to chi-block him. The Lieutenant moved out of the way and Amon took the moment to bloodbend him.
It worked for a moment before the Lieutenant used Mako's move and turned on the electricity on his right baton, shocking Amon. In surprise, Amon dropped the bloodbending and before he could even blink, the Lieutenant chi-blocked him quickly.
"You've forgotten who I was before I met you, haven't you? Did you forget that it was me who taught you the art of chi-blocking? That my mother invented it to stand out among her six sisters?" screamed the Lieutenant as he not only chi-blocked Amon's bloodbending but also his movement.
He raised his batons in front of the lethal chi-blocking spot, the one his mother discovered by accident seventeen years ago, and said, "With your death, the Equalist movement will survive."
And the Lietenant brought them down quickly.
As soon as the Lieutenant began to fight Amon, Mako had grabbed Korra (who had been shaken at almost having her bending taken away) and they ran out of there. Although the sounds of fighting drifted up, the floor they were on was surprisingly easy.
"What now?" asked Korra as she tried to regain her composure.
"We need to regroup with Chief Beifong!" replied Mako as he tried to run faster with Korra leaning on him.
Suddenly, he was wrenched away from Korra and his body hit the wall, his head taking a double hit. He saw Korra stagger back from Amon, saw how Amon calmly walked forward and yanked Korra's ponytail to make her kneel before him. His vision swirled and Mako knew no more.
Although Tenzin disliked the fact that his children were with him while fighting the Equalists, he couldn't help but feel proud of them as they airbended their way to the prison. Granted, the way to the prison was littered with the bodies of Equalists, some unconscious and others moaning in pain from their injuries. Tenzin had then concluded that someone might be doing the jailbreaking before they get there.
"Meelo, stay close to me! Or at least, close to your sisters!" he reprimanded his son but Tenzin might as well have told Meelo to run ahead because that was exactly what Meelo did. Tenzin facepalmed himself.
Lin Beifong whipped her way to victory.
While still aggravated at the fact that Amon had escaped her again, Lin kept a cool head when fighting the Equalists to free everyone from prison. Every one of them had thought she was one of the Kyoshi Warriors until they spotted her scarred cheek (having been wiped off with sweat) and underestimated her. She took advantage of it and advanced further in until they blocked her in on all her sides.
She cursed. Steeling herself to take down as many as she could, she raised her whip and was about to end the standoff when someone crashed her fight.
"Noooo! Stay away from my hero lady!" shouted Meelo as he showed up out of nowhere and airbended some equalists away from Lin before shouting, "Fart attack!"
And proceeded to fart the deadliest farts.
Having had grown up with Bumi and the local boys, Lin Beifong was not knocked unconscious due to the fact that she held her breath in. She was still not breathing when Tenzin barged in with his daughters in tow.
"Meelo! I told you to stay-." he gagged into silence.
"We haven't ate anything at all. Why do your farts smell like this?" mused Jinora, her mind whirling to find an answer.
This time, Lin Beifong facepalmed herself. Why did Tenzin and his family showed up at the wrong moments every time? But nonetheless, after Tenzin airbended the remains of Meelo's "fart attack," she turned to Meelo and said, "Thank you, Meelo, for saving me. You were very brave."
Meelo puffed up with pride and before Tenzin could die of shock at witnessing Lin's nice side, Lin ruined it by saying in her deadliest voice, "But if I ever catch you in a battle before you're of legal age, I will make sure you never see the light of day ever again."
The girls shrunk back in fear but Meelo seemed not to hear as he once again ran ahead, shouting, "Fear my farts!"
General Iroh II didn't know where he was going but instinct lead him away from the fight to release the prisoners and up a couple of floors. From one of the windows, Iroh caught the glance of Avatar Aang briefly before he continued to run.
Suddenly, he stopped.
Amon was in front of him and his heart skipped a bit. It is not Amon who causes this but what is in front of him.
Avatar Korra in a kneeling position, her back to Amon.
Amon's hands were on the Avatar, one hand grasping the back of the Avatar's neck and the middle of her forehead. Her face shatters at the contact - fear, shame, defeat marred her face - before settling into one of disgusted defeat. How can she escape Amon now without her bending?
Immediately, Korra had resigned herself to her fate. She had said her apologies to the world, her friends, the next avatar. For the next will inherit a cruel world such as Avatar Aang had inherited from Avatar Roku. Amon suddenly jerked her ponytail back and her head had snapped back in shock, her eyes automatically settling on a familiar figure in uniform-General Iroh.
He had not escaped unscathed from his mission. This time, he was missing the other sleeve of his dirty red coat and instead of seeing the composed General she was familiar with, she saw a furious soldier who was ready to fight to his death if it was necessary.
Avatar Korra raises her eyes a bit more...and makes eye contact with General Iroh the Second.
It feels as if time stopped.
Golden eyes had met blue eyes.
Her eyes had once been the same as 12 years ago, a brilliant and jovial shade of blue, now they shone with unshed tears and an eerie weary defeated glance.
After all, how many Avatars had been taken down before they reach adulthood?
Without even thinking further on it, Iroh attacked Amon. Amon dodged and bloodbended Iroh to a stop.
But Iroh was not a normal guy. He was the grandson of the dowager Fire Lord, the son of the first Prime Minister Ursala, the third prodigy of the former royal family, and named after the Dragon of the West himself. He closed his eyes and inhaled, sensing the fire within his blood, Iroh exhaled and caused the fire in his blood to surge up and break the bloodbending. Amon was shocked but after a brief moment, lunged at Iroh. It seemed they both had come to a gentlemen agreement to not bend at all as they fought each other, using techniques taught in military sections.
With only a glance to Avatar Korra - who was being helped to stand by a now conscious Mako - General Iroh II showed Amon just how he resembled the first Iroh.
General Iroh attacked with a ferocity his grandfather would've been proud of, an elegance and percision his great-great Uncle Iroh would've liked. Amon dodges but barely-Iroh can tell by the slight widening of his eyes.
Having worn a mask often himself, Iroh knows how to read other's emotions.
General Iroh had never fought with such ferocity before. He felt as if maybe his grandfather (and perhaps the Dragon of the West himself also) was guiding him, helping him fight Amon. To protect the Avatar herself.
Every attack was executed perfectly, every one of them barely dodged by Amon. Korra sees the yin and yang between them. Amon and General Iroh...their fighting skills mirrored each other's. Amon had a controlled and fast way of fighting which hinted at perhaps military training. The same went with Iroh, but his hinted at the old firebending techniques of the Fire Nation. Of the former Royalty within.
But somehow (maybe Iroh had become too confident) Amon gained the opening he sought and kicked Iroh in the stomach, causing Iroh to stumble back and fall to the ground, trying to catch his breath. Korra tried to run to his side but Mako's grip on her arm prevented that. She saw Amon stride forward with a purpose, saw how Iroh's body suddenly stiffen in the grotesque telltale of bloodbending, and knew she had to do something.
"No!" Korra cried as she instinctively flung an arm out at Amon, calling earth.
Instead, she unleashed wind towards him. It catches Amon off guard for a bit and he stumbles. Korra grabs the opportunity of a shocked Mako to wrench her arm free and ran to roundkick Amon in the chest. General Iroh quickly leaps up onto his feet and joins in the attack. Together, they made Amon retreat towards the lone window at the end of the hall.
General Iroh felt the flames licking the inside of his throat and he immediately knew what to do. Throwing a round kick, he exhaled flames at Amon's face.
He roared flames.
He became the Dragon of the West.
All for the sake of a beautiful girl that had been in danger. All for a glance and maybe something more from the beautiful Avatar Korra.
The mask fell to General Iroh's feet, burnt and smoking.
Amon himself fell defeated at Avatar Korra's feet, his hands, newly burnt, covering his face.
In that moment, Korra herself looked eerily beautiful-ancient. A goddess with an offering at her feet from her most loyal. Her long hair whipped wildly in the air as she turned towards Iroh.
Golden eyes gazed into sapphire eyes. Her lips quirked up into a triumphant smile and his lips quickly mirrored hers.
They had taken Republic City back.
A/n - Damn, this is the longest chapter I have ever written in my fanfiction career.
Personally, I liked the last two sentences. Freaking brillant right there...okay egoistic moment over. But all in all, I admit this chapter may have felt rushed because I didn't want to write the canon episode parts in and I apologize for that. I felt the Lieutenant was defeated too easily. I mean, the man was Amon's right hand man. You just don't rise up to be second in command just because and I wanted this shown differently in my version.
Sequel? Would my readers be interested in me continuing this story into Book 2? I had an idea the other day to write an AU/canon version of Book 2 and I realize it could be written as a sequel to this story but I need to know if the majority like the idea so I can either wrap things up or give everyone a cliffhanger (kidding! maybe).
Either way, there are only two more chapters left for this story to be completed.
I will post up the next chapter, The Aftermath, soon. By the 27th of November hopefully. Please review and tell me your thoughts!
A challenge for my readers: Can this chapter get 73 reviews?