|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very Positive|
|Chapter 22 - From Darkness to Light (SHiE)|
Summary of Last Chapter
Yuhan has grown unstable during his time in a Fire Nation prison, seeing hallucinations of Riya as Joo Dee and of her suicide. However, Hiroshu suddenly appears during an eclipse and drags him out of his cell. He reveals that Yuhan's mother had actually been the one murdered, not Riya, and the Dai Li had used the trauma as a catalyst to brainwash him into remembering the wrong victim. Upon realizing that his mother had died in Riya's place, Yuhan becomes too unstable to cooperate with Hiroshu's efforts to free him. Meanwhile, General Iroh is also escaping from the same prison and recognizes Yuhan when he spots him breaking down in the hall. After telling Hiroshu to let him help, Iroh hauls Yuhan straight out of the prison atop his shoulders and escapes.
He was one of the most dedicated agents in all of Ba Sing Se. He was never caught sleeping on the job, and he was never late. No matter how ghastly the dark circles swam beneath his eyes.
Her sweet voice was so soft, so soothing to his ears. It made the world go quiet, made his head feel light, urged him to close his eyes...
"Yuhan, you've lost too much sleep this week. Your forehead's burning up! You can't stay like that... Come on... off the kitchen table...here..."
He hadn't really fallen unconscious then, over her kitchen table. And she wasn't actually strong enough to carry his weight across the room, but he let her support him anyway, let her lead him away, lay him down, and cover him with a pile of blankets like a small child. Just to keep hearing her gentle voice.
His head spun weirdly, and his sweat ran colder as his fever worsened, but he couldn't rest. He was a Dai Li agent.
"Yuhan... You should sleep."
It was so hard to stay awake. It had never been so difficult in his life. And then...
"You're still so cold."
He finally stopped shivering when she curled up next to him, rested her head against his chest to add her warmth to his body beneath the blankets. Was she uncomfortable like that? His mind faintly wondered this as her small body pressed against the thick, almost sharp folds of his crisp uniform. It was the last, hazy thought his mind could muster as he glimpsed down at her face, which gazed back ever so softly. "Go to sleep, Yuhan," she whispered.
He bolted out of her door that night, after he practically screamed in her face and could only offer a little kiss on her cheek before running back to headquarters like a pathetic dog to Long Feng. But he would always wonder, every night after that one, if she knew.
Did she know that he had wanted dearly to stay with her? Did she know that her somber eyes had almost caused him to turn around?
Would she ever know that he'd never fallen asleep so peacefully before in his life?
"Riya..." murmured a soft, feeble voice. The sound was too weak to produce any real volume, diminishing into more of a hollow whisper by the time the second syllable was uttered. An equally lifeless pair of eyes opened a few seconds later, though the sunken lids were so heavy that only the slightest hint of green could peer out from between the two slits. The dull, hazy gaze didn't seem to be looking at anything in particular; it was staring vaguely, still lingering with remnants of a dream that it no longer understood.
This was...familiar, wasn't it? The emerald eyes blinked slowly. Yuhan was extremely cold, and the world was spinning weirdly. His gaze travelled upwards and noticed the damp cloth folded neatly across his forehead. Yes...this was just like that strange vision he'd just woken from. He'd been tucked into a warm bed with clean sheets to cover his shivering body. A cool breeze brushed his face lightly as it drifted in from an open window somewhere to his left. There was that same, quiet air about him, an environment that kept urging him to rest some more...
The delirious eyes suddenly came into focus as the last traces of sleep wore off, and his expression immediately twisted into to its usual haggard mess of emotions. No, of course this wasn't the same. How could it be? Riya isn't here anymore. As soon as the bitter statement crossed his mind, however, Yuhan's head gave a painful throb that drained too much energy to think any longer. His eyes faded back into their vague, cloudy stare as he exhaled slowly. He wasn't sure where he was anymore, and he didn't care enough to wonder.
"How are you feeling?" spoke a deep voice from above.
Yuhan slowly turned towards the sound, his hazy eyes struggling to open themselves a bit wider. Two identical faces were looking down at him, floating hazily and crossing each other a few times before focusing into one. It had a black topknot, along with a neatly trimmed mustache that circled down into a short, dark beard. For some reason, the only thing Yuhan's mind really registered was that it was unfamiliar. "Um... Where's Mushi – er, Iroh?" he asked groggily.
There was a laugh. "Now that's a cover name I haven't heard yet..." The mysterious, dark-tanned man slowly took a seat next to the little bed that sheltered Yuhan. "I've sent my butler to let him know that you're awake, young stranger." His grey eyes were aged, not quite as ancient-looking as Iroh's but still deep with unspoken wisdom. He sported a rather classy, yet simple style overall, unfamiliar to Yuhan with the gold-edged maroon of his changshan robe and crimson trousers. "Please allow me to introduce myself," said the man, reaching forward to pull the wet towel from Yuhan's forehead before beckoning a young servant from across the room to replace it. "My name is Piandao, and you have been brought to my home in the city of Shu Jing."
Yuhan scrunched his face as the unfamiliar name flew over his head. "Shu...Jing?" His faint gaze floated about the elegant room, following the polished red ceiling beams to the wide, embellished windows. The slight breeze carried in fresh air from the vibrant hills and waterfalls outside.
"Ah yes, Iroh did mention that you're not from around here," Piandao replied with a smile. "My old friend tells me all kinds of stories about his travels, all kinds of stories about the world's people." His grey eyes were intrigued by the confused emerald ones peering back. "It has been several years, however, since I've encountered an individual from the grand city of Ba Sing Se."
There was no reply from the injured earthbender, who shifted his gaze instead towards the young servant placing a fresh new towel over his forehead. The last thing he really wanted to hear about right now was that failure of a city.
"Yuhan, is it?" the old noble asked pleasantly, causing a slight twitch from his younger acquaintance. He wasn't used to the high class addressing him so casually – which made him realize how long he must have gotten used to 'Agent Tsen' for his own first name to feel so unnatural. "I'm aware that the Fire Nation authority has not treated you kindly." Piandao sighed as he observed his shivering, delirious acquaintance, who only seemed to be aware of every other sentence he spoke. "It's unfortunate that the most noble deeds so often suffer the worst consequences."
Something about that last sentence caught Yuhan's attention again. He slowly looked back with the most peculiar expression. "Huh...?"
"Oh – perhaps you would like to know the details of your condition," Piandao explained, inhaling and sitting up straighter as he cleared his throat. "You face a dangerous illness. The untreated damage caused by the deep fractures within your arms has developed an infection over time." There was a hesitant pause. "When you arrived here with Iroh...it had begun to spread to your bloodstream." Despite the growing severity of the words, the dull face staring back at Piandao didn't seem affected at all as it listened quietly. "I've tried my best to curb the onslaught of blood poisoning with the medicines I have, but you will likely have to be treated by advanced healers before –"
"Nono, none of that really matters that much...to me..." Yuhan interrupted, his voice soft and wispy as his headache pounded. "I mean...it's just – why...?"
Raising a brow, Piandao leaned closer to listen. "To what are you referring?"
Yuhan's face contorted again as he struggled to focus his gaze upon the Fire Nation noble. "I – well... Why exactly are you helping me?" There was a heavy moment of silence. "I mean – you're very kind for doing all this but...'noble?' Think you've got the wrong person...because – agh!" His headache suddenly shot through his entire skull in one excruciating pulse. All of the horrible visions immediately flashed across his demented irises. The green uniforms. Her grinning face. The glowing lantern. His mother. The slightest reminder of his dark past seemed to trigger the worst of his illness. Yuhan tried to raise his arms to grasp his pounding head, but the endless fractures only burned as they met the resistance of two tightly wrapped wooden braces.
A slightly alarmed Piandao reached forward to steady the convulsing earthbender, who'd tried to sit up but was too dizzy from the pain to balance himself. "You should refrain from straining your mind, my troubled friend. It has also been damaged." His addressee eventually went limp again as Piandao laid him back down gently. "Trying to understand your scattered memory right now will only confuse you."
His sweat running cold, Yuhan's head bleakly shook back and forth as the young servant returned to pull the blankets back over his bare chest. "I-I know that they messed up my head..." he muttered, watching the room spin in odd colors. "But I'm pretty sure I was a messed up person to begin with. I probably deserve all this." Breathing heavily, he winced as his head gave another throb and rested his eyes once more.
Piandao took in a deep breath as he leaned back into his chair, a sad smile accompanying his distant eyes as he gazed out of the open windows. "The darkness of the life you knew is a difficult one to recover from, I admit..." The injured earthbender only seemed to nod along in agreement as he laid there sullenly. "But in these situations, what matters more is not what we know of our past, but what we can do in the present. No matter how difficult things seem now, there is always something a man can still do to bring light to the world."
Yuhan sighed as he remained silent, too tired to protest at the moment.
"I still sense much light in you, much potential for good – and my friend Iroh speaks of many admirable qualities as well. It is more than enough to 'deserve' my aid, if that is your concern. Your life has not fallen so low that it is no longer worth preserving, no, it is far from it..."
"No matter how difficult things seem now, there is always something a man can still do to bring light to the world..."
At the same time a wise old swordsman spoke to an injured earthbender somewhere across the world, a young and healthy Dai Li agent quietly made his way down the streets of Ba Sing Se once more. His uniform matched a couple of friends buzzing about him as they walked in a group, though he was the only one who seemed oddly detached from the chipper conversation.
"Ah, it's been forever, hasn't it? I never realized how tired I could get of the color red! Home sweet home, green sweet green...!"
"Spirits, my wife is going to be furious with me when she finds out we can only stay for 2 weeks. She'd wanted at least a month."
"Your wife is always mad at you, Jian."
"What about you, Hiroshu? Are you visiting your parents soon or d'you wanna grab some lunch first?"
"Oh – huh?" Hiroshu looked back up like one who'd just been slapped awake. He'd been somberly observing all the green-tiled rooftops of the Middle Ring, imagining that they were all slowly transforming into an infectious, Fire Nation red. The question had flown straight over his head as he stared back blankly.
"Lunch? Or meet up later after we see our families?" repeated Jian, a carefree smile twinkling in his bright green eyes as he waited for a reply. The happily married man appeared to be Hiroshu's unofficial patrol partner replacement. Not that a new patrol partner had ever been assigned; the Dai Li no longer lived in Ba Sing Se where those kinds of duties were carried out. Nonetheless, the agents always seemed to break back into their pairs every time a group was sent on a routinely visit to Ba Sing Se for a city checkup. As Hiroshu's friend even before the 'traitor fiasco,' however, Jian had offered to hang out with him along with his own patrol partner when they were grouped together for a city visit. No one really wanted to speak of Yuhan; they knew better than to mention him around Hiroshu, whom they were certain he'd insulted severely with his treachery.
"Mmm... I'd say lunch," Hiroshu finally replied with a grin. "Come on guys, I'm hungry, and you know I'm not a fan of spicy food. I'm going to hoard as much delicious hometown grub as I can before anyone makes me eat those boiling fire flakes again!"
"Ah, of course!" laughed Quan, trainer of Ba Sing Se's Joo Dees and patrol partner of Jian. "Hiroshu can't last a second without his food. But to be honest, I'm hungry too. Where's that new noodle place that opened up recently...?"
It was a strained smile Hiroshu upheld as he conversed merrily with his friends. The truth was that he wasn't quite sure he wanted to see his parents. He hadn't seen them in several months, and he'd never faced them even once ever since the Fire Nation takeover. He knew that by law, they weren't allowed to protest the change and would put on a show of support like every other citizen – but what would their eyes tell him if he were forced to look into them? What did they think of Yuhan, the only agent with enough guts to fight back, the patrol partner who had always been everything he wasn't?
A hideous sound suddenly pierced the air and dispersed his thoughts. Hiroshu looked about to identify the source, scrunching his eyes. What on earth was that coming from, some sort of choking creature? The noise was a disgusting mixture of gurgling, hacking, and fragmented wheezing. If it was an animal, then he practically had the urge to go find it just to put it out of its misery –
Hiroshu went eerily silent as his friends pointed and laughed. It was lucky they couldn't see his face, so contorted with shame from the recognition of someone he'd once told to check for sickness only for her to keep her germs away from his uniform. Someone he could care less about if she refused to check.
"Wow, that Joo Dee has it bad," sneered Jian, who'd been the first to identify the source. He was motioning towards a very sickly young woman who walked several meters ahead. She had a slender figure with silky, almost reflective brown hair that floated just above her shoulders in a straight trim. Her tight green hairpiece trembled along with the rest of her body as she coughed repeatedly. At some point, she hacked so violently that an elegant scroll slipped from inside her yellow sleeve and rolled across the ground. She desperately tried to ward off the crowded passerby with numerous "Excuse me"s as she reached feebly towards the misplaced letter.
"Hey, I think I've seen her before!" Quan commented more casually than ever, completely unfazed by the woman's pitiful efforts to tuck the letter back into her sleeve. "Might explain why she's not even doing anything about her sickness. Her conversion had to be made extra strict because she went crazy before and almost woke up..." He paused for a moment upon noticing the other two agents' puzzled faces. "Oh! You see, I was called to the Palace that one time Long Feng was trying to stop Kuei from finding out about the war – anyway, this girl popped out of nowhere and she was still sick. She remembered her name and then Yuhan had to – OH I mean...uh..." Quan immediately regretted mentioning the traitor as Jian shot him a warning glare.
However, Hiroshu's silence had more to do with his concern towards the young woman than any hypothetically bitter feelings about his former patrol partner. He'd stopped listening to the story long ago, because Joo Dee was now teetering dangerously close to the edge of the paved road as she tried to avoid the traffic of the passerby. Said road being the same one that a very large carriage happened to be speeding down at an alarming rate. "Um, guys...?" he began awkwardly, pointing towards the lightning-fast ostrich horses and then at the wobbly figure in yellow. "Isn't that kind of dangerous?"
It was a good thing that Quan and Jian didn't notice the horribly dark expression that flashed across his eyes as they laughed. "Okay, Hiroshu..." chuckled Jian, shaking his head a little. "You really want to stick around to watch a diseased Joo Dee? Come on, we're all hungry, and it's not like anyone's actually stupid enough to walk out in front of a speeding carriage -" He suddenly paused when he realized that his addressee was missing. "Hiroshu?"
A bewildered pair of patrol partners looked just in time to see their friend charging ahead towards the young woman – who had choked so horribly in her next coughing fit that the letter slipped again. She'd tripped and staggered onto the paved road, and she was so weak by then that she could only hunch over on her knees as the scroll rolled away uselessly, her head hanging low to the ground as she wheezed.
And of course, she was completely oblivious to the carriage and screeching ostrich horses that would never stop in time to avoid her.
As the horrified passerby watched, a flash of emerald suddenly threw itself into the tiny remaining space between Joo Dee and the looming carriage. There was lots of terrified screaming from the driver, lots of screeching from the wooden wheels – then a horribly loud rumble like an earthquake followed by an even louder crash.
The collision of the carriage against a massive dome of earth caused lots of rocky fragments to fly about, the dust creating a thick, dirty cloud that concealed the scene for several heavy seconds. The driver, a bony delivery boy who'd leapt off to the side just before impact, was helped up by some kind passerby as he coughed and rubbed his eyes. He squinted a little to see more clearly as a dark figure in emerald slowly emerged from within the earthen dome, carrying with it a much thinner figure in yellow... The dust cleared and almost everyone watching widened their eyes at the sight.
Hiroshu carefully avoided all the cracks and debris littering the ground as he stepped forward, his head finally beginning to clear now that Joo Dee was secured in his arms. He blinked a bit in the silence, looking around confusedly almost as if he himself were unsure of how he ended up here. All he remembered was that there was some stupid Joo Dee, then there was this carriage, and then there was this death-cough or something, and then Joo Dee was going to die, and then he picked her up, and then the stupid carriage was in his way...uh... He suddenly realized how many people were watching him.
They really don't have to stare this much...geez...
Hiroshu examined all the googly-eyed commoners before his gaze found Jian and Quan in the distance, who were waving to him slowly as if to ask if he wanted to postpone their lunch plans. He shrugged in response, an unofficial cue for them to go ahead and leave.
They were gone from sight within seconds.
Sighing loudly, Hiroshu couldn't help feeling terribly irritated that those idiots in pointy hats seriously saw this as no more than some lunch interruption. Really, it wasn't as if he worshipped life or found anything wrong with killing annoying people, but this was just...too pitiful...even for him. As his foot hit a piece of wooden debris with the next step, however, Hiroshu suddenly remembered about the carriage and turned around to look. "Aw, shoot..." It was a complete wreck, its frame crushed beyond all hope with its packages spilling everywhere, and one ostrich horse had fled after its reins snapped loose while the other still limped about with a newly injured leg. The Dai Li agent wheeled back around, causing the spectators to flinch as he called out to them. "Hey, where's the driver of this thing?"
It took a few good seconds before the skinny boy in charge of the carriage had enough courage to approach the ominous Dai Li agent with trembling hands. "I-I was steering this vehicle, s-sir."
"Oh. Sorry about that." Hiroshu flicked his head bluntly towards his earth-dome a few meters away. "If you can estimate the damage costs, I'll pay you ba –"
A young woman cleared her throat, causing the Dai Li agent to look down towards the frail figure resting his arms. "Agent Leung?" She grinned widely.
Hiroshu suddenly looked upon himself and the sickly Joo Dee as if he were a spectator watching from the outside, with their figures standing out conspicuously in a crowd of commoners. It finally hit him at that moment how...incredibly weird he must've looked. Yes, he'd just jumped in front of a carriage, blew it back with a giant barrier...and emerged from the crash carrying this random, brainwashed girl out bridal-style. And everyone. Would not stop staring. What on earth had he gotten himself into? Bloody Ream of Koh... "What?" he retorted irritably as he addressed Joo Dee's pale, grinning face.
"You are acting unprofessionally." She waited ever so patiently for him to put her back down, despite her shivering body.
The way Hiroshu's brow twitched made the passerby worry that he was considering throwing her back in front of another raging carriage. "Well, the way you fell oh-so-gracefully right in front of life-threatening traffic was also unprofessional!" he barked, apparently forgetting all about the spectators for a moment.
"'Fell'? With all due respect, sir, I did not 'fall.' It was intentional!" Joo Dee's laughter was more of a haggard wheeze. The young driver could only stare back in forth between her and the fuming Dai Li agent. "I was m-merely examining the fine, exquisite pavement of Ba Sing Se," she explained, practically coughing between every syllable. "It is the most beautiful (cough) city in every way, and (cough) I could not help but be overwhelmed by that beauty!"
Hiroshu dully looked past the ill girl and down at the pavement. It was the ugliest arrangement of flat bricks he'd ever seen, complete with dried mud and numerous weeds poking out between cracks. "...Right. So, you didn't stumble because you were sick or anything?"
"Sick? Not at all!" The way Joo Dee suddenly hacked and nearly spit mucus in Hiroshu's face was very unflattering. "Please, sir, I am p-perfectly healthy and ready for duty. Will you please allow me t-to retrieve my letter? It is very important (cough) that I deliver it (cough) on time."
With a wrench of his chest, Hiroshu suddenly forgot how to be angry. Oh, Spirits... He really should have known better than to argue with a Joo Dee. Of course she was acting like this. Duties came before health, before life itself. Even sickness was no excuse to slow them down. "Okay, Joo Dee..." he began slowly, thinking long and hard for a moment. The young woman kept grinning as she waited quietly. "You know what? Forget that letter and just stay put."
Joo Dee seemed aghast as the horror of failing her delivery duties made her bloodshot eyes go wide. "Sir –"
"That's an order."
"...Yes, sir." Joo Dee drooped as the rules of obedience automatically silenced her.
Hiroshu groaned as he threw his head back for a moment. "Oh fine, if it'll make you feel better..." He looked back towards the ever-growing crowd of spectators, then spotted the elegant scroll lying across the street. "Hey, I'll pay anyone who finds and delivers that letter for her on time!" he called out. "Just ask for an 'Agent Leung' and you'll reach me."
The Dai Li agent took his chance to slip away as a crowd of commoners charged towards the misplaced scroll in a mad rush. He looked down at the sickly face staring back up at him, suddenly noticing how her brilliant green eyes still managed to stand out against the sunken black pools of disease surrounding them. Clearing his throat uncomfortably, he quickly looked back forward. "Joo Dee, you are to find out the name and trade of that carriage driver after we come back, and you'll see to it that the damages are all paid for, you hear me?" he told her. The delivery boy in the distance who'd still been watching them froze at that moment, staring after their retreating figures in disbelief.
"Of course, sir," replied a coughing, forever-grinning Joo Dee. "But where are we going?"
"To make sure you get healthy enough not to kill yourself next time," muttered Hiroshu, carrying her away from the last of the bewildered spectators and disappearing from sight. For whatever reason, he was going to take responsibility this time.
Where was she?
He was standing at the entrance of an abandoned house. The door had been left open, creaking eerily in the wind as he peered inside. "Riya...?" It was during these moments that her real name suddenly surfaced, rather than the usual 'Afro Girl.' He couldn't find her, and he didn't know why.
"YUHAN!" The shrill voice of his mother made his hair stand on end as he twisted around in surprise. It was also during these moments that his real name surfaced as well, rather than the usual 'Hannie.' Real names were always used whenever something was wrong.
"Didn't I tell you not to come back here?" Ning screamed, causing the little boy to cringe from the sheer volume. "You could get sick!" She marched over, ready to drag him away by the wrist – until she felt his tiny hand meekly place itself inside of hers voluntarily. Her enraged worry suddenly came to a screeching halt when she looked down into his eyes.
"Mommy...is she coming back?"
Ning swallowed hard and looked away for a moment as she tightened her fingers around his. "Oh, Hannie..." What was she supposed to tell the poor child? That Riya's parents were taken by the plague, just like that? That the last she ever saw of the little girl was a frail, ill body being carried away by a solemn agent of the Dai Li?
His mother never replied. They walked hand in hand for the rest of the way home. He was tucked into bed with extra kisses that night, and woke up in the morning to the scent of all his favorite foods being cooked for breakfast.
Life went on without much trouble. There was a day he realized that he'd still never lost a game of Earth Soccer. There was another day when his proud mother realized he had become a more formidable earthbender than she was. And finally, there was a day when he emerged in emerald robes as a more formidable earthbender than most of Ba Sing Se.
But there was also a day, during his spare time, in which he whittled a little badgermole out of wood, placing it next to a little armadillo lion made of stone when he finished. It was an unusual hobby that had stuck with him through the years, a mysterious suggestion that there was more to life than brainwashing and earthbending. He never really understood it.
Nonetheless, he would always return to his duties before long. There were a lot of things to worry about in life now, things more important than soccer games, 'woodbending,' or Afro Girl. But still...could anyone ever answer that one little question? It wasn't a big deal or anything, just one of those things that never left his mind. Just a random friend from a random past...but still a random question that no one could answer.
Where was she?
"Ugh..." Yuhan's eyes fluttered open as he forgot for the hundredth time where he was. The silken red blankets that covered him were no longer enough to keep him warm these days. There was an iciness that ran throughout his veins and kept him shivering like mad, no matter how many layers of sheets Piandao's servants draped over his body.
A fuzzy pair of bright golden eyes passed over him for a moment before floating back away. "How much time...?" they asked, addressing someone who must have been standing nearby. Yuhan was far too tired to look.
"Should be tomorrow at latest you'll be ready to depart..."
"Urgent... Infection has reached critical condition..."
Yuhan winced as his head suddenly gave another throb – and just for that moment, his vision randomly focused again. The two cloudy voices rang clear through the air, causing him to turn his face slowly towards them in his confusion.
Iroh and Piandao were sitting a couple of meters away, murmuring softly amongst themselves something about the state of his illness and tracing their fingers over a world map laid out over their tea table. The former was the first to notice his movement, however, and turned to him with a warm smile. "How wonderful of you to join us again, my friend!" Iroh was donning the same maroon robes as Piandao, only with a shorter and bulkier build. He no longer had the raggedy prisoner look, and his neatly groomed silver hair highlighted his wise, noble features as he spoke. "Here, I've prepared a fresh pot of tea for you, ginger with a pinch of chamomile and just a touch of lemon." The injured earthbender gazed back vaguely, blinking in delirious silence as the old general stood up and carried over his brew in a porcelain teapot. "It will ease your pain and help calm your mind. You could use a healthy, relaxing sleep more often."
It wasn't as if he had any strength left to protest, but Yuhan still flinched from the slight shift in his arms as Iroh reached behind him and gently propped him up to sit. Too tired to think, he sighed and let the old general lift the filled porcelain cup to his lips, allowing the hot brew to run down his throat. The steam soothed his lungs and stopped his shivering for a few moments, and the voices that always plagued his head grew a little softer, the world a little quieter.
But regardless of any old man's efforts to baby him, Yuhan could still feel a heavy pit deep within of his chest that never refused to budge. He knew that his head was messed up, but he also knew that this pain had to be the truth. It was the only thing that never changed, regardless of his 'good days' or 'bad days' of delirium, as Piandao often referred to them. Whatever he had done in the past...it was still unforgivable. Which was why he could never understand..."You know," he said meekly, gazing after a stubbornly cheerful Iroh as the old general gently placed the teacup back down upon the table. "It's not that I don't recognize your kindness...you guys..." He couldn't help feeling irked that the sluggish quality of his voice was somehow eliciting a few chuckles from his elderly caretakers. "But...do you know...why I was locked up...in the first place?" The dark memories that swirled around his head threatened to burst for a few seconds, and he gritted his teeth to compose himself. "What if...I was supposed to stay there for a reason?"
Iroh, who'd poured his own generous helping of tea, took a deep sip from his cup with a long and satisfied Ahhh... before he actually spoke. "You are asking us questions you have already decided the answer to, my friend. Your mind is set on despair." He smiled sadly when only silence replied. "However, our minds have a funny way of working. Too often we assume that our memories are presented to us as a complete, unbiased collection, that we can look back upon our lives at any moment and judge its worth." The old general leaned back thoughtfully in his chair, gazing out the open windows as the teacup rested in his hands. "But our darker memories are actually quite unfair to our brighter ones. A minute of sorrow can destroy years of happiness, and even the smallest mistake can make you forget a lifetime of honor."
Yuhan's bloodshot eyes peered back skeptically. "Honor...?" His gaze travelled back and forth between Iroh and Piandao. They seemed so sophisticated, so noble and skilled in combat – which for some reason, he had the feeling Piandao was some sort of master just from his demeanor. What was someone like Yuhan doing near them? "I think you've got it wrong..." murmured the sickly earthbender. "You guys are honorable. Not me. Just...look at me..." He was less than half their age, and yet twice as weak and pitiful. All he was now was the deranged byproduct of the Dai Li's brainwashing system, and he couldn't even feed himself.
Iroh made his way over again, gently repositioning the wet towel that had slid to the side of the earthbender's forehead. "I see you clearly, Yuhan." He shuffled back into his seat with another generous sip from his teacup. "Indeed, I see so much darkness...so many crimes that burden you...but I also see light. It has always been there, and it still remains today. Your efforts to protect it are what made you an honorable man." His golden eyes twinkled as he smiled. "It's called love, Yuhan. Don't you remember it?"
Yuhan was taken aback. Oh, Spirits. There they were again, all the flickering visions of Riya's gorgeous, pure face coming back to mock him, to remind him of what he'd ruined. "I was raised by a group who operates in a secret underground headquarters and makes a point to cover their own faces from the sun," he replied dully. "We're lowly creatures of shadow that will ruin anything you care about if you give us the chance. There's no light, Iroh."
Piandao spoke up from across the room. "Your agent friend entrusted you to Iroh's care for a purpose, young man. If there were no greater destiny in store for you, then why were you freed?"
Yuhan paused for a moment. "...Because Hiroshu's stupid?"
Both the old men laughed this time as the former Peace Orator slumped against his pillow. "Dark memories are so stubborn for attention!" remarked the old general. "As difficult as it is, however, you must not let your sorrow cloud your memory of the light that still shines in your life." He gazed intently into Yuhan's delirious eyes. "You have suffered, you have doubts, and you still have much to endure...but you must never forget. "
Iroh couldn't help sharing worried glances with Piandao when he suddenly realized that his injured acquaintance had already fallen unconscious again. Sighing, he finished the last of his speech to himself. "Your illness is becoming dangerous...but you must not let it claim you. Riya is still here, Yuhan, and you cannot give up now. You have a duty to protect your light."
"And the first step to preserving that light, my young friend...is simply to remember that it's still here."
A loud, irritated voice was scowling throughout Ba Sing Se's Upper Ring. "Nothing to see here! Carry on, peasants. Have you forgotten how to regard your superiors? Heads down, eyes away, shoo!"
Hiroshu was throwing out practically every line of authority he knew from the Dai Li, threats included. Anything to get the passerby to stop...freaking...staring. He and Joo Dee looked bizarre even in the Upper Ring, where he'd thought the citizens had enough manners to mind their own business. But apparently a Dai Li agent carrying a random sick girl just had to be stared at everywhere he went. It only seemed to make it worse that Joo Dee had fallen into a troubled slumber by now, still wheezing softly with every breath as her head rested limply against his chest. Hiroshu glared at the spectators as he marched forward. What, did they think he was carrying her to her doom or something? Were they wondering what kind of brainwashing horrors he must have planned for her?
...Or did they wonder why a Dai Li agent would actually care about a sick person?
Okay, no. He - well, the Dai Li – couldn't be that bad. They weren't that evil! Hiroshu paused for a moment as he looked upon the polished rooftops of an approaching shopping complex in the distance. Well okay, so maybe there was that time he ignored the Lower Ring's request to have access to the advanced medicines of the Upper Ring. And maybe there was that other time he sort of didn't care when they started complaining about some plague, because he was in the middle of a Pai Sho game... Okay – actually, why was he paying attention to a sick person? Hiroshu gazed down slowly at her unconscious face. Dark lashes, full yet modest lips, smooth skin, and a gracefully slender figure... Hmm, shame she was as diseased as a zombie. Probably would've been a pretty girl if she were normal.
If she were normal.
With a pang, the Dai Li agent suddenly remembered that 'normal' meant much more than good health for this young woman. She was a Joo Dee, a nobody, and - wait - EW, did he just check out a Joo Dee? Hiroshu's natural habits and quirks from the Dai Li immediately kicked in. Oh Dear Spirits, it was a sad day... His friends would never let him live it down if they thought he was attracted to creepy, robotic grins.
Yet...he suddenly remembered that his best friend was deeply in love with a Joo Dee. And Riya wasn't a nobody. The Dai Li agent was taken aback immediately.
Hiroshu found himself looking into his escort's ghastly face once more. The truth was that he really knew nothing about this girl. How could he have insulted her so shallowly? There could be anyone hidden beneath that creepy grin. Was she also loved? Was she missed like Riya?
Who still remembered her?
With no free hands, Hiroshu kicked open the door of the little medicine shop at the corner of the complex and stomped inside, causing many passerby to jump from the noise. He spotted the merchant, a short old man in loose green and white robes, and marched straight to the counter with Joo Dee. After all, it didn't really matter who she was if she was tripping everywhere with a death wish.
The old merchant seemed to shrink beneath Hiroshu's dark, ominously tall shadow. He glanced uncomfortably towards Joo Dee for a moment, as if being presented a dead body. "C-can I help you, sir?"
Hiroshu tried to ignore the eyes of all the other customers he could feel staring at his back. "Well, yeah." He flicked his gaze towards the sickly young woman in his arms. "Do you know what's wrong with her?"
"What's wrong with this girl?" Hiroshu pushed Joo Dee even closer to the bewildered merchant, who stared with a hand hovering over his mouth as if trying to avoid her germs. "She was going around like a dying fish and nearly got run over by a carriage!"
"O-oh...you mean a diagnosis. Yes, I-I can do that," replied the bumbling merchant. His wrinkled eyes slowly scanned the pale, ghastly face of the brainwashed girl. "Well, she shouldn't r-really be walking in this state... You see, it's a highly dangerous type of fever that develops from fungal infection in the –"
"Okay, maybe I don't want to know what's wrong with her," Hiroshu cut in hastily, suddenly realizing that he'd picked up a girl with a potentially disgusting disease without a thought. "Just – tell me if you can fix it. Do you have anything for this...fungus fever thing?"
It was hard to tell who was more uncomfortable at this point, the merchant or the Dai Li agent. The former was too intimidated to speak normally, while the latter had no idea how to sound friendly to a commoner. "Y-yes, we do have some of the finest treatments for her condition, sir, though...the price...you might not...erm..."
"Just fix her," declared Hiroshu. "It'll be on me."
He could've sworn that this geezer was just born to make things awkward. "O-on...you, sir?"
"I mean 'on me' as in, I'm paying for it you know?" Hiroshu thought about it for a moment. "And actually, every time you see her drop by here from now on, make sure she never looks this hideous again. I'll have a messenger send you any funds I owe every month or so. And...uh..." Joo Dee's wheezing breaths filled the silence for a few seconds. "Say, she isn't contagious is she?"
The agent sighed as Joo Dee wheezed louder than ever in the background. "...Yeah, just throw in an extra supply of the cure for me while you're at it."
There was a strange relief that came with ordering Joo Dee to empty every vial of medicine down her throat. Hiroshu felt a little stupid for it, but he couldn't help trying to imagine what she'd look like when she returned healthy one of these days. Probably a pretty girl, as he'd decided before - but too bad the part of her that mattered most was missing. It truly hit the agent at that moment that Joo Dee was not a nobody; she was a mystery.
Who was hidden beneath that artificial grin, and who still remembered her?
The agent felt stupidest for being curious.
The Face at the Edge
It was a sudden downpour, an unannounced flood from the sky. No one had seen it coming, and everyone out on the streets was drenched within seconds.
He spotted her right as the downpour began. Today's visit to the Lower Ring was a surprise, as he'd gotten off duty early and hadn't told her yet. His original plan was just to pop up at her door; even that was probably enough to make her smile. As he caught glimpse of her auburn hair darkening with rainwater, however, he had a better idea.
She'd just begun to pace towards the nearest shelter when she felt his crisp, cone-shaped hat slip quietly over her head. With the rain droplets no longer hitting her face and hindering her vision, she turned in surprise to discover the emerald-robed figure that had appeared behind her with a silly grin.
"Yuhan!" she gasped, her surprise quickly growing into a warm smile that lit up her entire face. There was something about the way she looked at him right at that moment, something bright enough to dispel all the rain and its gloomy colors. He felt himself smiling, too, as he reached down and gently took her hand into his.
It was the only time he remembered ever enjoying the rain.
The world was rocking slowly, back and forth...back and forth...
Yuhan opened his sunken eyes to three glowing white spheres in the night sky, which circled around each other for a good while before finally settling into one full moon. It was plain to anyone who looked that he was deteriorating by the hour. Iroh and Piandao had tried their very best, and their strange connections around the world somehow landed him on the deck of a private ship alongside the Fire Nation general. Almost there, the old tea brewer kept telling him. The Northern Water Tribe was a beautiful place. He had to try their seaweed noodles. He had to see the city under a full moon. So many exciting things he simply had to stay awake for.
But no amount of hope or encouragement could hide the fact that blood poisoning was a swift invader. Yuhan had grown too weak for speech some time ago, and during these final hours he could hardly remember anything about his life at all, let alone think. There were only those strange, sweet little bits of light that flickered within his dreams, like the smile that could turn rain beautiful. Or that soothing voice that kept telling him not to cry, to keep his chin up...
Oh, well... None of it really mattered now. He was getting really tired, and maybe it was finally time for the nice, long nap he'd always needed. One so nice and relaxing that he wouldn't have to wake up again. With the full moon glowing brightly, and with the seconds ticking away, Yuhan's pale face began to relax as the peace of sleep slowly drew nearer and nearer. For the first time, he didn't mind where his life was headed. What could he have done by sticking around, anyway? Riya might've been alive and in need of help, maybe, but who was the reason she needed to be saved in the first place? And if he'd just kept his distance from people, isolated himself from the world, perhaps...his father would still have a wife. His mother wouldn't have needed to suffer. Lots of people would be happier in general. Iroh was right about there being plenty of light in his life...but the funny thing was, all that light was safest away from him. Sleeping now wasn't such a bad idea if he wanted to protect it...
His body twitched a little as someone grabbed onto one of his battered arms and set off the excruciating fire. Interesting, though, how even the pain in his arms was growing duller by the second.
"Yuhan. Listen to me." He recognized Iroh's voice, but the sound was fading in and out, flickering like a suffocating candle flame inside of a jar vacuum. "You are needed, do you understand?" Even the old general's voice had grown unnaturally stern. "Riya's existence is preserved in your memories, and you must live to remind the world who she is. If you leave now, those memories will vanish with you, and so will she!"
Iroh's words drifted uselessly past his ears. It was getting harder and harder to hear anything, or even see anything, really.... Even the ship's blaring horn of arrival at their destination sounded like no more than a faint buzz. There was a lot of yelling around him. He felt the stretcher beneath him lift away from the ground, allowing the icy cold air to whiz past his face as he was carried.
The chaotic mess of voices around him slowly dimmed along with the world. Yuhan's fingers used their last bit of strength to curl slowly around three little discs that adorned the woven leather bands that encircled his wrist. His eyes shut at last and suddenly, all he could think of was her voice.
The gold crystal was carved into the four nations to bring protection to whoever wears it. The spirits of all four elements, after all, are the creators of life... If you have a pure heart, they'll answer your prayers and look after you.
A few meters away, Iroh's eyes began to well with tears as he watched the broken Peace Orator smile softly. He knew who the emerald eyes were looking at behind those closed lids. "Yuhan...I beg you.... Open your eyes, and you will see her standing right before you. The day will come! Don't give up now. You still have so much light to give..." The water began to glow with blinding blue as it circled Yuhan's tranquil face, and the healers were panicking.
Riya... What was that you said about a pure heart? That someone would look after us? Heh...just look at us now...look what I've done...
The peculiar golden disc seemed to light up with the water as Yuhan's limp body was lowered further into the crystal-clear pool.
Everything went still.
Oh, it was definitely time. It was clear the moment Yuhan looked upon the elderly face he'd always known would be waiting for him here. Ah yes, this was exactly how he'd always imagined it. "It's been a while, old buddy," chuckled the Peace Orator.
The aged, fallen rebel of the Dai Li returned the smile, though his cheekbone was no longer misplaced and his embroidered green robes were far grander than the ragged ones that he'd been murdered in seven years ago. "You've grown up," he replied pleasantly. Yuhan nodded sheepishly in acknowledgement as the old man stroked his beard in a strangely quizzical manner. "But... it's too early to be hanging around here, you know." He simply shrugged as Yuhan stared back. "You're still just a kid, after all. Waste of years, if you ask me."
It was the last thing he'd have expected to hear from the face of his nightmares, the embodiment of all the shame he'd ever felt in his life as a Dai Li agent. A bewildered Yuhan could only sputter back, "Wait...w-what? Don't you, like, hate me and want to curse my life, I mean, I'm not stopping you or anything –"
"Well, I was wrong, boy. Let's just put it that way." The old rebel crossed his arms with a solemn smile. "You're different than the others. You always were. Now go back and show them how it's done."
The emerald eyes gawking back stretched wider than the moon. Yuhan had no idea what to think anymore. Everything he thought he knew about his crimes, all the darkness, all the punishment he deserved...it had all just become very confusing. "I...what...? I don't get it -"
"You'll figure it out later. Just get out of here while you can. Go back and fix our city."
Something changed. The healers suddenly cheered with outbursts of surprise when their patient's pulse miraculously picked up again, sending streams of strong, healthy chi throughout his body. Meanwhile, General Iroh stood at the edge of the oasis, watching curiously as the strange stone adorning Yuhan's wrist glowed beneath the water like a brilliant, tiny sun.
Hiroshu grinned as he leaned back against a polished desk in the old Dai Li headquarters, unrolling a thick scroll that he'd finally managed to get his hands on. He still had no idea why he was so obsessed with this quest for knowledge, but he didn't care anymore. "So," he began casually, scanning over the first few lines of parchment, "You're sure this is the right one?"
A young woman in yellow, glowing with radiant, healthy skin and brilliant green eyes, bowed in response. "Yes, Agent Leung. The file you hold specifies the details of Joo Dee #367." She made sure to flash her teeth nice and wide. "And I am Joo Dee #367!"
Even though her grin was creepy as Koh's Realm, Hiroshu looked back up at her with a little smile. All traces of disease had vanished in a matter of days. It was amazing how quickly such huge problems could be fixed with just a little kindness. And yep, Joo Dee was definitely a pretty girl – a really pretty girl, actually – in her natural health. He still liked his new office assistant even if both of them had no idea who she was.
Well...almost no idea. Hiroshu smirked when he finally found it inside of the elegant scroll. "Say, Joo Dee #367!" he called casually. "What do you think of the name 'Suyin?' Less boring than yours, maybe?"
The young woman was naturally puzzled. "...But my name is Joo Dee," she replied automatically.
Hiroshu let out a soft chuckle. "'Course it is...but I think I like 'Suyin' better." He went silent as he gazed intently at the parchment in his hands, his sage green eyes glowing mysteriously.
Yuhan had been tucked into yet another bed, only this one had strange, crystalline accents with shiny sheets of blue and violet. The wide window next to him framed the starry sky outside, and the bright moonlight lit up the majestic city of ice below. Yuhan was still too tired to move much, but he could actually keep his eyes open and appreciate the elegant architecture of the Northern Water Tribe without getting a headache. The world also spun considerably less these days.
An extra cheerful Iroh sat next to the bed, with his usual pot of hot tea resting upon the glass bedside table in case Yuhan ever accepted his offer to share. "It is a great joy to have you here among us, my friend!" said the old general, taking a happy sip from his teacup. "I'm also glad that the spirits have looked upon you kindly. Your fate rested within their judgment the moment you were placed into the holy Oasis of this tribe, and you awoke. It was a risk that few would take, but your life had been beyond the help of human hands...and I knew that even the spirits would see the light within you." He smiled so widely that Yuhan could practically see every tooth reflecting beneath the moonlight. "Well, how do you feel?"
The earthbender peered back with a strange, unreadable expression. "...I feel weird." The truth was that he had no idea what was going on anymore. He'd literally been dragged away from the world he knew. Nothing was familiar anymore, and he had no idea what to think of all this spiritual mumbo jumbo.
Iroh brushed off the statement with a laugh. "Oh, of course it will take many sessions for your full recovery. There is still much damage to fix, even within your memories. And your arms will most definitely be a challenge..."
Yuhan gazed incredulously towards the tight braces holding all the fragments in place within his arms. One of his brows rose above his skeptical eyes. These people were seriously going to try fixing his arms?
"Anyway, I must leave you tonight to meet with a good friend of mine who lives here," said Iroh. "He is one of the world's finest waterbenders, and you should come watch some of the beautiful things he and his students can do! The graceful art is a wondrous spectacle for all, especially to a young man who's never set foot outside the Earth Kingdom capital." Realizing that Yuhan didn't feel like replying, however, the old general stood up, stretching and yawning loudly for a good few seconds. "Well, goodnight then, my friend. I'm sure your time here will brighten you up in no time!" He reached down and gently patted the doubtful earthbender on the shoulder. "There is so much for you to look forward to, Yuhan. Can't you see it?" Iroh turned towards the window with a deep sigh, closing his eyes contently. "The world is moving towards a better place. I can feel it."
"The time has come at last for the darkness of the past to give way to light..."
With the green glow of his desk's crystal lantern illuminating his face, Hiroshu read report after report, studying late into the night and even forgetting that he hadn't eaten dinner.
"Do you require any more assistance, sir?" Joo Dee called from across the room. She'd been standing statue-still at her post for hours, which unfortunately couldn't be helped since that was her default under lack of any commands.
Hiroshu looked up from his desk with a sigh, rubbing his weary eyes. "I told you already, I'm fine. You should really go to sleep."
Joo Dee shook her head as her grin widened. "It is my responsibility to be on standby during all work hours of the Dai Li. I am happy to ensure that no needs of yours will be overlooked, Agent Leung."
The Dai Li agent shook his head to himself as he sighed again and slumped over on an elbow. "What if I 'need' you to go get some sleep?"
Joo Dee cocked her head a little. "I do not quite understand how your needs should correlate with my hours of slumber..."
Hiroshu rolled his eyes. "Then what if I gave you an order?"
The young woman immediately grinned again. "I honor all commands from the Dai Li with my life."
"Awesome," replied the dull-faced agent, hunching back over his desk as he flipped his documents. "Well then, I feel like ordering you to go to sleep."
"For how long, sir?"
An exasperated Hiroshu accidentally crumpled some of the parchment between his stone-covered fingers. "Eight. Full. Hours," he replied through gritted teeth.
"Understood, sir." Joo Dee obediently marched away, though she automatically turned towards her superior and bowed gracefully before opening the door. "Goodnight, Agent Leung."
Hiroshu made no reply as he watched her slender figure slip away from sight. After a moment of silence, he looked back down towards his document and carefully pulled out a flat, rounded artifact from inside an envelope that had been marked, "undetermined." All of his documents had been stamped with the same character. The Dai Li had specified that this was a non-urgent investigation, that the potential problem was notable but lacking too much plausible evidence for any definite conclusions.
The young agent slowly turned the little pai sho tile back and forth between his stony fingers, sometimes tracing along the lines of white lotus flower that adorned it. The seemingly random board game piece had been found in one of the Dai Li's brainwashed rebels. The organization could never figure out the pattern behind its presence – and that was the very nature of the tile that alarmed them. It was known to appear literally anywhere, from anyone, and some agents had begun to develop a paranoid theory about an international cult with potential members anywhere in the world. And of course, the Dai Li naturally feared any foreign influences in Ba Sing Se or the possibility of some vast organization operating right under their noses.
Hiroshu decided to go for it anyway. The agent lifted the polished tile above his face so that the gleam of his crystal lantern illuminated the lotus with bright green. He honestly had no idea what any of it meant, either, but he was strangely drawn to the idea of some group that, according to his scattered documents, appeared to appreciate the value of equality and were willing to lend any nation a hand to achieve it.
Hmmm...could there actually be an organized lot somewhere that wasn't a fan of censorship, Fire Nation dominance, or any hindrance of freedom in general? Like brainwashing? The Dai Li agent slowly slipped the game piece into his sleeve.
The soft rays of the full moon glowed within Yuhan's emerald eyes as he watched the sky beyond his window, counting the stars late into the night. It was a bittersweet image, the same full moon he'd shared with Riya, yet a cold and glossy city below that was completely foreign to him.
But tonight, that moon seemed to shine brighter than usual. It was a steady, constant light that stayed true through the years, no matter how drastically the dark world beneath might change. There were days the moon was no more than a little sliver, days it was bright enough to be a second sun, and some rare days in which it was completely absent. Its light was not perfect every night, not always enough to defy the dark sky. Even so, the shadowy world beneath knew that the light would always come back, that it would always try to illuminate the night with its gentle rays. The moon was faithful. Forgiving.
Something began within the former agent's mind that night, something he didn't quite understand yet. His eyes grew heavy as he gazed wistfully into the full moon.
Beneath the wide sleeves of his emerald uniform, the white lotus tile twirled about Hiroshu's stone-covered fingers as he looked ahead with a strange smile.
He didn't know whether to be amazed or frightened at how many of them had already managed to slip into Ba Sing Se as soon as the Fire Nation had declared victory. Well sure, the walls were a bit easier to sneak into these days with that gaping hole his own organization had created – but still. Those guys were very real, and they were good.
It was the most bizarre sensation. Hiroshu had never felt so accomplished in his life, and it made him unnaturally cheery. He also assumed way too casually that he could probably die any moment for his insanity. The Dai Li was good at catching onto things...but whatever. Better to die with a purpose than to live in disgrace. Hiroshu simply decided that he was going to do whatever he wanted from now on.
He was going to find out who had once called herself Suyin.
The agent whistled merrily as he returned to headquarters that night with his pai sho tile.
For the first time in many years, Yuhan fell into a long, peaceful sleep. There was no haggard old man, no promises that he would pay for all his disgraceful crimes. There was no grinning Joo Dee, no more deceiving visions with daggers. There weren't even any Dai Li agents left, no one dragging away the dead bodies of those he loved. There was only the bright moon glowing above his head, and a promise that it would always be there if he just remembered to look up at the sky whenever the world grew dark.
Yuhan didn't know how to feel about all this forgiveness, this unconditional faith. The light was too kind, and he didn't know what to do. It also didn't help that his mind wasn't completely coherent yet; one did not simply become un-brainwashed after a little dip in a glowing pool of water. Even so, he was getting the feeling that there was some weird, crazy destiny that was expected of him. Something that way too many people assumed he was capable of.
Bah...nothing really made sense anymore. But even so, the deranged traitor of the Dai Li had begun to realize that all the little rays of kind, forgiving light in his life seemed to be gathering in one direction. Whether it was a pep talk from an old tea brewer, a dead rebel shooing him back to life, or even the mother that would never stop being proud of him...their hopes for the future strangely met at the same place in the end.
He had to bring back Riya.
To restore the smile that could make rain beautiful was to liberate Ba Sing Se. To make a Joo Dee remember her real name was to destroy the very heart of the Dai Li's curse. And...to be able to hold in his arms the girl he loved was to honor his mother's sacrifice.
Riya was still out there, and he wanted her back dearly. It was the one part of his destiny that everyone seemed to agree on.
Deep within the heart of the Earth Kingdom, Joo Dee sighed contently as she took in the glorious city around her. Oh, how utterly perfect Ba Sing Se was. Just being here in the grand capital was enough to make her happy.
During these quiet days, the young woman loved to watch the city late at night, to peer out the dirty window of the old warehouse that sheltered her when no one else was looking. Her hazel eyes would marvel with awe as she observed the wonders of Ba Sing Se. Those who walked in old, battered robes kept their heads low in recognition that they were least important citizens. Those with fine, expensive clothing spoke boldly to honor the authority that the city had granted them. Those sharing her uniform were always smiling. And those with pointed green hats never smiled.
So many people! So many rules! So many faces and mysteries within this perfect city. Joo Dee was alone in her warehouse, but she felt far from it. She loved Ba Sing Se so much that it was the only company she needed.
The only thing she loved more than the city, however, was following orders. In fact, the longer she stayed hidden in this shelter, the happier she became. Every day that passed was another day she successfully honored the commands of the Dai Li. Agent Leung was simply going to be thrilled when he found out how precisely she'd obeyed his wishes. Oh, she just couldn't wait for that day. The greatest joy she knew was the praise of a superior.
Joo Dee was grinning uncontrollably in her excitement, her auburn hair brushing her shoulders a bit as she leaned her elbows onto the dirty windowsill. Yes, that day was going to be simply wonderful. All she had to do was wait for Agent Tsen to appear, and then Agent Leung would see just how perfectly she'd stayed hidden from everyone in the city. When Agent Tsen arrived, her duty would be fulfilled at last. It would be the most perfectly obeyed command in the most perfect city.
For the briefest moment, Joo Dee's grin wavered. There it was again, that strange little flutter within her chest she could never understand. It always disappeared as quickly as it came. And it was during these fleeting moments that an unfathomable possibility crossed her mind. Why was it that every time she imagined that bright, wonderful day...there was something more than a successful command? Stranger yet, why did it sometimes feel like Agent Tsen himself – not just his presence – had something to do with how excited she was?
Joo Dee suddenly laughed out loud, her grin stretching wider than ever as she shook her head. Oh, of course she would be happy to see Agent Tsen. Ba Sing Se was her happiness, and Agent Tsen was from the most perfect part of the most perfect city in the world. Her love for her city reached out to everything and everyone within its walls. And ah! She suddenly remembered why she always ended up paying more attention to Agent Tsen in particular.
It was duty!
Yes, that agent was always giving her chances to correct him, to uphold the rules of Ba Sing Se. The truth was that Agent Yuhan Tsen was a very odd cultural protector. He honored the rules, but he did not love the rules. He was very loyal to his authorities, but he did not adore his authorities. He could perform tasks that the rest of the organization couldn't, yet failed at all the rules that were too trivial to even punish. And Joo Dee could never understand why he always struggled with the easiest, most effortless rule of them all: maintaining a sophisticated appearance without any unprofessional displays of emotion. The worst of it happened that night he very unprofessionally pulled her into his arms –
The young woman went still when the little flutter suddenly brushed her chest again. And once again, she hadn't the slightest clue what it was. She sat down quietly, resting her back against the stained wall as she looked back upon her memories of Agent Tsen. As usual, none of the memories could explain the flutter, and all she really learned from them was how many times she'd had to correct him about duty.
Joo Dee concluded simply that night that she would be looking forward to the day she would resume the reinforcement of Agent Tsen's loyalty to the Dai Li. It was her duty, after all, to correct even the smallest rules. After following Agent Leung's orders, she had to make sure Agent Tsen remembered his own. There was nothing more to her happiness, nothing beyond her loyalty to Ba Sing Se.
...Even if she had to admit his strong arms around her had felt rather nice.
~THE NEW AND OFFICIAL TITLE IMAGE OF THIS FANON HAS BEEN REVEALED, as of today! I'm, excited, aren't you excited? Go look if you haven't already. Nao.~
- I realize that I tend to hate my writing a lot more easily when I'm pulling a Yuhan of sleep-deprivation. And I don't know what to think of this chapter anymore. I've liked it and hated it, then liked it again just to hate it again in several rereads. I can't tell. What do you guys think? :P Be honest.
- I hereby deem this chapter the worst writer's block I've ever had to endure in my life of fanfiction. 20-minute sentences. Real anger. More than 10 versions of the same scene, only for said scene to be discarded eventually. Paranoia over lack of direction. It had all the horrors you can imagine.
- And by the way, the author does not recommend trying to write on 2 hours of sleep over a span of 48 hours, no matter how motivated you are to finish. You may think that it's just "one last scene," but what seems fast will turn out to be quite slow ^^
- You also wouldn't take 2 hours just to copy/paste and publish the chapter if you had more than 2 hours of sleep.
- You also wouldn't ramble this much.
- Consider the new romantic additions in this chapter a special for Valentine's Day, which is coming up in 48 hours!
- Hiroshu is well aware that Suyin could turn out to be any kind of psycho, but he's still curious. And yes, he has strange ways of developing love interests ;)
- In , the attacking rebel who nearly killed Hiroshu had declared, "This is for Suyin." Hiroshu also kicked the guy in the face after he won. And Hiroshu is just very, very lucky that that guy happens to be Suyin's father.
- The author will revise this when she's less tired, but she was too jittery/exhausted to include any details about physical appearance like hair, eyes, skin color, and build when she wrote the scene with the old rebel's spirit/pep talk with Yuhan. Did you notice? If you didn't, then consider this a random tip if you happen to be a fanon author: Don't copy me. :P Because you probably have no idea what the guy looks like aside from "he's old." Not good, yo.
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