Iroh sat up gasping for breath, the images of his dream fading quickly from his mind. He looked over at Korra who had been in the sleeping bag next to him. Panting slightly with arms wrapped around her knees, Korra looked as if she had woken up seconds before or after he did. In an attempt to comfort her he reached out and gently laid a hand on her shoulder. She jumped but relaxed when she saw who it was.
"Bad dream too?" He asked softly making sure not to wake anyone else.
Korra nodded, "Yeah, it was worse then before, I could feel the heat of that fire." She shivered, "I'm almost afraid the next time I dream of it I won't just smell the burning wood."
Iroh moved closer so he could rub her back and calm her down a bit. "Just breath Korra it's just a dream it can't hurt you now."
She looked at him raising an eyebrow. "You sure? The dreams' effects on your sleep pattern seem to be detrimental."
Iroh shifted uncomfortably. "I meant you couldn't be burned by the dream."
Korra smiled a little, "I guess that's true. It's still dark we should try to get as much sleep as possible. We'll have Long day tomorrow. " She lay back down and curled up. "Good night Bucket Lord, sweets dreams."
"Sweet dreams Korra."
Iroh watched as the young Avatar yawned and fell back into dreamland. He sighed and lay down to look up at the stars. The dream he had had was clearer too. As he looked up at the crescent moon floating above he worry wash over him. He had seen the same scene so many times but it was different this time when he saw the bride's face it wasn't a stranger's face, it was Korra's. "What, if anything, are you trying to tell me?" He whispered to nothing and everything. Hearing no answer he rolled over and went to sleep.
The morning came too soon and too evil for Korra. She did not appreciate her wake up call either. Bolin should really know better then to throw a wet Pabu into her sleeping bag and expect a civil Avatar. Iroh and Mako were laughing as she chased a terrified Bolin around with a large amount of water suspended in the air. The chase ended with a satisfied Korra and a wet Bolin. The two had to eat quickly however as the rest of the group was already to go.
Within an hour or so of waking up the group was on the road headed to Zoa Fu to pick up an air ship. It was a little out of the way but the air ship would add needed speed and safety to the rest of their trip. Korra rode on Naga while Lin and Asami drove the jeeps. Bolin had decided he would rather talk with the General for a bit of a change, so Mako road with Asami road alone.
Korra noted that while the General nodded and smiled a lot he really didn't seem to talk all that much. Bolin on the other hand didn't seem to stop. Lin appeared to be gripping the wheel like a type of stress ball. In the other Jeep Mako and Asami appeared to be having a nice conversation. Korra watched the two for a bit wondering whether she was hurt or happy about what she saw.
The sun hung high in the sky when they stopped for lunch. Korra sat down between Iroh and Asami. Asami was still talking to Mako as she sat down. Korra looked over at Iroh who despite having had another nightmare seemed to look a lot better then the day before.
"So how was riding with Lin and Bo-lin? Wow never realized that could rhyme."
Iroh chuckled, "It wasn't too bad, Bolin was just regaling me with a blow by blow of the Nuck Tuck Mover series."
"Oh? And how was that?"
Iroh looked over to make sure Bolin was occupied by something. "It was ok, I really didn't have the heart to tell him I'd already seen them so I just pretended it was all new to me. Worked out well, got to hear about the scenes they cut from the film."
Korra nodded, "That's cool, I guess. Never saw the movers actually."
"Well then you should let him ride with you on Naga by the time we get to Zou Fu you'll be an expert."
"I think I'll pass." She looked down as a spirit meandered past them. "Huh, I don't remember so many spirits being around here when we were going the other way."
"Yeah you know what? There are more spirits around here." Bolin said as he sat down next to Iroh. "There seem to be more and more of them around every day and everywhere."
Asami looked up at another spirit that was gently floating above them. "There are so many here, I wonder if there are any left in the spirit world."
"I wonder." Korra mused looking at all the spirits. Maybe she should look into that once the whole Zaheer thing settled down.
The landscape quickly passed Iroh by, as he drove behind Asami. Lin had developed a headache and was laying down in the back seat in hopes of making it go away. Korra took up the rear again, riding behind the jeeps on the narrow pass. Though older then most of the group Iroh had never really traveled within the Earth Kingdom's borders. He had never even been to Ba Sing Sa, but that might be because his mother hated the Earth Queen after a rather disastrous first meeting of the two royal women. He shrugged; he had spent more time with his grandfather while his older bothers traveled with his mother and father.
Iroh marveled at the Kingdom's diverse landscape and how it seemed to be a patchwork of everything. He paused for a moment, hadn't his grandfather described the Earth Kingdom as vast amounts of nothing slowly morphing into more nothing? Iroh shook his head and kept driving. Maybe it had changed since his Grandfather's time.
The convoy reached the City of Zou Fu just as the sun was beginning to set. Iroh watched as the great metal walls create their protective metal domes, he wondered whether getting here before they closed would prove to be a blessing or a curse. He saw a gray haired woman approached them.
Korra sat at Su's dining table staring at her food. They had been in Zou Fu for maybe an hour tops, and yet in that time she had witnessed a rather ugly moment between Lin and Su. Lin had volunteered to tell Su the bad news and the younger sister took it badly. Korra poked at a vegetable. Actually, badly is a mild term, ballistic seemed to fit the situation more accurately. Korra had to watch helplessly as Su attacked Lin calling her a liar and a few things not really meant for children's ears. The fight, while ugly, was mercifully short and ended with Lin comforting her sister in a pile of rubble. Lin sat with her assuring Su that it was the truth and they did all they could to find him before he met his fate. Su wiped her face and nod and stood up. She looked over the whole group and motioned for them to fallow her saying something about them needing to eat. Now, here they were sitting at Su's table in an awkward silence. Silverware clinking against plates was the meal's sound track. Su suddenly put down her fork.
"So do you think it was Zaheer that put Aiwie in that state?" She asked in a low voice.
Lin nodded, "We really don't have any reason to believe other wise."
"I was afraid of that or something similar happening. I had hoped to talk with him again and ask him some things." She sighed, "I feel I have a confession to make."
Everyone at the table sat up a little, curious to hear the confession.
"Along time ago I knew Zaheer, I was young he was younger. I was still traveling the world, before I founded this place and met my husband; I joined a group that seemed to have the same ideals I had. You know modern thinking, out with the old antiquated Royal families in with the new better governments." Korra could see Iroh stiffen from a across the table but Su didn't seem to notice. "They called them selves the Red Lotus. I actually met Aiwie there, anyway a few months before he and I left the group a teenager joined up. Zaheer was that teenager."
"And why didn't you say that before!?" Lin yelled standing up and knocking over her chair in the process.
Su held up a hand, "I wanted to give Aiwie the benefit of the doubt find out if he was being black mailed or something. But after you left the more I thought about it the more I began believing that Aiwie's ties to the group weren't as severed as mine were."
"So why did you leave the group?" Mako asked leaning forward.
"A difference is methodology and ideology, it was true that I did and do dislike the old ways of government but I don't think total anarchy is a better alternative. When I was leaving the group a faction within it was starting to gain power. They believed in anarchy and the cleansing of the governments. I wasn't willing to be part of that, and at the time, neither was Aiwie. I thought he feelings hadn't changed over all those years. I guess I was wrong."
"So when you say cleansing the governments," Bolin tented his fingers, "what do you mean?"
Lin looked down, her lips were trembling, and she wrapped her arms around her. "Nothing less then the complete slaughter of Royal families and the council since it was still in existence back then. They even wanted to kill the children of Royal families." She looked over at her sister. "You have to believe me Lin after I left the Red Lotus I never looked back, when Zaheer and the other's were captured I was relieved I though it was over." She looked down at her lap. "I really wanted it to be over."
"Do you think any of the royal families are in danger?" Iroh asked. This was the first time he had spoken through the whole meal. He looked pretty calm considering what he had just heard.
Su nodded, "It is very likely they are. The Earth Queen is probably at the top of the list because of how screwed up Ba Sing Sa is, and because she's a horrible person regardless of title. Then? I really don't know, Republic City's less than competent President, and the Fire Lord's family, either one could be next on the list."
Korra saw a flash of panic flash in Iroh's eyes.
It was Korra's turn to ask a question now. "Su why do you think those two? Well ok, you kind of made it clear that Republic City's President is a little… unqualified, but the Fire Lord's family? Why not the royal families of the water tribes or the Queen of Omashu?"
"I said the Fire Lord's family because there are still people bitter about the hundred year war. The fact that two of their Princes are high ranking officers in the United Forces bodes even less well for some."
Korra could see that Iroh had put on a poker face and was letting none of his emotions past it. It was at that moment, Su realized that there was one more person in their party that hadn't been there before.
"Oh, I'm sorry I don't think we met before." Su looked at Iroh, "I'm Suyin Beifong, Matriarch of this City. Who are you?"
Korra bit the inside of her cheek. Just lie. She thought. It's ok to lie right now, we will under stand.
"You can call me Li." Iroh said smoothly, "I am a United Forces solider and actually know the Fire Nation Princes quite well. I'm also a bit of a royalist, at least where the Fire Nation is concerned." He stood up, "I think I need a bit of fresh air, which way to the door Mrs. Beifong?"
Korra quickly stood up, "I'll show you. I think I could use some fresh air too." She looked at Su. "Thank you for telling us about the Red Lotus and for dinner, and for taking us in, again."
Su smiled a little, "Your welcome Korra, It is my honor to help." Korra turned to leave but was stopped, "And Korra I might have been part of the Red Lotus along time ago but I in no way support or condone what they did after I left, or what they do now."
Korra nodded, "Thanks Su."
Korra headed out of the room and motioned Iroh to fallow her. As they walked she could feel the heat radiating off her friend. Once they were out side Korra was surprised that he didn't start fire bending immediately. Instead he sat down on a near bye bench. Korra could see that his hands where shacking and so where his knees. She sat down next to him.
"You ok?" She asked knowing that he wasn't but she really didn't know anything else to say.
"No, I'm not." He exhaled heavily breathing some fire with it. "I just can't imagine," he rubbed his face, "I mean the whole idea, my family, my whole family, parents, cousins, siblings all dead because of the family we were born into."
Korra put a hand on his to steady them. "I understand. If they had succeeded then my whole family would have been killed too." She paused for a moment. Her whole family, now she could feel anger swell up inside her. She looked over at Iroh who was looking at her all his anger seemed to have melted away.
"Are you ok?" He asked.
"No Iroh I'm not, I just didn't expect something like this to hit me so hard but saying it out loud." She paused and sat up. "It doesn't matter what could've happened in the past what's important now is that we us this information to our advantage."
Iroh nodded, "I'll send a message to my mother and grandfather in the morning. Now the question is can we trust Su?"
"Enough to spend the night? Yes, enough to give her your real name? I don't know. She might be hurt you lied to her in the first place, this city was once known for having no secrets."
"Hey I gave her my middle name so not really a lie." Iroh said defensively.
"Li is your middle name? Huh. Learn something new everyday."
"Yeah my grandfather gave it too me. Logic behind it being that there are a ton of 'Li's and I would never have to lie about it being my name. Apparently, Toph used to use her lie detecting skills on him all the time. I'm pretty sure that's how he got the idea for the name."
"Ah" Korra nodded, "I can see the logic in that." Korra leaned against him suddenly feeling the weight of the day. "Iroh can I confess something to you? I mean can I tell you something and you won't tell another person."
"Like a secret?" He asked making sure not to move and cause the Avatar to fall.
"Kind of, more like a feeling." She sighed and looked up at the metal doom. "It just seems like every day that passes I can trust fewer and fewer people. Su was once part of the Red Lotus and that thing Zaheer said about 'blinded by duty' has been haunting me. Can trust anyone? Like really trust them. Trust them to have my back and not be manipulated?"
"You can trust me." Iroh offered.
Korra moved so that she was looking into his eyes. "Can I? Can I really trust you?"
"Why? How? What makes you different form everybody else?"
Iroh looked back into her eyes and for just a moment neither one was themselves. They were other people, so many other people who had lived almost the same life over and over again, a tragic cycle that was about to turn its terrible wheel in this lifetime.
"Because," he said softly leaning in so that their four heads touched, "I have loved you for lifetimes and there is no other person or thing higher then you to me." They leaned in their lips almost touching, then the moment was over and all those past lives were gone.
Iroh sat back blinking, "What where we just talking about?"
Korra shook her head, "I think I was talking about trusting you," She looked around confused then back at Iroh smiled a little letting her shoulders drop. "And I think I can."
Iroh smirked. "We've known each other since childhood I'd hope we could trust each other." He stood up and stretched, "Let's get to bed Korra, the sooner we get to sleep the sooner we can leave in the morning."
Korra nodded and led the way to the rooms. As she walked she wondered how safe she was here. True Aiwie isn't here to let Zaheer in again, but she still felt that sinking empty feeling in her gut. She didn't want to be alone again and risk being scooped up by Zaheer and the Red Lotus. When they got to the rooms however, luck seemed to be on her side as only one door had a note on it. She pulled the not off the door, the room was for her.
Iroh looked around, "I guess I don't rate a room. That's what I get for admitting to being a royalist."
Korra giggled a little opening the door to her room and saw Naga sleeping at the foot of her bed and a rather large couch by one wall. "Maybe your note fell off the door? I've got what looks to be a very comfy sofa if you want it."
"Do you mind? I hate to point out the obvious but I am a guy."
Korra waved the comment off. "And you were in the sleeping bag that was right next to mine last night. You're getting the couch not half the bed and," She paused "the last time I was hear the Red Lotus almost succeeded in kidnapping me. I would feel a little safer if I wasn't alone."
Iroh nodded, "I understand. Though I hope this is the only time I'm sentenced to sleep on the couch."
Korra smirked. "You can hope."
Half way through the night Iroh was shaken awake. He wiped the sleep out of his eyes as he sat up. "Wha-What's wrong Korra?"
Korra sat next to him. "Couldn't sleep. Mind racing too much, I keep thinking about Zahere and those dreams." She sighed. "I'm not even sure if I'm scared, mad, or just sleep deprived."
"You poor thing." Iroh patted her head. "Do you want to talk about something less serious? You know to maybe settle your mind a little."
"Yeah, sure. What do you want to talk about?"
Iroh shrugged. "I don't know…. what would you name your first child if you ever had one?"
"Boy or Girl?"
"Is my hypothetical child a boy or a girl?"
"Oh, uh girl. Let's just say you had a girl."
"Hmmm." Korra tapped her chin. "I always liked the name Sona. It means gold and if I had a little girl she'd be my treasure." Korra yawned. "I'd spoil her like all the time. Wouldn't you?"
"Spoil your daughter?" Iroh asked slightly amused.
"No, your daughter. Wouldn't you spoil your daughter?"
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I would."
Korra yawned now clearly starting to fall asleep. "I'd hug her." She wrapped her arms around his middle. "And cuddle her and tell her stories." She yawned. "We'd play games and if she's a bender I teach her everything she'll ever need to know and if not I'll teach her how to kick ass like Asami."
Iroh smiled as Korra drifted off and her grip became lax. Carefully, Iroh picked Korra up and gently laid her down on the bed and tucked her in. He petted Naga. "Look over her won't you?" He whispered before going back to the sofa and trying to gain a few hours sleep. He thought about what Korra had said about having a daughter. He drifted off himself fantasizing about having a family and living somewhere far away from the strict rules of the Royal Palace.