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.

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43. Forged Bonds

Zuko left the palace quietly, focusing his thoughts as he made his way towards the Upper Ring.  A meeting was coming, one he would lay money wouldn't be entirely pleasant for him.  He could already hear the whispering, from court official to rich merchant to servant to customer, about what had happened that day.  The attempted takeover of Ba Sing Se by the Fire Nation, the betrayal of the Dai Li...and how the day was saved.  His real name was racing through the city, and it wouldn't be long before one person in particular put the details together.  And he was going to meet that person now.  Privately, he wished Cadence hadn't insisted that Jong and Zhin accompany him to watch his back, since he didn't really need it...and the pair were still using his 'last legal order' as carte blanche to ignore any orders of his they didn't particularly like, such as to leave him alone.

It wasn't long after he entered the Upper Ring that he saw her racing to approach him.  She looked pleased to see him, but also thoughtful.  He sighed sadly as she approached him.  "Hey Jin," he greeted softly.

"Hey Lee!" she greeted happily.  "Or...it's not Lee anymore, is it?"

Zuko glanced away sadly.  "It...never really was."  He lowered his gaze to the ground, feeling ashamed.  "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Jin replied softly.  "It was pretty obvious from the start you were a lot more than just a tea server.  You had a...larger name, for a larger destiny."  She managed a soft smile.  "Besides...with Lee, I got to know the real you, and I wouldn't trade that for anything."

Zuko sighed in relief as he felt his own smile returning.  "I'm glad, too," he agreed.  "It was...nice, making a friend where there weren't any expectations of either of us...where no matter where we were, we could just be us.  I've never really had that before, and I'll never forget it."

Jin turned to him, her gaze and tone now worried.  "Why does it sound like...you're saying goodbye?"

Zuko turned his eyes skyward.  "...the larger destiny you mentioned is at hand," he explained.  "Before long, the forces of the world will move towards a clash that will bring about an end to the Hundred Year War.  The outcome of that clash will reshape the world, and...no matter the outcome, my role in it all will consume the rest of my days.  I...probably won't ever be able to return to Ba Sing Se when it's over.  And...even if I can, it...won't be like this.  This part of my life, as a simple, happy tea server...that's over."

He turned to glance towards Jin, only to look away.  There was something he wanted to say...but he was afraid.  Afraid she'd say no.  Afraid she would say yes, but for the wrong reasons.  And even more afraid she'd say yes, only for it to end in tragedy.  As all this raced through his mind, he knew the regret and wonder of not asking would haunt him, and he had to speak up.  "Jin...there's something I want to ask you."

She gave him a piercing look, a soft smile taking any fierceness from it.  "Is it Zuko asking...or Lee?"

Zuko managed to return the smile, glad one of his worries was unfounded.  "It's...Lee asking through Zuko," he explained, hoping he was presenting it correctly.

Jin chuckled a bit.  "Go ahead and ask," she encouraged softly.

"Will...will you come with me?" he asked nervously.  "Help me...change the world?"

Jin looked him right in the eyes, turning his question over in her mind.  She knew how she wanted to answer, but since he had been that worried about asking, she couldn't be that eager.  "If I do...will I be able to see my parents again?"

Zuko shrugged.  "If everything works out...we'll likely be coming back every now and then officially.  There will be time then."

Jin nodded.  "And what about the other girl?" she asked.  "The one you were still holding a torch for?"

Zuko looked away, not looking forward to this topic.  "It's...complicated..."

"Do you still have feelings for her?"

Zuko closed his eyes, pretty certain where the conversation was going.  "...yes."

Jin raised an eyebrow.  "And you're asking me to go with you...and not her?"

"I'm pretty sure she wants to kill me," Zuko admitted.  "I...kinda broke up with her via letter to protect her from my treason..."

Jin couldn't suppress a chuckle.  "Can't say I blame her," she replied jokingly.  "But if she weren't going to try and kill you...would you be asking her instead of me?"

Zuko fell silent, giving the question serious thought.  "...I don't know," he admitted at last.  "I...I would want to ask her...but I'd want to ask you, too.  I..."  He shook his head, shrugging his shoulders.  "I don't know what to say..."

Jin's soft smile returned.  "What's her name?" she asked.

"Mai," Zuko replied readily.

"Known her for a long time?"

Zuko nodded.  "Since we were kids.  She was my sister's friend, but...we grew close as well.  And then...when the assignation was arranged, we started to drift apart, but Cadence helped me patch things up with her.  And...when I left to hunt the Avatar, Cadence provided us with a way to stay in contact.  It...it was hard to break things off with her...but I had to.  For her sake."

Jin smiled softly to herself.  A plan was beginning to form in her mind, a plan to help the boy she liked to be the man the world needed him to be.  "Where is she now?" she asked innocently.

"In the cells up in the palace," Zuko replied.  "Why?"

"No particular reason," Jin answered sweetly.  Reaching out, she laid her hand on his shoulder.  "Can I get back to you on that?"

"S-sure," Zuko stammered, cursing himself for losing control.

Jin smiled winsomely in a way that reminded Zuko briefly of Ty Lee at her most mischievous.  Humming softly, she turned and walked off.  Zuko couldn't figure out for the life of him at that moment why she was heading for the palace.

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