Heart of the Dragon General

General Iroh. Fire Nation hero. First born son of Fire Lord Azulan. The Dragon of the West. It was thought he would be the greatest warrior in the history of the Fire Nation. But all that changed when the war claimed his son's life. This changed him, and he turned his back on the war. This was a necessary event. Iroh had a role to play in bringing balance back to the world...but to play that role, he first had to be broken down, so that he could be rebuilt. This truth was self evident in the spirit realm. But one particular spirit felt this was unfair to Iroh. The wheels of fate are cruel to those caught in the gears, but this particular spirit felt that Iroh deserved kindness. And so this spirit sent Iroh one who would help him to rebuild himself. And so, shortly after his son's funeral, Iroh would find a creature sent by the spirits, the likes of which he never would have imagined...a pretty pink pony princess. Somepony to love...and be loved by.


44. A Balanced Heart

Jin made her way up to the palace carefully, hoping she could get to where she was trying to go with the minimum of fuss.  Given the mess the palace was in as the last of the Dai Li's corrupted influence was purged and the Generals were located, she didn't expect to be confronted by too many guards, and those that did confront her she hoped she could bluff.  Given the way Zuko had talked about certain things - both as Zuko and before, as Lee - Jin was pretty certain she had one claim she could lay down that would get her where she needed to go, as long as she was careful about who she said it to.

Unfortunately for her, however, the shambles the palace was in worked against her as well.  She'd never been inside before, and thus had no idea where to go.  On top of that, the paranoia of a past King of Ba Sing Se - presumably before the Dai Li started controlling everything - had resulted in remodeling the interior of the palace into a maze.  If you didn't live inside and didn't have a guide, you could get permanently lost in the halls short of Earth Bending your way out...and for all of Jin's confidence, compassion, and other sterling qualities, she wasn't an Earth Bender.

"Jin!" a familiar voice called out to her.  Turning, she saw the one problem she hadn't anticipated approaching her, one of Zuko's party who knew her personally.  "What are you doing here?"

Jin looked up at the one she'd pegged as one of 'Lee's secret bodyguards, this being the one without the bow and arrows.  "Mr. Black, right?" she asked pleasantly.

"Jong, actually," he corrected.  "We were all operating under aliases.  But what are you doing here?"

Jin hoped against hope that her plan would work on Jong, and was glad her hearing was as good as it always had been.  "Cadence said it would be a good idea if I talked to Mai," she offered hopefully.  "Can you help me find her?"

She had been expecting a lot of reactions.  Jong calling her bluff, shrugging her off, maybe giving her directions.  She certainly hadn't expected him to burst into laughter.  "Oh she is wicked!" he gasped out.  "She's this way.  Just be glad we took all her knives away from her before locking her up.  Or more specifically, Cadence and Toph took her knives away."  He shuddered a bit as he turned to lead the way.  "Some of the places she hid knives and the like...well, no gentleman would have found them."

"Except Zuko, maybe?" Jin offered slyly, startling even more laughter from Jong.

Eventually, Jong led Jin to a cell deep inside the palace.  "You can talk to them through the bars," Jong instructed, stepping back.  "I'll stand over here so you can have some privacy.  I'll still be in sight, though.  Also, don't get too close to the bars.  The other girl with her - Ty Lee - is still incredibly dangerous even unarmed and behind bars."

"I'll be careful," Jin promised as Jong stepped back.  She then turned to see the pair of girls inside, still dressed in their disguises minus the makeup.  "Hello," she greeted.  "Remember me, Mai?"

"A little too well," Mai replied, looking bored.  "What do you want?"

"Who's that?" Ty Lee asked eagerly.  "Friend of yours, Mai?"

"A friend of Zuko's," Mai explained bluntly, her tone just a little too cold.

"Ohhh..." Ty Lee murmured in understanding.

Jin sat in front of the gate.  "In answer to your question, Mai...I want to talk.  About Zuko."

"Spare me the details," Mai groaned.  "The last thing I want to hear about right now is whatever you get up to you with Zuko."

"Even if it has to do with the end of the war?" Jin asked carefully.

Mai raised an eyebrow.  "What are you talking about?" she asked cautiously.

"Zuko's going to confront his father," Jin explained.  "He's asked me to go with him when he does."

Mai let out a quiet sigh.  "Good for you," she grumbled.  "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I haven't said yes yet," Jin explained.  "And he said the only reason he hadn't asked you is because he thinks you want to kill him."

Mai raised an eyebrow.  "Really?" she asked, a slight hint of interest in her tone.  "Well, you can tell him I'm not planning on killing him any time soon.  Cadence talked me out of it."

"How'd she manage that?" Ty Lee asked eagerly.  "Heartfelt discussion?  An appeal to your better nature?  A reminder of your true feelings for Zuko?"

"Or did she sick Mr. Green on you?" Jin jokes.

"...Mr. Green?" Mai asked, the tilt of her head the only sign of her confusion.

"Zuko's archer bodyguard," Jin explained.

"Oh, Zhin," Mai corrected.  "And you're both right."

Jin frowned.  "Huh.  Didn't expect that from Cadence.  She seemed so...nice."

"She was raised in the Fire Nation royal family," Mai counters.  "Iron fist in a velvet glove is how the whole family works.  Even Zuko has his own steel inside of him when he needs it."

"Huh," Ty Lee replied with a tilt of her head.  "Hadn't really thought about it that way.  Then again, wasn't she rather fond of Fire Lord Ozai when she was in the capitol, too?"

"Did you want anything else?" Mai demanded of Jin, laying back.

"Just this," Jin replied firmly, getting to the point.  "If Zuko did ask you to go with him when he confronted his father, would you say yes?"

Mai thought about that for a time, unsure what to say.

"I would!" Ty Lee offered eagerly.

"Really?" Mai asked in surprise.  Jin was rather shocked as well.

"What's to think about?" Ty Lee countered.  "Azula's no longer a factor, so it's a choice between Ozai and Zuko.  Zuko'd be getting the throne now eventually anyway...so why not help him get it if he's going for it now?"  She proceeded to walk around the cell on her hands for no apparent reason.  "It's a choice between the Fire Nation, or the Fire Nation and our friend.  What's to choose?  After all, Zuko's already got Cadence and the Avatar on his side.  It's not like he'll lose."

Jin suppressed a chuckle.  "I guess I see your point."  She turned back to Mai.  "What about you?"

Mai leaned back in thought for a time, thinking everything over.  "...if Zuko asks me himself, I'll go," she said finally.

Jin smiled widely.  "I can get him here to do that," she confirmed.  "Now...what about the rest of it?  You going to...stay the course?"

Mai looked at Jin for a time...only to smirk.  "Zuko's going to have his hands full keeping the world in one piece.  He could use all the help he can get for the long run.  Last thing he needs is being fought over."

Jin grinned back.  "I couldn't agree more," she agreed.  "But while I'm here...Ty Lee, could you teach me a few of your acrobatic tricks?"

Ty Lee blinked, surprised.  "Sure, but why?"

"Well, just because we've agreed not to fight over him doesn't mean we aren't going to be competing a bit," Jin replied with a wicked smirk.  "And if I don't want to get stuck being the co-wife...I need to be a bit more...flexible."  She quirked her eyebrows suggestively as she brought that up.

Both Mai and Ty Lee's eyes went wide as she said that.  "Wow," Ty Lee finally replied.  "Only the people at the circus ever talked like that to me before."

Jin shrugged.  "Guess that's what comes from having a much more down to earth upbringing," she joked.

Mai groaned as Ty Lee giggled.  "Really?" she demanded, plainly annoyed.  "You're really going to be throwing jokes like that around?"

"What?" Jin teased.  "You didn't really think you'd get away without facing any punishment, did you?"

"I've changed my mind," Mai groaned as Ty Lee laughed.  "Keep him."

Jin laughed along with Ty Lee, knowing Mai didn't really mean it.

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