It was the first diplomatic visit to the Fire Nation since Hakoda and Bato had left it six months after the war ended, and Hakoda already remembered why he hated Fire Nation nobles.
Zuko didn’t count, and neither did Mai or Ty Lee really, but that was because they weren’t racist, homophobic war mongers like most of the people still on the council. He wondered how Sokka had managed to put up with it the whole time.
And it wasn’t like Zuko hadn’t warned him.
“Hakoda, Sokka,” he’d said shortly before the meeting, “Uncle and I have been systematically replacing all of the devout Ozai supporters and sympathisers, but there’s still a lot of them on this council.” He’d scowled. “And I’m working on making more councils, each focusing on separate topics, but right now we only have the repurposed war council. I just want to make sure you’re prepared, because some of the people on the war council are…” He’d shaken his head. “One of them is the reason I have my scar, so. Infer from that what you will.”
But wow, even Zuko’s warning hadn’t really prepared him for Councilman Okino.
“Fire Lord Zuko,” Okino sneered, “if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly is the purpose of the… Water Tribesmen’s presence?”
Zuko scowled. “I do mind you asking, Councilman. Chief Hakoda and Ambassador Sokka are my esteemed guests, and they are here because the topic of our discussion today pertains to the Southern Water Tribe, which they are important members of.”
Hakoda thought that would be it.
But then Okino kept going, and Hakoda didn’t even need to look at Zuko to notice how angry he was getting.
“I see. So you value the opinions of savages over the voices of your own people? I find myself disgusted by your policy, Fire Lord.”
Zuko took a deep, carefully controlled breath. Every candle and torch in the room flared to match the rise and fall of his shoulders. “I find myself disgusted by your words, Councilman. I do not value anyone’s opinion over someone else’s, I consider them all equal. It seems to me you are the product of an era that has ended and are rather unsure of what your place is in the new one. Allow me to tell you: you are here to discuss reparations paid to the Southern Water Tribe, and your outdated view of Chief Hakoda and Ambassador Sokka based on their origins will no longer be tolerated in this era of peace and unity. Do I make myself clear?”
Okino slammed his fist on the table. “Just because the younger one is in your pants, you think you can treat them like equals? Your father-”
The candles and torches all went out. A second later, they all flared up again with dragon fire, and Zuko was on his feet. “ENOUGH!” he roared, and a burst of dragon fire erupted from his mouth, too. “Do not mention my father in this room! Councilman Okino, your words are highly unprofessional and would not be tolerated in any other environment, so they will not be tolerated here, either. Your services as a councilman are no longer required, and I expect you to be off the palace grounds by the time this meeting has ended. Now get out.”
Okino scrambled to his feet, grabbing his scrolls, and hurried out of the room.
Zuko sat back down. “Now, if anyone else has an issue with the presence of Chief Hakoda and Ambassador Sokka, you may also show yourselves out.”
The rest of the meeting passed without a hitch.
As soon as the other members of the council had departed, Zuko all but tore the Fire Lord’s crown out of his hair and untied his topknot.
The door opened and a very tentative Bato poked his head in. “Kiyoko said the meeting’s over?”
“Yeah,” Zuko said tiredly, dropping his head onto Sokka’s shoulder. “Come in.”
“She also said something about it being eventful?” Bato said as he took a seat next to Hakoda.
Hakoda instinctively leaned into his side. “You could say that.”
“...Dare I ask what happened?”
“One of the councilmen was being a bit… insensitive to Sokka and I,” Hakoda explained.
Zuko snorted bitterly. “Don’t surgarcoat it, he was being fucking racist.”
“He was, yes.”
“I fucking hate nobles,” Zuko muttered. “All the time, every day, it’s, ‘Fire Lord Ozai this’ or ‘Your father that’ or ‘Previous Fire Lords would never!’ Seriously, fuck them. They’re not the ones leading a country at sixteen. They’re not the ones trying to make up for a hundred years of pointless bloodshed. They’re not the ones who actually fought.”
Sokka rubbed his back soothingly. “Yeah, nobles are the worst. I remember in Ba Sing Se we had to sneak into this fancy party to try and get an audience with King Kuei. It turned out he’d never even heard of the war and that the party was celebrating his pet bear’s birthday. Of course, it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know anything, but it was still really annoying. Not to mention the fact that the party was invitation only and we nearly got caught when Katara and Toph had to enlist Long Feng - Long Feng, of all people - to get them in. Honestly, I’m just impressed they managed to get away from him afterwards.”
“Long Feng… wait, wasn’t he the guy that killed Jet?”
Zuko shivered. “Ugh. That guy gave me the creeps.”
Sokka glanced down at him surprisedly. “You knew him?”
“Yeah. Not personally or anything, but he came to the Jasmine Dragon once. I think he knew something about me. I mean, it was kinda my fault Jet got arrested by the Dai Li in the first place, but he attacked me, so what was I supposed to do, not defend myself? Anyway, point is, Long Feng is a creep. Creepier than Zhao.” Zuko shuddered that time. “I hated Zhao. I don’t really know what happened after he got swallowed by the giant water-koi-fish-thing, but whatever happened to him, he deserves it.”
“Wow, you really do hate him, don’t you?”
“Uh-huh. He had a really nasty habit of coming up in my blind spot and invading my personal space. And then he would whisper directly into my ear, which was pointless because I can’t hear anything on that side anyway, and I’d have to pretend I knew what he’d just said.”
Hakoda cleared his throat, glancing at Bato. “Anyway, Zuko handled the racist noble really well, and we shouldn’t be seeing him again. So.”
Bato nodded awkwardly. “Right. Well, uh, we’ll give you two some, ah, alone time. Yep. We’ll be in our room if you need us.” He grabbed Hakoda’s hand and dragged him out of the room.
Hakoda followed with no resistance. “Uh, Bato? This isn’t the way to our room.”
“Oh, I know. I lied. We’re actually going to visit Bitchlord Ozai - Sokka’s nickname, not mine - because Zuko can’t see or hear on his left side and that is not okay.”
“Ah. Understandable. Also, what the fuck where they talking about with that Long Feng guy? I - Katara told me who Jet is, or was I guess, and? Long Feng murdered a teenager not much older than Sokka or Zuko!”
“And Zhao apparently liked to ignore Zuko’s boundaries! If he wasn’t already dead, I’d hunt him down and kick him where Agni’s rays don’t reach.”
Hakoda stopped, staring at Bato dumbfoundedly. “Wow, you are being way more violent than I think you’ve ever been, even in the middle of the war.”
Bato shrugged. “Kids, Koda. They have that effect.”
“They absolutely do. I’m not complaining, I’m just surprised.”
“I don’t really know what happened, but at some point between when we got here and right now, they stopped being your kids and started being our kids, and I don’t really know what to do with that information, so I’m going to break Ozai’s nose.”
Hakoda grinned. “Fair enough.”
They started walking again.
“You’re really hot when you’re out for blood, you know that? Ow, hey, what was that for? I was just being honest!”
“You’re the worst, Koda. I love you.”
Hakoda rubbed his shoulder irritably. “I love you too. Though right this second I’m not entirely sure why.”