NOTE: For Zuko's daughter, I used the named Ursa. It makes sense to me, that he would name his daughter after his mother. When her name is announced, I'm sure I'll go back and make changes but until then it's Fire Lord Ursa here. :) I'm giving Iroh an older sister who is married with three children. Headcanon is fun, isn't it?
Also, this chapter is extra-long to make up for the time between my last post. I hope you enjoy! All of your reviews are sweet, and I appreciate every single one of them. Thank you.
Apologies if you receive multiple emails about this chapter - the site is being a little wonky today.
Asami had always been privileged – by the time she was born, her father had been well on his way to building his warehouse, his Satomobiles selling out quicker than he could create them. She'd never known what it was like to live on the streets, or to be tucked away in the cold Southern arctic, hidden from the world. Asami Sato knew her way around parties, knew the right things to say to the right people. That was just the kind of life she'd always lived.
It still didn't fully prepare her for meeting Fire Nation royalty.
Where she expected formality, stiffness and a lot of bowing, there was hugging. At first, Asami felt a little awkward walking up the palace steps, trying hard not to gawk. Her home (not her home anymore) had been just as grandiose, but that still didn't take away just how old the palace felt to her. Those walls had seen battles, celebrations and sadness. It was a lot to take in.
Once they'd actually reached the front door of the main building, they were faced with the royal family themselves. General Iroh had led their little group, stepping forward to give his mother a kiss on the cheek. That was when Ikki let out a loud squeal and barreled into the Fire Lord, giving the woman a tight hug around her knees.
That seemingly broke the dam, and there was a lot of laughing, hugging, and comments on Tenzin's beard. Asami held back a laugh as the man crossed his arms, looking a tad grumpy when Fire Lord Ursa tugged on it, grinning up at him.
"I just have to know how you get it to stick out like that. Your father's wasn't like this at all."
"I think he gets it from his mother's side," was Pema's amused comment. Korra had snickered at the exchange, which brought Fire Lord Ursa's attention to the young avatar. Walking over, the woman put her hands on Korra's shoulders, her eyes narrowed and searching the young girl's face. Korra started to fidget a little under the intense stare before the woman's face broke out into a wide smile.
"I've been waiting to meet you, Avatar Korra. I hear you've been up to a lot in Republic City recently. You'll have to tell me all about it."
The Fire Lord's words made Korra's tense shoulders relax, and she grinned up at the woman. "It has been pretty crazy..."
After that, the introductions were done as they walked through the palace halls. A few times Mako had to dig a sharp elbow into his brother's ribs, shushing him every time Bolin would gasp or let out a sharp 'Wow' at some of the decadence. It was hard to keep a straight face, but Asami managed.
Actually, she'd been so distracted by Bolin's reactions and his brother's silent reprimands that she didn't realize her name had been mentioned until she heard Meelo speak. "That is my future wife."
Raising her eyebrows, she looked down at the boy, who was giving her a gap toothed grin, then slowly she looked up to meet the eyes of everyone else. Slightly startled, she floundered silently before a polite smile formed on her lips, the one reserved for strangers that commanded respect. Pema smiled, ushering her son to one of the rooms ahead. Apparently they'd reached the guest wing of the palace, silent servants opening the doors to their assigned rooms.
"I'm sorry, I guess I was a little distracted," Asami admitted, resisting the urge to tug on a strand of hair. It was a nervous habit of hers, ingrained in her since she was young. Fire Lord Ursa nodded, her expression smooth as she spoke to Asami. "Understandable. Those two are a little distracting, aren't they?" Her eyes twinkled as she looked at the brothers, her mouth curving into a smile as Mako and Bolin both flushed, muttering apologies.
"Actually, I've been looking forward to meeting you, Miss. Sato." The woman drew closer, the rest of their group stopping at Pema and Tenzin's room to admire it before moving forward. "From what I understand, you're looking to expand, correct?"
Asami nodded, giving the Fire Lord a curious look. It was true - her father only had Satomobiles built in Republic City, and Asami figured they could have warehouses in other large cities as time went on. It only made sense, and would make the vehicles more accessible for people who lived so far from Republic City that shipping them would cost more than the Satomobile itself. How the word got out all the way to the Fire Nation baffled her, though.
Her confusion was quickly cleared up as General Iroh stepped up next to his mother, giving Asami a half smile. She felt her back automatically straighten at his presence. "You'll have to forgive me if you were trying to keep it quiet a little longer. Rumors were running rampant in the city, and my mother's been somewhat anxious to have one of your factories here. I suspect she wants a Satomobile in each color."
Asami laughed, watching Ursa pat her son on the arm with a mixed expression of affection and exasperation. "Please, I was trying to ease her into the idea of talking business. It's all about subtlety, Iroh." Fire Lord Ursa dropped the subject, though, squeezing a hand on Asami's arm as she declared the time for business was later.
There was apparently a party to get ready for.
It had taken Asami a few minutes to absorb just how beautiful her room was. It was huge, much larger than the room she'd grown up in. There were varying shades of red and gold, simple tapestries of dragons hung on the walls. It was tasteful and elegant, something she could appreciate.
Once she started to unpack, there was a knock on her room. Swiftly walking over, she opened it to find Bolin, who immediately peeked into her room.
"This place is nice," he said, walking past her as she stepped back to let him inside. "I wanted to see what everyone's room looks like. They're all a little different." He went over to her bed, giving it a test bounce before perching on the edge.
"It is, but that's kind of expected, right?" She smiled at him as she went back to her luggage, pulling out some of the items. As usual, she'd over packed, but this time it worked in her favor. They hadn't known there would be a party once they got there, one that included nobility from the Fire Nation. Once word of the Avatar's upcoming visit had reached the population, there had been a demand to introduce her properly. Thankfully, Asami had a few gowns tucked inside one of her nicer suitcases, and she pulled one out, shaking it slightly to get rid of any wrinkles.
"True," Bolin mumbled as he watched her. He was quiet as she started hanging up clothes, which was unusual for her friend. She looked over her shoulder to find him looking at the ground, his brow furrowed.
"Is something wrong?"
"Ah, I don't know." Bolin rubbed the back of his neck, still looking at the floor. "Just not sure what to do here, you know? I mean, I grew up on the streets. Now I'm in a palace. Can't say I ever saw this coming."
Asami turned to fully face him, her hands on her hips as she looked at him. Bolin was confident, able to bounce back from anything, but this seemed to throw him off a bit. She wasn't sure if it was because of the upcoming party, or just the fact he had to mingle with nobility. He wasn't exactly experienced with that type of situation.
Abandoning her chore, Asami walked over and sat beside her friend, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Hey, if you're worried about how to act it's okay. Korra is, too. Nobody expects you guys to get everything right. There are a lot of rules with this kind of society, but they aren't as strict as they used to be. Trust me, compared to how it was seventy years ago it'll be a breeze."
Bolin nodded, a smile tugging at his lips. "You're right. I guess I could just stand in a corner and be silent, if anything."
"I don't think you'll have to do that, Bolin."
"Well, maybe I could give an earthbending demonstration!" This energized Bolin and he hopped off the bed, landing in a horse stance in front of her. "I could show them all kinds of moves!"
Asami laughed as he pantomimed exaggerated earthbending stances, his eyes crossed and a goofy grin on his face. "Maybe you should save that for another day."
"Yeah, good idea." He dropped his hands, shaking his head. "Don't want to destroy the place without being here at least twenty four hours, huh?"
"Actually, I came here to ask you something." Bolin gave her a sheepish grin as he continued. "Can you, ah, help me get ready? I don't really have clothes that would fit in at a royal celebration like this, and you're the only person I know who could help. A few servants gave me some things, but I'm pretty clueless about this stuff."
"Sure I will, Bolin."
"Sweet! Oh, and I told Mako and Korra you'd help and they'll be here in a few..." he was interrupted by a knock, then a loud sound as Korra burst through the door, followed by her boyfriend who only shook his head.
"Okay, give me a crash course on this stuff." Korra flopped on the bed beside Asami, covering her eyes with her hands. "I can't have people dress me, it's too weird. And I heard Ambassador Zuko is going to be here, too, and that will be-"
"Weird?" Was Bolin's suggestion.
"Awkward?" Was Mako's comment, his eyebrows raised.
"...I don't even know what it will be! I just know I'll be nervous and say something that sounds stupid and I need help." Korra sat up, clasping her hands in front of her as she pleaded with Asami. "Seriously, help a girl out."
"Why don't you just ask Tenzin or Pema?"
"They're busy with the kids, and besides, Tenzin would just lecture me. I need real advice."
Asami looked at her friends, trying not to chuckle at Bolin and Korra's distressed expressions. They just wanted to make a good impression, something she could understand, and with a shrug she pushed herself off the bed, standing up as she tapped her chin.
"First things first, when in doubt always bow..."
The party started, but not without its share of hitches – thankfully, this was mostly due to the children attending. Fire Lord Ursa had four grandchildren, all from her eldest daughter, and they were just as rambunctious as Tenzin's. After the introductions were made and Korra had been presented to everyone in attendance, Meelo and Ursa's youngest grandchild, Aki, had begun an impromptu game of chase that ended up knocking over Ikki.
For a moment, chaos ensued as parents rushed to grab their children, scolding them softly as Fire Lord Ursa chuckled from her seat. Her father, Ambassador Zuko, was also amused at the display. He was the one little Aki went to after she'd been reprimanded, pouting as she plopped down on her great grandfather's lap.
After the formalities, music started to play and everyone began to mingle. The royal family was busy, either watching their own children or speaking with the nobles in attendance. Tenzin was trying to wrangle Meelo while Pema and Kimiko, Fire Lord Ursa's daughter and mother of Aki, cooed over baby Rohan.
After about two hours socializing, greeting, and forcing herself to smile, Asami needed a break. At one point in her life, being social came naturally to her. The past year, though, had changed her more than she'd expected. Nowadays she was so focused on her work that socializing seemed to drain her just the tiniest bit.
Mentally chalking it up to the trip across the sea, she ducked behind a large group of women, scanning the room quickly for somewhere to recuperate. A door to her left seemed perfect - small and unassuming - so she swept her way to it, pressing her back against the door as she reached for the knob, slipping in and shutting the door before anyone could notice.
Still backing up a bit, Asami sighed in relief. Just a few minutes were all she needed, really. When the backs of her legs hit a table she yelped, whipping around so quickly she managed to spill the pens that had been resting on top of some papers.
Papers that were currently being read.
Asami felt her cheeks heat up as General Iroh glanced up at her, his eyebrows raised in silent question. Asami, who so prided herself on her ability to adapt to any situation quickly, was struck a little speechless. She wasn't a fan of surprises, and coming across Iroh was certainly shocking, to say the least. Slowly, her mind started back up from its period of silence, and she remembered she was in his family's home, going into a room she wasn't invited in.
"Oh, no. I'm so sorry." Taking a few steps back from the desk, she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "I - I was just trying to..." she trailed off, gesturing weakly at the door. As if this would tell him all he needed to know.
She had another shock when he only smiled, leaning back in his chair. "You just wanted to find somewhere to hide?"
Instinct told her to deny it, to make up an excuse about looking for a bathroom (a habit picked up from Korra, who used it as a catch-all excuse) until she realized she was just too drained to do that. So she laughed, crossing her arms over her chest as she sat in a nearby chair.
"That obvious, huh?"
"Why do you think I'm in here?"
This wasn't something she'd actually thought about, and she cocked her head to the side as she watched him start to clean up the pens that had spilled. "That's a good question. Why are you in here?"
Iroh paused in his cleaning, throwing her a quick grin that made him seem years younger and made her stomach tighten. "Just wanted somewhere to hide. I can't say I'm exactly in a party mood."
"Really? I thought you'd be used to this sort of thing," Asami said, not realizing until too late that being so informal with a member of the Fire Nation Royal family was a big faux pas. Wincing, she sat up straight in the chair, resisting the urge to smack her forehead. She really must be tired. "I mean, it's -"
"No, don't do that," he interrupted, tucking the pens back into their holder. "You don't have to be so formal with me. I'd rather people feel comfortable. Say what's on your mind, Miss. Sato."
It felt strange, to have someone insist she not be formal when he was calling her 'Miss. Sato'. Like she was a woman in her late thirties, rather than a girl younger than himself. This moment was usually when she would excuse herself and make her way back to her room. Ever since arriving in the Fire Nation, though, she'd been slightly captivated by the man.
This captivation was what spurred her on, rather than taking her leave. "I guess I figured a party would be a welcome break from your duties."
"That would make sense, but you aren't my mother," he rolled his eyes playfully, earning a smile from Asami. "I can't relax and talk to people, I have to get dragged into political discussions or I have to meet the newest young bachelorette she tries to set me up with every time she sees me."
"Oh, I see. So you'd rather sit in here with your-," she leaned forward a bit to see the desk better, the papers obviously schematics for new ship construction. "Building plans than be shown off to the world?" Asami was teasing him without a second though, the habit ingrained to the bone after spending time with her friends. Iroh chuckled, lifting his shoulders in a small shrug.
"I like to think of it as doing my job. There's not really a lot of time for me to mingle and socialize these days."
"I completely understand."
He nodded, resting his elbows on the table as he looked at her. "Actually, I've been in here for the better part of the hour. I can't say this-" he waved a hand over the plans, "is my area of expertise. Commander Bumi likes to give me a hard time because I take too long going over them."
Tilting her head, Asami pushed herself out of the chair to stand in front of the desk, peering down at the plans. "What are you having trouble with? Maybe I can help."
Perhaps it was a bit presumptuous on her part to offer her assistance, but it was second nature to her. She grew up with drawings, mechanical parts and schematics her whole life, the items taking place of dolls and toys. Not that it bothered her, she liked the knowledge she'd gained, and if she could help someone then why not?
It also didn't hurt that General Iroh was watching her with intense golden eyes. She suddenly felt flushed when he smiled, leaning back so she could get a better look at the papers on the desk.
"If you can translate any of this into a language I can understand, I would be forever in your debt, Miss. Sato."
"Please. Just Asami is fine."
The passing time didn't register to either of them as they poured over the plans, Asami finally pulling up a chair to rest comfortably on the opposite side of the desk. She was pointing at a strangely placed propeller, her brow scrunched in confusion.
"This doesn't really seem like it'll do much in the way of function," she said, biting her lip as she leaned closer. "It would probably be better to remove it, honestly."
Iroh was nodding, rubbing his chin as he looked down thoughtfully at the drawings. They were so absorbed in their work that they didn't hear the door open, didn't pick up on the footsteps drawing near, nor the presence that proceeded to hover over Asami's shoulder.
"So this is where you've been hiding."
Letting out a yelp, Asami felt her heart stop, then immediately start up again in a fast staccato beat. Pema gave the girl a knowing glance, shifting a sleepy Meelo to her other hip as she spoke.
"We were starting to worry about you two. Everyone's about to go to retire for the night." Pema looked like she was suppressing a smile as she looked at Iroh. "Your mother seems a little frantic. It seems she had a few people she wanted to introduce you to."
Instead of looking worried, Iroh leaned back in his chair, giving Asami a look as if to say 'See, I told you'. Asami had to stifle her laughter, finally standing up and brushing off her dress. It suddenly hit her that she had more fun locked up in this office with the General, going over ship building plans, than she had mingling. She filed that away to think about later – her mind had stuttered to a stop when Iroh met her eyes, searching her face for…something. She didn't know what.
Pema cleared her throat, and Asami blinked, realizing that she had been blatantly staring at the General. Laughing a little to herself, she held her hands in front of her in a custom Fire Nation gesture, bowing at her waist to him.
"It's been a pleasure, General Iroh."
Smiling at her, he pushed himself out of his own chair, gesturing to the door. "Please. Allow me to escort you both to the guest wing."
"Oh no, you don't have to trouble yourself, really-"
"That would be great!" Pema's cheerful interruption had startled Asami, and she shot the woman a half glare. She knew exactly what Pema was doing, and a small, stubborn corner of her mind insisted that she could make it just fine to her room on her own.
"Well, I should really go out there and say good night properly to everyone before I leave." Asami explained as they all walked to the door, Pema giving her a sly look. Ignoring it, she gave Iroh a bright smile. "If you ever want someone to translate schematics for you again, you know where to find me."
"I do, indeed." He surprised her by grasping her hand gently, bringing it up so he could brush his lips against her knuckles softly. It was a whisper of a touch, but she felt warmth spread from her hand down her arm. His eyes never left hers, and she suddenly found herself breathless in a way she'd never been before.
The spell was broken when he let go of her hand, gesturing at the door. She quickly left the room, trying to walk as dignified as possible but still throwing a quick glance over her shoulder to see if he was watching her.