|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very Positive|
|Chapter 2 - Old Friends and Old Trends (SHiE)|
Summary of the Last Chapter
Yuhan almost screws up his brainwashing session by yawning in the middle of it, but Long Feng decides to spare him since he's able to fix it anyway. He's still haunted by memories of his life before the Dai Li.
Yuhan rubbed his aching eyes as he crawled sluggishly up the tunnel leading out of the Dai Li headquarters. With a sharp wave of his hand, the circular entrance slid open. He was met with a watery slap in the face as a massive gush of Lake Laogai flooded his eyes, mouth, and nostrils. Coughing and sputtering angrily and clinging to the ladder for support, Yuhan gave the wall a violent kick with his boot, and the entrance slammed shut. Another murderous stamp sprung out a thick platform below that merged its edges with the tunnel, blocking the water from traveling further. Rooting his feet into the platform beneath the sloshing water, he threw his arms above his head, sailing up with the half-filled chamber until he broke the surface of the lake. Flinging the stone door out of his way, Yuhan finally marched onto shore. He kicked the protruding section of the tunnel straight off the platform with a loud splash, and a new entrance was made with a quick thrust of his fists.
Scowling, Yuhan began to trudge towards the Inner Ring of Ba Sing Se. It was the first time in several years that anyone had opened the tunnel too early upon exiting Lake Laogai. Any earthbender should have been able to sense the immediate lack of water resistance on the ground he was manipulating as soon as it hit the air. That an agent of the elite Dai Li would make such a mistake was unheard of...unless they happened to be fatigued, grouchy, and half-conscious agents named Yuhan.
The sun was blinding, searing his unprotected eyes that had gotten too accustomed to green cave-life. The water that had drowned them earlier didn't provide much ease.
"Hello, Agent Tsen!"
Joo Dee's voice made him jump. He hadn't noticed the decorated tourist's carriage that had pulled up next to him. The grinning woman was poking her head out from the window as the driver held upon the door of the passenger's seat. "Are you ready to return home?" This one had long black hair and huge, creepy grey eyes.
'Home' was hypothetically within the Upper Ring. Joo Dee was programmed to follow the Dai Li's cover-up methods of traveling back and forth between Lake Laogai and the city. The lake itself was indeed a tourist spot, made ridiculously expensive so that only the wealthiest could afford the condos lining the outside of the wall closest to it, and thus there were limited visitors. Peasants often came here after "winning" a trip (they were brainwashed), and they always returned speaking of a positive experience. Complimentary carriages were provided to wheel the residents between the shore and their condos, and eventually to return them home to the city.
Yuhan and the other agents never actually exited headquarters in uniform; the Joo Dees in the carriages were the only ones to recognize them, and they would take the men through a separate passage that led to a series of organized, secret rooms within the Inner Wall itself. There, more Joo Dees would be waiting to present the agents their respective tailored uniforms, separate from their sets back at headquarters. Each earthbender would emerge on the other side of the wall as a full-blown, rightfully intimidating Dai Li agent.
"Agent Tsen, we have more favorable attire for you if you wish," offered Joo Dee, pointing to Yuhan's wrinkly tunic that had gone from pale green to toilet-brown from lake dirt. She scooted slightly away from him as the puddles accumulating on his chair began to drip onto the fancy carriage floor.
"It's fine," Yuhan replied against his better judgment, slouching grumpily to lean on his elbow. For some reason, he never liked taking favors from these robotic women. There was just something off about it, considering they lived in a completely artificial world of forced enthusiastic service 24/7. He often tried to sneak into the wall himself before one of those carriages caught him, and today he stubbornly refused to let the Joo Dees handle his muddy attire. He regretted it after he pulled on his outer uniform robes for his trip into the city, which caused the water to seep through and blotch the emerald with mud.
Once Yuhan had fulfilled Long Feng's request and returned from the city, Joo Dee whisked away his ruined uniform for cleaning before he noticed, almost as soon as he'd pulled it off. He was murderous during the whole carriage ride back and on the verge of throwing Long Feng's teapot into the water.
Focus, Yuhan, focus. Just deliver this cursed tea and you're done... The tired agent normally tried not to think badly of the Cultural Minister, but the interruption of his 3-hour rest for some random cup of exotic tea somewhere deep within the city made it very...difficult. Yuhan would not elaborate further.
Three hours later, Yuhan was dragging his way back to the Inner Wall with the soggy remains of his headquarters uniform in a bag marked for cleaning. He should've seen this coming for pulling it on over the same muddy clothes right before presenting Long Feng's precious tea. At the very least, Yuhan was grateful that the Cultural Minister had actually believed his story about being splashed by a carriage riding across a large puddle. The only problem was that he'd set off the Joo Dees, who reminded him that more than one ruined uniform called for immediate tailoring. Their private seamstresses in the Upper Ring would replenish his "acceptable" inventory of three backups in no time. And with that, Yuhan finally changed into a clean set of wrinkly brown robes before heading out this time.
Yuhan wished dearly to avoid the grinning rulebooks and had thought about sneaking onto the public trains to the city many times. Unfortunately, the Joo Dees were occasionally on the train as well, and they would report him to Long Feng immediately for breaching the strict policy of no association with "those peasants and their absurd ideas."
Oh, well. At least a ruined uniform gave him an excuse to have some time off today, due to the apparent emergency. Yuhan darted his eyes around to check his surroundings. No carriages in sight. Awesome. He could do this. For crying out loud, he was a Dai Li agent wasn't he? If he kept nice and quiet, low to the ground, no one would even notice him approaching the Inner Wall -
"YUHAN! Buddy! What're you doing out here in the sun? You finally ran out of rebels to convert?"
Resisting the urge to slap his forehead, Yuhan turned very stiffly around. A second agent was obnoxiously making his way towards him - and only this agent in particular made it possible to walk 'obnoxiously.' He was wearing a sleeveless, neon green tunic over expensive black trousers with flawlessly clean shoes.
Yuhan sort of saw this coming, though. He gave up and managed to chuckle a little, despite everything. "Oh c'mon Hiroshu, give me some credit. I go out here all the time! ...Just not when you're looking."
"Whatever you say, buddy." Hiroshu grinned, catching up to Yuhan and giving him a hard pat on the back. "But seriously, you should really take more time off. I mean sure, it must rock to be Long Feng's favorite errand boy," (Yuhan shot him a glare), "but we all feel kind of bad seeing how it's so harsh on you."
Yuhan scoffed. "Maybe you feel bad. The other agents have no problem advertising me to Long Feng whenever the resistance acts up again." He suddenly folded an arm out in front of himself as if in preparation for a bow, with an exaggerated smile stretching across his face. "'Oh but sir, Yuhan does a much better job of brainwashing than me! Have you seen the results?'" Hiroshu seemed quite amused by the imitation. "'I don't want to fail you, so it's better for both of us if you choose him! Goodbye!"' Yuhan's pale face suddenly reverted to its dull, usual grumpiness. "They're all lazy!" he scowled.
"I'll say!" Hiroshu agreed, although it seemed as if he hoped Yuhan wasn't referring to him in particular.
After a split second though, Yuhan thought about it and suddenly let out a sigh, slumping his shoulders. "Well...then again, no one really likes to do all that brainwashing junk," he muttered. "I guess it'd be a little selfish of me to expect them to do it instead."
Hiroshu slapped his forehead. "Anddd ladies and gentlemen, that's why Yuhan never sees the light of day!"
Yuhan glanced down at the horribly pale skin of his palm. "Oh, shuddup -"
"Patrol partners Agent Yuhan Tsen and Agent Hiroshu Leung, correct?" Joo Dee grinned so wide that the sun was reflecting off her teeth.
Yuhan tried to cover his face with his soggy bag. "Um no, I'm just a regular pea-"
"Yep, that's us!" Hiroshu proudly pointed to himself shortly before giving a shove that almost sent Yuhan flying face-first into the carriage.
As the carriage rumbled across the agrarian fields, the two patrol partners were still finding meaningless things to banter about.
"Well, I did ask you a couple of times if you needed a break," Hiroshu continued, unfazed. "You said I looked too tired when you could barely open your panda eyes!" He smirked as Yuhan subconsciously felt at the gloomy shadows beneath his eyes, which had indeed begun to resemble a certain bear.
"...You wouldn't have lasted," Yuhan retorted, deciding to ignore his haggard appearance.
"Oh, because you were so much more energized?"
"I wasn't the one who fell asleep in the middle of a recitation."
"But you did yawn like a boarsloth," Hiroshu finished with a smug smile.
Yuhan had to resist slapping a hand over his own face. Even gossip in the Dai Li was a pain these days. "Whatever!"
Hiroshu was the first Dai Li agent that Yuhan had met formally. Officially, he was Yuhan's assigned partner for patrol and combat and unfortunately, self-proclaimed best friend to tag along for everything else. Annoying as he was, though, he did get some credit from Yuhan for being his first friend in the Dai Li. For someone who was basically tasked to be Long Feng's hitman, Hiroshu always had an animated, cheerful air about him that contrasted sharply with Yuhan's silent and sleepy character. He was noted for his classy appearance, most obvious when he wasn't in uniform, and out of the two he was more likely to show off his impressive build. His chestnut-brown hair was carefully combed and plaited neatly down the back, and in uniform the dark robes seemed to highlight the healthy glow of his tanned skin. On top of it all, he was known for his bright, sage green eyes and for his charm among the ladies of Ba Sing Se; Yuhan was known for his ghoulish eye shadows and mellow nature. No one in the organization really knew how the two got along.
"What happened to your uniform?" Hiroshu asked casually. "It smells like lake water!" He pointed at the damp green pile of cloth sitting next to Joo Dee across from them, who'd refused to let Yuhan hang onto it. One of the emerald sleeves was dangling ungracefully over the edge of the bag. "I'm guessing you need a seamstress to meet your backup quota?"
"Hmmm, why else would I be forced to go to the Upper Ring?" a grouchy Yuhan immediately shot back.
"Well alright, geez! How'd that happen anyway? The smell is horrid!"
Yuhan paused. "...A carriage randomly rushed past me while I was getting tea for Long Feng, and there was this huge filthy puddle -"
"Hey, it's pretty obvious when you're making up excuses for your chronic abuse of clothing," Hiroshu cut in, snickering. "But it's alright, kid. We all trip into Lake Laogai at some point in our lives."
Yuhan managed a stiff smile, embarrassed but secretly relieved that Hiroshu didn't suspect him of actually opening the tunnel too early. "Yeah...I was tired," he mumbled, quickly brushing aside his friend's resulting burst of laughter. "And for the last time, quit calling me kid. It sounds stupid in public!" he suddenly threw in. "You're only two years older!"
Hiroshu put on an obnoxious smile. "You really want to go through this again?" he began, ignoring the icy pair of eyes glaring back at him. "Well buddy, no matter what you say, all I saw was a little kid skipping after that crazy old geezer back then." Hiroshu grinned again as he observed Yuhan's brow twitching a little. "You were flailing around and went all wide-eyed like some baby rabaroo when I stopped you. It's clear which one of us is the experienced, totally cooler senior." He barely dodged a loose pebble on the floor that Yuhan had kicked towards his face.
Eerily enough, Hiroshu was indeed the agent who'd murdered the frail old man that haunted Yuhan's memories. But outside of his - well, hitman duties, he was surprisingly more patient and amiable than most of the organization. It wasn't like he had much of a choice with duties, anyway. He was as good at making troublemakers mysteriously disappear as Yuhan was at manipulating brains, and Long Feng always utilized anything his agents did well. They were also reminded that failure meant unimaginable consequences, of course, but Yuhan had a nasty feeling that Hiroshu didn't need any threats to do anything nowadays. His patrol partner had only grown more and more nonchalant over the eight years they'd known each other. Still, the important part was that he was a lifelong friend Yuhan could always count on...right?
"Ah whatever, you sounded ridiculously fancy and everyone knows you don't actually talk that way. You probably just wanted to look better than someone, seeing as you were the only other Dai Li newbie," retorted Yuhan. The clash of minuscule age differences went on.
"Newbie? I came of recruiting age two years before you!" Hiroshu exclaimed, as if it were twenty. "You saw how pro I was!"
"You were fifteen, Hiroshu. No one takes teenagers that seriously."
"Well, that wimpy face of yours sure did. And haven't you heard? Some of the most dangerous firebenders in the world are teenagers!"
"You're not a firebender."
"Neither are you."
"Okay then, you wanna see who's more pro right now?" Yuhan's pebble rose back up and flew in speedy little circles around Hiroshu's head.
Hiroshu swiftly caught the rock in mid-air between his middle and index finger. "You were saying?"
The pebble suddenly sharpened and gave a jab that made Hiroshu howl in pain as he let go. "Right. Like I was saying..." Yuhan snatched his pebble back out of the air as it returned, flipped it like a coin, and flicked it back in the shape of a -
"Gentlemen! Please stop. You are acting unprofessionally!"
Yuhan's fingers were still outstretched mid-strike as Joo Dee flung her arm very mechanically in front of his face. He heard the misaimed pebble hit the wall on the other side.
The Peace Orator's eyes narrowed. Joo Dee's creepy grin widened.
Hiroshu cleared his throat behind them. "Sorry, Joo Dee." He smiled innocently. "My patrol partner's a little childish." He quickly threw the pebble out the window before Yuhan could react.
Outside of the carriage, the driver glanced at his passenger log. 23 and 21 years of age, apparently. "They both act like children," he muttered, shaking his head.
The carriage eventually came to a stop against a secluded section of the Inner Wall. The Dai Li messengers stationed inside received the signal and thrust their arms in opposite directions of each other. A narrow tunnel opened, concealed by the outside of the carriage and big enough just for Yuhan, Hiroshu, and Joo Dee to fit through.
Hiroshu yawned loudly as the wall closed behind them and left only the light of the green crystals inside. "Do we really have to go to the seamstress?" he complained. "The Upper Ring's all the way in the middle of the city, and the seamstresses are in the middle of the Upper Ring..."
Sighing, Yuhan rubbed at his weary eyes. "You think I really want to be here, either? ...Wait, why are you even here?"
"Hey, I can visit the city for fun, you know! You brainwash people 24/7, but for me it's not like there's constantly a bunch of war-crazy peasants to..." There was an eerie pause. "Um yeah well, I'm not always busy like you, today I just heard about -"
"Agent Leung! Agent Tsen! What an honor to see you both this afternoon!"
Yuhan was the only one who jumped from her voice. To his left, Hiroshu waved dismissively in greeting, having passed through here much more often.
Carriage-Joo Dee darted off with Yuhan's ruined clothes before he could stop her. Hiroshu had told her during the trip just to base the new uniform off of the dimensions she already possessed, to save time. Yuhan sighed loudly as she disappeared from sight. A little tap on his shoulder made him turn around.
"We have fetched your uniforms for you, gentlemen. Would you like some assistance?" This Joo Dee had shiny brown hair cropped just above her shoulders. There were dark bags under her sunken green eyes, similar to Yuhan's save for a weirdish violet, and her pallor made it seem like there was hardly any blood flowing through her veins...
Joo Dee suddenly threw Yuhan's folded uniform into his arms, causing him to snap out of his preoccupation with her questionable health. "Huh? Oh - nono, I got it," he quickly told her. The sunken eyes peered at him with an even wider grin that made him shudder. "Seriously Joo Dee, I got it."
"Oi, let him be," called Hiroshu from across the room. "That's his problem. But I'll gladly take the favor!"
Joo Dee was delighted by the sound of an order. "Of course, Agent Leung!" She quickly paced over to Hiroshu with his respective robes. "This set has been ironed and scented with fresh pine needles as you requested, sir. Do you like it?"
Yuhan glowered at Hiroshu before yanking his own robes over his head very ungracefully and slamming his hat into place. "Really?"
"Yeah, you guys did awesome!" said Hiroshu, ignoring Yuhan's glare and subsequent face-palming. "You're the best, Joo Dee!"
The sickly woman nodded and proceeded to step behind Hiroshu as he lifted his arms. The emerald robes slipped on flawlessly, and Hiroshu sheepishly continued to avoid Yuhan's gaze as Joo Dee came around to tighten the silky sash of his hat beneath his chin. He flinched, however, when she suddenly stepped back and coughed violently into her hand. "Hey, are you sick or something?" he exclaimed, a little disturbed as she kept coughing and grinning at the same time.
"Me? Sick? Of course not," coughed Joo Dee. "With all due respect, sir, I have no such illness and am completely capable of fulfilling my duties."
Yuhan felt something twist in his gut. Spirits, the Dai Li could've at least made these women remember that they were human.
Hiroshu raised a skeptical brow. "Well, go make sure you aren't sick anyway."
"I will if my duties are compromised, sir."
"If you say so." Hiroshu turned to Yuhan and shrugged. "Ready to go?"
Yuhan watched the brainwashed woman leave and shook his head. "Yeah, sure." He suddenly smirked a little. "Well, well, what's this? Hiroshu actually cares if another human being is sick?"
Hiroshu blinked. "What do you mean?" he asked sincerely. "She was gonna get germs on all our uniforms if she kept going around like that."
Yuhan slapped a hand over his forehead, ignoring the pain of his stone glove. "Right. Of course."
In the silence, Hiroshu could sense the disapproval. "Yuhan, you're honestly the only one who gets worked up about these things," he chuckled. "You destroy brains every night. Are you really one to talk?"
"That's different...!" Something lurched in Yuhan's stomach. What if it's not? He stubbornly continued anyway. "I have to deal with those people, just like the way you have to - er..." Hiroshu watched him glumly. "Well, I only do anything about the people who would tear apart our city or get it burned down by the Fire Nation. None of it is stupid and unnecessary like your...Joo Dee favors!" Is it?
Hiroshu gave an exasperated sigh. It wasn't the first time the two had butted heads over this. "Alright, I'll try not to do it around you anymore," he groaned. "Sorry about that." Yuhan gave a curt nod. "But..." Hiroshu continued in self-justification, "the point is, we're free now!" (Yuhan rolled his eyes) "You really need this day off, and I feel like going for a nice, refreshing drink. You up for it?"
"Sure." Yuhan shrugged. Hiroshu was just being Hiroshu, after all.
"Hey, where did Long Feng tell you to get his ultra exotic tea from?"
The brew of this small shop in the Lower Ring was famous for its wonderful qualities, but the person serving it to Yuhan certainly wasn't. The boy looked about four or five years younger than him, sixteen at most, wearing a scowl comparable to Long Feng in a bad mood - perhaps even worse. "Have a good afternoon, gentlemen..." he muttered between gritted teeth. Yuhan and Hiroshu exchanged confused glances. The irritable teenager proceeded to throw down two steaming cups of tea along with a pot that almost rattled off the table before he stormed away. Some onlookers were surprised that he would dare to be rude around Dai Li agents - but then again, it was also strange that said agents were lounging around with no formality in this random shop to begin with.
"That's gotta be the grouchiest kid I've ever seen. What's his deal?" Hiroshu lifted his cup into his stone-clad fingers, furrowing his brows as he watched the scowling boy stomp from table to table.
"Eh - in case you didn't notice, he's missing practically half his face, Hiroshu," Yuhan replied dully. There were too many onlookers for his liking - not to mention he could already tell that some of them were glaring conspiracy nuts just waiting to jump him if he let his guard down. He swirled around the little bits of tea leaves in his cup uncomfortably before finally deciding to drink, only out of his concern for wasting money.
"Well, of course I did! It's hard to miss," Hiroshu retorted. He paused. "...Why does it matter?" His indifference was astonishing.
"What, you think the Dai Li did that?" Yuhan replied even more drearily. His gaze followed the young tea server who marched around with a giant mass of distorted red flesh surrounding his left eye, which only worsened his enraged appearance. "It looks like a classic case of 'This scar represents the Fire Nation and everything I hate' sickness," Yuhan continued, unable to help feeling a twinge of pity. "Must be pretty rough on him. I've never seen a burn that bad and that...obvious." His voice was low and lost even more volume from the ominous rebels eyeing him everywhere.
"Wouldn't he be a conspiracy nut if he's been screwed over by the Fire Nation? After all - urgh!" Hiroshu suddenly choked loudly from trying to drink and talk at the same time.
"Well...there haven't been any reports of disruptive activity from this place." Yuhan sighed as he warily eyed his patrol partner sputtering over the hot tea. He considered denying his acquaintance with Hiroshu for a moment. "The kid seems more like he's just brooding, not plotting for war," Yuhan went on. "Oh well, can't really blame him for being miserable about what ruined his face, whatever it was."
The dull conversation eventually died out, and Hiroshu recovered soon enough. The patrol partners continued to sip their tea and didn't take long to forget about the scarred and angry teenager.
Yuhan, as a devoted agent, kept an eye out in case these war refugees everywhere blurted anything about the Fire Nation. On the contrary, Hiroshu only seemed to be aware of his tea, which might as well have been the nectar of life from the way he savored it. "Wow, this is good!" he exclaimed, desperately trying to empty the minuscule remaining drops into his mouth. Something else caught Yuhan's attention, however.
A few tables down, a small group of angry men - angry and drunk men, brilliant - had wandered into the shop, belching with foul, acidic breaths. They surrounded a single girl who looked quite furious with whatever they were saying. Yuhan had glanced over this spot many times already, but he had no idea how she even got herself into that mess. A few moments ago she'd been sitting quietly at her lone table, enjoying tea like everyone else. He'd turned his head elsewhere for what seemed like a split second, and one glance later he discovered her randomly arguing with a bunch of brutes.
"Are you seriously going to tell me that they protect you?" A rather large man slammed his massive fist onto her table, causing it to rattle. "Stupid natives like you buy into their crap so easily! I bet you've never even been outside the walls of this city! But I have, and you know what's out there? You know what's outside your perfect little world?" The girl only glared back at him with remarkable ferocity.
Wait...someone was disagreeing with a war refugee? About him? Yuhan blinked. He, the Dai Li's master brain-destroyer, protect this girl? What? His head subconsciously cocked a little to the side as he watched her. There was something strangely familiar about that unique color of her hair, a rich auburn with more of a reddish shade than brown if exposed to the sun... He decided to ignore it. What mattered more was that those halfwit drunkards were forgetting the one policy that should never be breached. "Hiroshu..." Yuhan muttered. "We should probably go check that out."
Hiroshu, who'd been reading the tea menu for a second order the whole time, looked up. "Huh?" Realization darkened his expression when a fuming voice pierced the air.
"THE ENTIRE WORLD IS AT WAR WITH THE FIRE NATION, YOU IDIOT!"
Sighing, Hiroshu let his menu drop onto the table. "Alright, I'm up..."
- This chapter was originally posted in bulk along with the entire first 14 chapters of this fanon upon its release. So no, how much you post at a time does not matter if you happen to be an author here wondering about, er, reader trends I guess.
- Since then, the author's gone through bouts of revision OCD, so it's not just you if you're rereading this and notice some not-so-subtle differences :>
- With that said, beware of random additions and extra elaborations elsewhere. No chapter is safe o_o Like I always say... Constant revision, this story. *twitches*
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