A/N: Hi! I don't own Legend of Korra, nor any of the characters!
A BELATED MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! AND SORRY I HAVEN'T UPDATED IN FOREVER!
Please forgive me, this chapter is incredibly bad, but only because I rushed to update because I felt guilty :( many of you have waited so patiently for this, so I'm sorry to disappoint. I may edit/scrap this chapter later, I just don't feel happy with it. But all of you waited MONTHS for this, so here is a present :) I hope you enjoy, because nailing Iroh's personality was so difficult... oh well, hope I did okay.
I hope all of you had a great holiday, I know I did :D I promise I'll work harder on updating, things have been hectic this years with studies, co-curricular, and just general life issues, but it's summer holidays here in Oz so I'm hoping to progress on as well as resolve my works. So don't worry about Incendium being abandoned, it's not! I swear I'll finish it eventually :)
Also,a big shout-out in particular to ILoveStBerry! She has been a great help and friend to me, editing/revising previous chapters as well as just encouraging me to update this story! So please shower her with your love! She has been a fantastic inspiration to me, and I am so glad to have a reader as lovely as her :) Thanks so so so much, ILoveStBerry!
Of course, I love all my other readers as well, so THANKYOU SO MUCH TOO! Honestly, all of you are what make writing such a pleasure, I mean, sure it's fun writing your ideas for all your beloved OTPS, but when you have people to appreciate it it just makes the process that much more enjoyable! Thanks readers, and sorry again! I will not fail you! I hope you will continue to support me, through good and bad! :D
Next Chapter: Burn, to be released soon! (I promise!) + with guaranteed sizzlingness!
Chapter Three: Heat
Heat (n.) - The sensation or perception of warmth or hotness.
Intensity, as of passion, emotion.
"The United Forces'... General?" Korra murmured dazedly for the umpteenth time that night, hair now slightly askew as she folded her hands neatly in her lap, feeling fluttery yet slightly unsettled at the same time. "I can't believe it..."
"I'm General Iroh, of the United Forces..."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Avatar Korra..."
Even now, Korra still couldn't fathom the mysterious yet enchanting enigma that was known as the Firelord's son. His immaculately-pressed uniform, his ebony hair, even those damnable, detestable, glorious golden eyes... frustratingly, Korra felt her mind twist in knots as her cheeks bloomed with warmth against the evening breeze. Everything about him fascinated her, eliciting emotions and reactions from her she wasn't quite sure how to deal with nor entirely explain. Not to mention of course, the worrying heat pooling within the pit of her stomach and the mad beating of her heart that existed even now, much to her dismay...
Needless to say, the young General had certainly made an impression on the young Avatar.
A good one or not, Korra still wasn't sure.
She wasn't sure why she was reacting this way, or the reason why it was bothering her so much. Even after retiring to the palace gardens as soon as the young and disarming Iroh had been forced to excuse himself from her company due to a group of his superiors suddenly demanding his attention, the young Avatar still couldn't get him out of her mind. The way he looked, the way he sounded, the way he conducted himself, the way he made her feel... everything about Iroh startled Korra, simultaneously frustrating the feisty teen whilst captivating her at the same time.
To Korra, he was like fire: dangerous to handle, yet thrilling and alluring at the same time.
Dangerous, with the way he made her feel.
Alluring, with the way his gold eyes still managed to effectively dance into her consciousness and into her heart, leaving an undeniable, indescribable want within her.
And most importantly of course, that small spark that Korra had felt, as soon as he had uttered a single word to her.
She hated it. She, who had always been so incredibly certain on everything, so irrevocably strong-willed and self-assured her whole life, had so easily been reduced to a state of chaos and confusion all because of some stupid United Forces General, who also happened to be the Firelord's son, who also happened to be incredibly attractive and incredibly charming; all of which had happened under the span of five minutes at most.
Not that she'd ever admit it out loud.
It wasn't easy for Korra to deal with these emotions. Being in the White Lotus Compound had certainly sheltered her from entering the world as the Avatar unprepared and disadvantaged, but it had also hindered her as well: hindering her, through the fact that as a teenage girl, as Korra, and not as the Avatar, she had never been able to experience things so typical to others her age. Things like romance, and hardship, and confusing feelings such as those which she currently had now. Childishly, Korra almost wanted to blame the General for doing this to her, for effectively shattering the delicacy that was her naive and sheltered existence.
And yet, she wanted more and more of that spark, lusting for it in the way she felt the thumping in her chest continue to pound away, and the way her mind still refused to make sense of the young man who was responsible for all this, nor dare discard him from her attention.
That spark, which now, was irreversibly responsible for another phenomenon licking away at the Avatar's very being.
"So, Iroh," the young General heard a voice crack the air quietly, mirthfully, as he felt his eyes close shut in anticipation for what he knew was going to happen next:
"How did you find the Avatar?"
Forcefully, Iroh felt himself suppress a groan as he set his cringe into a stern, stoic frown. This conversation, he had knew, was inevitable, but deep, deep down he had still had a tiny, tiny insignificant wish that hope against hope, it would manage to be somehow avoided amongst the party, which had ended quite some moments ago.
But that was pure nonsense.
Bracing himself for what was to come, stiffly, mechanically, unhappily, Iroh felt himself turn around, only to meet a pair of tell-tale golden eyes gleaming with both amusement and danger against the dimness of the room.
Inwardly, he groaned once more; this was not going to be good.
"Well?" his mother urged impatiently, ruby lips struggling not to set into a triumphant smirk as he vaguely contemplated the idea of simply propelling himself out of the room as an alternative to dealing with another of his mother's intrusive interrogations. "How did you find her?"
"Well," Iroh began, arms folded behind his back, "I..."
She had eyes as blue as Yue Bay, skin as brown as the earth. She looked to be no more than 18; and despite her tough, rough, hot-headed exterior, within her Iroh could sense a certain teenage vulnerability, the type often accompanied with youth that eventually blossomed into self-confidence and sureness as they went along.
"She seems..." he trailed off, "... very interesting, to say the least..."
She was sort of volatile in a way, her temper as unpredictable as the Fire Nation's volcanoes themselves: one moment, she was berating him for knocking into her, the next she was blushing like a demure maiden at the way he apologized and the way he helped her up. And when he had to pardon himself, just after a few seconds of lifting her onto her feet, she seemed just slightly disappointed... and of course, that spark he felt as their eyes met, the air charged all around them, buzzing...
"... quite lively..." he continued, as Ursa's lips just slightly quirked at the corners, "... and a little bit uncomfortable in social situations such as parties, but she seems like a very strong and capable young woman who I am sure is also fitting the role of Avatar quite well. Why do you ask?" he inquired politely, already dreading the answer to come.
"So you like her," Ursa concluded, with a satisfied tone that Iroh knew he could not argue against. By now, he was becoming wearier and wearier of his mother's games to interrupt anyhow or attempt to dissuade her from whatever little tirade she was currently on. Given no protest, she continued: "Yes she's quite the young Avatar, isn't she... nothing at all like her predecessor... oddly enough, despite her Waterbending parentage however, she seems to have taken an extreme liking to our home and our way of Bending. She should be quite the addition to our household the next couple of weeks, wouldn't you agree?" the wise Firelord remarked diplomatically, deliberately keeping her tone even and neutral as she noted her son's slightly wary expression. Oh, how she loved to tease him.
"You know," Ursa went on, intentionally turning her back towards the baffled General and towards the crackling fire that had been lit, "when I informed the Avatar about you, she considerably perked up," the woman reported almost casually, as Iroh stiffened immensely. "Wanted to know your age... what you were like... if you were any good-looking at all..."
"And?" Iroh urged tersely, hesitantly, unsure of what direction the conversation was heading. "What did you tell her?"
"Oh, you know," Ursa replied nonsensically, briefly reminding Iroh of his grand-aunt Azula's famed calculative deceptiveness once more, "not much... just that you were proficient in Firebending... and that you are an utter stiff, always having no fun and being an utter all work and no play, type of boy..." she trailed off boredly, as Iroh resigned himself to a pained grimace and furrowed brow. All his life, his mother had always made it a point in poking fun at his rather serious nature, from the the time when he was still very young; preferring the company of both his grandfather and General Bumi whom he would whittle away the hours discussing global-issues and history rather than entertain the trivialities of other children, to even now at 23 years of age, where he fully immersed himself in his role as both Crown Prince of the Fire Nation and the esteemed United Forces General. It wasn't that he wasn't necessarily a fun sort of person, many noble girls and his fellow United Nations men could vehemently attest to quite the opposite; it was just that lately he didn't have as much time as he liked to do so. The youngest General of the United Nations took his responsibilities very seriously; just as his grandfather had.
In short, General Iroh really didn't have time for things such as "fun".
"Mother," the young Firebender finally spoke, the older woman's eyes glimmering at his defeated expression, "why exactly are you telling me all this? All about..." he paused, running his fingers through his usually impeccable hair, "... the Avatar?" he finished, as his mother burst into a small chuckle.
"Oh, Iroh," Ursa smiled, turning around only to fondly pat the cheek of her now taller, but still so youthful son, "do not worry yourself so much. You are still so young and yet it seems like you have forgotten how to just relax every once in a while. Learning to smile would be something I would worry about now for yourself, wouldn't you agree?" the Firelord suggested jovially, as her son merely shut his eyes and sighed. That was the thing with Iroh; no matter how talented or skilled he may be as a Firebender and future leader of the Fire Nation, her son had much to learn in terms of actually living his life and having fun. That was what she hoped to achieve from her little scheme between him and the Avatar, amongst other things she couldn't quite divulge just yet.
"Anyhow," Ursa continued, finally letting go of him and turning away once more, "it is getting late and I believe it would be best if we both retire to our rooms now. It has been a long day; I am quite certain you'll need your rest for tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Iroh prompted, instantly sharpening up as he pinned her with his illustrious gaze. "What's tomorrow?"
"Oh, did I not tell you?" Ursa asked innocently, as Iroh felt a sense of foreboding wash over him. "Tomorrow, you shall be joining us for Firebending training," she proclaimed cheerily, sweeping her long dark hair to one shoulder. "Does that not sound enticing to you?"
"Us?" Iroh repeated, now feeling extremely drained and just about ready to crawl into bed. "Who is 'us', exactly?"
"The Avatar, you dragon-moose," Ursa teased cheekily, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "She shall be training with us tomorrow, and you will be joining, no exceptions," she quickly asserted, just before Iroh could hastily complain that he had paperwork to do and documents to oversee. "Perhaps we shall even have a mock Agni Kai if she advances enough; she is a quick learner, that one," the Firelord appraised casually. "She takes to our Bending the way a turtle-duck takes to the water," the beautiful woman laughed, pleased by her own analogy. Her son, however, was not quite so taken by the idea, his face sharp and pensive once more.
"If that's all," the younger Firebender finally pressed, heading towards the door, "I suppose I'll be taking my leave then. Goodnight, mother," Iroh called, as he made his way towards the exit.
"Oh, and Iroh?" her voice suddenly slid in once more, stopping the General in his tracks.
"I never did punish you for your tardiness today, did I?" Firelord Ursa calmly commented, as Iroh felt his heart drop and dread sink in.
Damn, I was so sure she'd forgotten...!
"I'm quite sure waking up the Avatar for tomorrow would serve as a sufficient enough punishment, wouldn't you agree?"
Korra sighed as she rolled around, blankets twisting around her body rather ungracefully as she continued to indulge herself on the luxury of slumber. The pillows... the fur and silk blankets... not to mention the high-quality mattress that the Avatar could feel herself practically sink into... Korra may not have been sure where she was or when she had reached such a place, but what she was absolutely certain of was that this was perhaps one of the best sleeps she had ever had in her whole life. Though of course she still felt terribly homesick for the snow and the faces of her family and Sifu Katara, the young woman couldn't help but sigh at how content she felt at the moment. Truly, she was in bliss.
Currently, she was dreaming she was back in the South Pole, this time with Naga happily playing by her side. It was terribly cold with the whole landscape submerged in snow and ice, but Korra loved it. She adored the refreshingly-icy bite of the wind against her cheeks and nose, and even the playful little otter-penguins all sliding around. When she was younger, she would spend a lot of her free-time whittling away the hours penguin-sledding, much to her teachers' dismay. Katara on the other hand would always seemed very fond of her when she did so though, and even Korra would notice on occasion the way her Sifu's eyes would go misty whenever the younger Waterbender would invite the older woman to come join her.
Her dream was going incredibly well so far: Naga chasing her as she ran around, Waterbending the oceans so that she could catch some fish for her canine companion. All of it generated a sense of warmth and nostalgia within the fiery Avatar as she sighed in her sleep once more, a large smile sloppily plastered onto her face. Everything in her dream was perfect. If given a choice, she wouldn't mind staying like this for the rest of her life.
"Avatar..." a voice suddenly drifted into her consciousness, as she gave a moan of protest, her dream now effectively shattered. "Avatar Korra..."
"Go away," Korra slurred in her sleep as she pouted cutely, stubbornly holding onto her pillow. "I'm sleeping..."
"Avatar Korra," the voice persisted once more, as Korra subconsciously scowled at the annoyance plaguing her. Really, couldn't she just have five more minutes? They'd already been rude enough, ruining the lovely little dream she was having. "Avatar Korra, please..."
The voice was vaguely familiar, but the bull-headed teen was too preoccupied to remember it as she adamantly resisted, much to the source of the disturbance's despair. "Leave me alone..." Korra whined, twisting in her sheets more and more, "... five more minutes... hn..."
Unexpectedly, Korra felt a sudden warmth make contact with her flesh as she gave a gasp of surprise, the voice now becoming more and more familiar to her as she recognized the surprisingly pleasant huskiness of the voice, tugging at her consciousness insistently.
"Avatar Korra... it's time to get up..."
Why do I feel like I should know this voice...? the Avatar wondered obliviously, as she gradually began to shake herself from her sleep. And why am I suddenly so warm!?
"... hot..." Korra complained childishly, much to the other person's utter confusion. Still, the source of warmth remained on her arm, distressing and yet slightly exciting the hot-headed teenager greatly. She didn't know why, but there was something about the heat now plaguing her that made her want more and more. Truthfully, it all seemed surprisingly déjà vu to her, but she failed to make the connection as she clung ever-tightly to her bed. All she knew was that right now she was tired, she was uncomfortably (not in an entirely bad way) hot, and there was an oddly pleasant voice calling out to her.
"Korra..." the voice now murmured into her ear, so close that she could practically feel the heat of their breath brushing her neck, sending a shudder down her spine. Mysteriously, Korra suddenly remembered a particular gold, a gold which reminded her of...
"GENERAL IROH!" Korra yelped as she shot up instantly from beneath her sheets, only to hit her head against something hard. Alarmed, and her head pounding mercilessly away, Korra rubbed her throbbing head in pain only to see what exactly she had hit.
General Iroh of the United Forces was currently on the ground, his lip now cut and bleeding.
"Oh, Spirits!" Korra cried out in pure horror as she realised what she had done. She had head-butted the future Firelord of all people, and had cut his lip in the process! Head still aching, Korra endured through the pain and the pure embarrassment as she leapt down from her bed and by the side of the injured Crown Prince, her heart hammering away from what she had done. Right now, she was pretty sure she was awkwardness personified.
"I am so sorry!" Korra apologized profusely, feeling superbly dismayed by the fact that this was not the first time she had greeted the General like this. Pushing her anxieties and shame aside, shakily Korra reached out her hands towards the groaning young man, trying to assess the situation. Other than a cut lip and some pain administered by her no less, he seemed to be fine. Korra let out a breath of relief, her heart calming just a little. Now feeling just a little more at ease, gingerly Korra rested her hands in her lap as she watched the young man get up, rubbing his throbbing head whilst groaning rather unhappily. Even like this now, the two of them on the floor, both their heads aching and his lip bleeding, Korra couldn't help but look at him closely, regretting the decision as soon as she had decided upon it.
There he was, as handsome and as perfect as ever. However, this time, Korra felt as if she was exposed to a different side of him, viewing him in an entirely different light. Lips parted, the young Avatar couldn't help but notice the way his effortlessly-styled hair from the night before was now slightly messy, some of his dark hair now partially hanging around his eyes. Strangely, Korra found herself curiously enough fancying the way it looked, giving him a much more youthful appearance than she had witnessed previously. Like this, he looked to be around his early 20's at most. His uniform, whilst still impeccable, was in a slight state of disarray from the fall, further emphasizing his rather young age. The blood staining the corner of his lip made him seem almost wild, as if he were the type to seek trouble and revel in it. Though Korra found him handsome either way, she felt she much preferred this look (minus the blood). Iroh now looked so entirely youthful and far more relaxed, something which she couldn't help but laugh at, despite the reality of their situation.
"Ugh," Iroh managed to groan once the pain had finally begun to ebb away. "What are you laughing at?" he managed, his gold eyes piercing the amused girl questioningly.
Now that was a big mistake.
Wordlessly, whilst Korra made a huge fuss over getting some water to "help with that cut", still struggling to maintain her laughter, the cool-under-fire General took a moment to take in the young woman right before him. She certainly looked far more comfortable and natural like this: hair down, no elaborate or fancy accessories, chest bound with bandages accompanied with some comfortable-looking pants... any other person, and they would have blushed at the way the young Avatar so liberally walked around exposing so much of her upper-half. However, Iroh was the type of person who could take on a wave of enemy threats and still not break a sweat. Henceforth, acting embarrassed by such a trivial thing was not an option for the honour-driven, prideful Firebender.
Keep it together, Iroh.
"Here," Korra finally said, having shaken off her giggles to kneel down beside him once more, cup of water in hand. Iroh eyed the cup of water, already knowing where this was heading. "It's really not necessary," the young General began calmly, turning his head away from her slightly as he made a gesture to get up. "It's just a tiny cut; I've dealt with far, far worse," he added, giving her a small, wry smile as a means to reassure her.
"Nonsense," Korra quickly reprimanded him, as she reached out to him, only to press him back to his original position by placing her hands on his shoulders. Though there was a light blush on her cheeks, she remained unshaken as she went to work. "I did this to you, so it's only right that I make up for it. Hold still," Korra instructed firmly, the cup long set aside, now Bending the water so that she now had an orb of the luminous liquid in her control. "Back in the Southern Water Tribe, Sifu Katara practically drilled it into me that I master healing," the teenager explained cheerfully whilst Iroh watched her calmly reach out a fingertip of water towards his lip. "It might sting a little, but rest assured I've been taught by the best!" Korra exclaimed confidently as Iroh felt a slight pain from where the cut was, only to be replaced by a soothing, pleasant sensation. Despite the pink on her cheeks, the rambunctious teenager remained professional all throughout, finally withdrawing her finger one she was sure she had done her job. Resting back on her knees once again, Korra smiled at her work. "There! All done!" she announced proudly, as Iroh remained wordless. "Now it's as if you never got cut in the first place!"
Speechlessly, Iroh reached up his fingers to brush against his lip, marveling at the fact that there was nothing there at all. Korra watched as he did so, feeling immensely pleased that she had been able to have been of service to him. Quietly, Iroh gave a smile of gratitude to her, making the younger Bender's heart beat indisputably once more. A fearless and undaunted man he may be, but the honour-bound General knew when to give credit when it was due. "Thank you, Avatar Korra," Iroh said to her sincerely, his gold eyes gleaming with gratitude towards her. "Your skills as a Bender truly are amazing."
Korra remained speechless for a moment, a dark blush remaining on her cheeks whilst a frustrated yet flattered expression settled itself upon her face. "You don't have to do that, you know..." Korra informed him, though not unkindly. "You can just call me Korra... and you don't have to be so formal around me..."
"Formal?" Iroh blinked. Surely, he was conducting himself just as he should around the Avatar?
"Yeah... all this 'Avatar Korra' and whatever," Korra grumbled, as she started work on grooming her hair into its usual look. "You're not that much older than me," she continued, Iroh watching, transfixed at the way she tied her hair up so carelessly, "and I'm sick and tired of everyone always being so polite to me just because of my title. So you can just call me Korra. Got it?"
The General was slightly stunned for a moment at how blunt and straightforward she was. He felt a little envious at that moment, the way the Avatar, despite her position as possibly the most important person in the world, could so freely speak her mind without fear of consequence or retaliation. It was as if nothing could restrain her nor her spirit, like she was a force that none could dare contain or reckon.
Somehow, Iroh felt himself slightly wishing that he could be just a little like that.
"... alright," Iroh said after a while, Korra blinking in surprise at how easily he had agreed, "I'll call you 'Korra' if you refer to me just as 'Iroh'."
Korra nodded, as if contemplating the negotiation. Finally, she stood up, extending one hand out to the young General still sitting on the floor.
"Nice to meet you then, Iroh," the proud Water-tribe girl finally spoke, a warm smile set on her face as she gazed down at him, her blue eyes practically shimmering. Seeing the Avatar like this, like a mere teenage girl (minus the added-factor that she was also the reincarnation of the world's most powerful beings), helped Iroh feel far more comfortable and at ease around her, so much to the point that he couldn't help but feel as if a barrier between the two of them had been broken. It seemed that, despite how briefly the two had known each other, they were getting along already swimmingly well. The young General couldn't help but feel hopeful for the future the two of them had together; as future Firelord and Avatar. To the man with the golden eyes, it seemed extraordinarily bright.
"And you too, Korra," he added, with a little tug at the corner of his lips that formed into a tidy smirk, Korra blushing at the sight of it. There it is again, Korra thought terribly, Iroh oblivious to the whirlwind of emotions within her. That stupid heat! Control yourself, Korra! You just met him! Aang and the others would kill you to see you like this! And Spirits forbid what would happen if Kyoshi saw you like this...! Inwardly, Korra had to suppress a shudder before forcing herself back to reality. Clutching her hand in his own, the General had at last rose to his feet, golden eyes twinkling down into the shorter Bender's blue with a light in them Korra could not help but feel slightly dizzy from.
It seemed that gold was her new favourite colour.
"So," Iroh said, breaking Korra from her epiphany, his infectiously-deep, honeyed voice snatching her attention once more, "shall we go and join my mother for training? She's been pretty eager to have the two of us train with her, you know," he offered, as the young Avatar felt the heat on her cheeks burning like Agni knew no end. All sorts of questions ran through her mind: for example, what type of Firebender was Iroh, and how good was he? And most importantly, what he could teach her, and vice-versa? That thought alone was enough to distract Korra from any more-than-platonic ponderings as she switched into her usual overly-enthusiastic mood that often accompanied the prospect of Bending.
"Yeah!" Korra suddenly exclaimed enthusiastically, hand slipping out of the General's as she rushed in front of the door, a big, bright grin etched brilliantly on her face, lighting up the whole room. "Let's go do some Bending! Spirits, I hope Firelord Ursa doesn't make us do anymore hot squats," Korra complained, as Iroh could only nod at her sympathetically from past experiences, "my muscles were killing me from last time!"
"Hot squats?" Iroh decided to entertain her mischievously, a sudden playful fire set in his amber gaze. His mother wanted him to have more fun? Fine, he'd be "fun", starting with the easily riled-up Avatar before him. "Tell you what," Iroh started, Korra flinching at how rapidly the heat began to pool within her once more, just from the husky tone of his voice to the way he seemed to suddenly get closer to her, leaning down so that their eyes were level, "why don't we make a bet?" Iroh suggested ominously, Korra's curiosity piqued as she looked at him with mystified, confused eyes.
"A bet?" Korra repeated, her competitive spirit aroused. Everyone who was familiar with the loud-mouthed 17 year old knew she could not turn down a challenge when presented to her. Her pride was far too great to deter, a foolhardy, yet commendable trait. "What kind of bet?" Korra asked suspiciously, noting the General's sudden turn of playfulness.
"Training today," Iroh explained patiently, "you and me engage in a fake Agni Kai. Whoever wins," Iroh dropped dramatically, "walks away with both their honour intact, as well as the title of the Better Firebender. Whoever loses, however," the young General breathed, Korra feeling her heart stop,
"will have to complete two hundred hot squats before sunset," Iroh completed solemnly, Korra giving a gasp of indignation at the mere idea of it.
"Two hundred!?" Korra reiterated, utterly aghast. If fifty was enough to render her muscles as weak as a newborn baby's, what unimaginable disasters would two hundred unleash on her? Whilst the Avatar may be fitter than most, with her beautifully athletic form, as well as the fact that she could lift a whole family of Airbenders with no problem, it still didn't mean she was incapable of getting exhausted! However, looking at how playful the General had become, as well as the fact she took her status as one of the greatest Benders extremely seriously, the hot-headed Avatar knew there was no way she was going to back down. Or lose this bet, she thought determinedly.
"Aright then," Korra declared tenaciously, folding her arms in a move of resolution, "I'll accept your little challenge. But don't come crying to me or Mama Ursa when you're left out there doing your hot-squats under the sun, got it?" the Waterbender proclaimed rather cockily, her own big smirk set on her young face. Iroh didn't know whether to feel insulted or amused; somehow, the young Avatar before him had managed to successfully tread the delicate line between both arrogant and adorable, her "Mama Ursa" jab both immature yet cute. Voicing such a thing out loud though would be an offense to his honour as Crown Prince however, so Iroh remained silent on the matter, instead countering with his own teasing line.
"Whatever you say, Korra," Iroh murmured lowly, amused at the shorter Bender's sudden blush and widened eyes, yet unaware of the true reasoning behind it. "We'll see who really triumphs out there later... after all, I was named after the famed 'Dragon of the West'," he added, glad to see that the Avatar wasn't exactly ignorant to the weight behind such a name.
"Hmph, whatever," Korra finally managed after retaining her composure, arms still crossed and words fierce as a Wolfbat's bite, "see you out on the training grounds, then," she spoke rather heatedly, before marching out of the room with an air of deliberate indifference. Witnessing this spectacle, Iroh couldn't help but chuckle, a rare spectacle indeed for any in the Fire Palace to witness these days. The only times he really had a laugh nowadays was either in the company of noble girls during a party, or when he was having a drink with General Bumi.
The General had to hand it to her; truly, the Avatar was something different.
But just because you're the Avatar, Korra, Iroh thought, rubbing his chin thoughtfully for a moment in contemplation, doesn't mean I'll let you win.
And with that, Iroh too marched himself out of the door, the young General's footsteps echoing the Avatar's purposeful own.
As soon as Korra had marched out of the room, she had proceeded to break into a mad sprint before finally stopping at another of the palace's winding corridors, her usually rigid body slumping bonelessly against the wall for support. The young Avatar felt as if she was going mad, her body refusing to co-operate with her thoughts as she let out a series of rugged pants, head spinning out of control.
What is wrong with you?!
At first it had seemed harmless enough, the subconscious stares, the innocent, fleeting thoughts of how handsome he looked, the incorrigible heat that would resurface every time he got to close or too near. Sure, it had hit her hard, how suddenly and randomly the feelings had come, but the strong-headed teenager had simply reassured herself for a while that it was temporary, and had simply manifested from the pure fact Korra was unused to the presence of strong, handsome, incredibly flawless men. She was a teenager, with hormones. Surely it would all blow over eventually, right?
But as Korra had come to realise over the span of the brief time (which was what shamed the teenager so) was that she was affected by Iroh, perhaps more so than she had initially feared. Every time she looked into those gold eyes, or heard his splendid voice, or simply got too close to him, that infernal heat would return, troubling the Avatar far more than it should. How could she befriend the General, if the only thing he would do was elicit that stupid heat within her? She hated the reaction! You are not some boy-crazy fangirl, Korra repeated over and over to herself like a mantra, still slumped against the corridor wall, you are the Avatar, damn it! Think of Kyoshi, think of Kyoshi, think of Kyoshi...! she inwardly screamed, trying to dissuade the heat within her from the constant reminder that her fearsome predecessor would probably gut her right now for how foolish she was being. Really, this was ridiculous! How could she possibly be the Avatar if she couldn't even get through this?
Okay, Korra... Korra finally told herself resolutely, steeling her blue eyes and purposefully denying the beating of her chest, you are the Avatar. So there is no need for these stupid feelings all because of Iroh, she told herself calmly, as if she were meditating on the words to bring her inner-peace. If you can bend all the elements... well, almost all the elements, she thought begrudgingly, thinking of Airbending in particular, then you can get a hold on your feelings. That heat is just because... I'm in the Fire Nation! That's it! she suddenly realised, as if she had reached some mind-blowing conclusion. I'm in the Fire Nation, so it's only natural I feel much hotter, right? Yeah, that's totally it! What a relief! Korra told herself cheerfully, ignoring all common sense at this point, before confidently marching her way to the training grounds, steps lighter yet soul not exactly convinced. All she knew was that for now, Iroh and the heat he would bring were definitely, without a doubt, not on her mind.
Or so she hoped.
That's why it was such a shame for Korra to realise as soon as she had stepped on the training field...
... that the General would be training alongside her,