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|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very positive|
|Chapter 6 - Friendly Conversations (SHiE)|
Summary of the Last Chapter
Riya's stepfather has been deemed too stubborn for any standard brainwasher - so they've handed him over to Yuhan. The conversion fails again, however, after Yuhan can't bring himself to complete it. He ends up becoming just another agent on Liu's hate list.
Riya was a beloved member of her small, humble community in the Lower Ring. They all felt that it was a shame how such a kind, beautiful girl as herself was poor and living alone in one of the most tattered, simple homes in all of Ba Sing Se, even for the Lower Ring's standards. Though her neighbors wanted to do something about it, they too often simply didn't have enough money to spare. Riya was stubborn, too; she hated any implications that she couldn't fend for herself, and she always accused suitors of being excuses to find her a caretaker - even if they genuinely just liked her. Even so, she didn't have the heart to throw out the occasional basket of fruit left on her doorstep (a patch of dirt), or the invites to meals for special occasions. Her neighbors only sighed with a little chuckle when they could spot her swatting out gecko-rats from her wooden shack with a broom, among the other critters and dust. At the end of the day, twice-orphaned or not, she was still smiling.
Then, the day came when Riya couldn't ignore a suitor: the worst possible kind on earth. What made it even worse was that he didn't exactly count as a suitor, when she herself had wholeheartedly embraced him from the start. They'd seen him strolling into the Lower Ring with her one afternoon like a nasty shadow blotting out the warm sun, and his painfully expensive robes of emerald stuck out horribly in their impoverished town. At first, Riya's neighbors had feared that this unwelcome Dai Li agent - "Yuhan Tsen," apparently he had a name - was picking up on her affiliation with a rebel community and was using her to snuff them all out. It horrified them even more that he only made her blush instead.
Riya, of course, would have none of their accusations. The Dai Li protected the city, she said. They were grossly unappreciated, she said. "They took half our families and dragged off your foster parents!" her neighbors were tempted to scream in return. They could only blurt so much, though. It was painful to keep in mind that oblivious natives were the safest from the Dai Li. Liu and Mina had known that, and Riya's neighbors tried their best to follow the example even if her cluelessness and passionate defense of the organization drove them mad. Her new visitor, Agent Tsen, didn't make it any easier tolerate the Dai Li. So what if more than 10 years ago, he'd lived in the same slums as Riya? He should've known what they were put through and he had an influence beyond all of them to improve life here! What was his grand excuse for staying hidden until now? Brainwashing duties? ...Actually yes, that was exactly it, her neighbors figured out before long. Alright, they officially hated him and his stupid panda-eyes. Nevermind Riya, they were going to keep an eye on him for as long as he bore the cursed uniform.
Riya's community was naturally appalled, therefore, when Agent Tsen returned one day with a gang of intimidating, muscular men dragging large crates. He walked casually in front of them, though the humble citizens noticed some of the crates being pushed along by some invisible force in the ground. They weren't going to wait around to find out why. Oh Spirits, this was it for the neighborhood. The rebels had been found out. Perhaps Riya had accidentally given a hint - whatever gave it away, they had to run and run fast. Agent Tsen's gang was surely here to tear down everything in sight. It'd been the same when Liu and Mina's whole street was uprooted until enough prisoners had been collected for the Dai Li's liking. A little girl with auburn locks and hazel eyes returned from school that day only to find her home in ruins and a pair of agents standing before it. They'd strolled right past her after delivering their excuse, and she fell to her knees wailing in the silence.
The image of the little girl crying still burned in their eyes. As Agent Tsen loomed closer and closer to Riya's pitiful shelter, her neighbors rushed out from their own homes, yelling for all earthbenders in the area to attempt an escape tunnel while those who chose not to flee remained to create a last-ditch diversion. Some of the neighbor's men hid in a thicket of bushes nearby, slowly raising their makeshift daggers as the agent pointed to Riya's shabby home, telling some horrible, inaudible instructions to his group. Knowing the Dai Li, the boy would easily break all their bones and probably have fun beating them down, but they needed to give Riya a chance to run. If only she wouldn't answer the damn door! If she'd just slip out the back window, follow the earthbenders to safety, if she'd...just...
They saw the girl emerge from behind her wooden board entrance, smiling when she saw the agent but quickly growing confused at the sight of all the bulky men behind him. Agent Tsen spoke a few more inaudible sentences and she suddenly gasped, backing towards the door with teary eyes. Tears. The men hiding in the bush wanted so badly to attack, but Riya was standing too close to the agent by now. They painfully watched as he took her arm and gently pulled her away from her little shelter. He had to know that others were trying to attack him. This was obviously his way of mocking them, keeping Riya close enough to be a personal shield without even needing to ask cooperation from his hostage.
The hidden men began to offer their bitter apologies to Liu and Mina for failing to protect what was left of the family...until Riya turned around and flung her arms around Agent Tsen, almost knocking him off-balance. The beefy group behind him pried open the crates and lifted out, to their surprise, numerous planks of high-quality wood. One crate was loaded with large buckets of expensive paint. Before they could make any sense of it, Agent Tsen suddenly looked straight at the bush and caused them all to jump. "You can all come out, you know." His dull voice lacked any formality, and he sort of shrugged in the awkward silence. "I'm not going to kill you or something..."
Without much of a choice, the neighborhood men embarrassedly stood up, trying to hide their weapons beneath the coats of leaves covering them. Riya saw them and started laughing, unaware of their earlier intentions. Agent Tsen seemed to know, but he made no comment as their guilty eyes met his. His handy group of construction workers curiously looked over at them. "You here to help, folks?"
Several hours later, a house occupied the space where Riya's tiny shelter once stood. It was the kind of favor she couldn't refuse, because Agent Tsen had found the blueprints of her foster parents' demolished home. It was a secure and cozy little place, painted jade and white to match her favorite colors. There was a door that actually stayed in the frame, a real doorstep, and a separate bedroom and kitchen. There were already a few jars of her favorite wildflowers sitting on the wide windowsills that the agent had knowingly included. What little possessions she owned were moved over without much trouble. Only Riya didn't seem to notice the way Agent Tsen paused for a good while as he held and examined the tiny incense alter she so often used to honor her lost family.
Her neighbors couldn't help but stare as the boy paid the construction workers (and volunteering neighbors) in only gold pieces; they wondered if the Dai Li were even capable of using other currency. They watched with mixed emotions as Riya happily left with him, disappearing down the dusty road to the Pao Family Tea House.
After a heavy moment of silence, the community had to admit amongst themselves that perhaps they'd overestimated Agent Tsen's evil. Okay, so maybe they didn't hate him. He did plenty of abominable things behind the scenes, they were sure, but they couldn't hate him. As for his paying to reconstruct Riya's old home? He was just...an abnormal Dai Li agent. A very weird agent indeed, that was all.
"Y-you're even paying for my tea now?" Riya was fidgety and stuttering all over the place. So many volunteers had jumped in earlier that her entire house was finished in less than half a day; it was a lot to process. Her agent-friend, on the other hand, seemed perfectly fine about tossing out more than 500 gold pieces in a matter of hours; he appeared to be enjoying the lifted weight from his pockets, in fact. The two sat at a small table in the corner of the tea shop where they'd reunited.
"Of course! There's no way I'm letting you pay for it," Yuhan replied simply. "That'd be totally rude and jerkish of me!" He was about add something else, but it was quickly lost when he became mortified upon sight of a familiar figure in emerald skipping through the door.
With Yuhan's luck, his patrol partner spotted the two at their table right as he'd turned to close the door. He left it open as he dashed back inside. "Yuhan! Buddy! What brings you – WHOA there!" Hiroshu's eyes practically popped out of their sockets when he noticed Riya. She began to wave a little when he kept staring. "Hey, you're that girl from the other day..." His tone was slowly changing into something that couldn't possibly mean well. "Ohhh, when did this...?" He turned over to Yuhan with a grin. "Gee, thanks for telling me, man! But NICE, she's smokin–"
"Hiroshu, shut up!" Yuhan immediately sprang up and seized Hiroshu's collar. Riya looked unsure of what was even going on as she watched. "You don't have to make such a scene about everything!" Yuhan hissed. "She's a friend I knew a long time ago. We're just having a friendly conversation, and it's not what you think –"
"WHATEVER you say, buddy!" Hiroshu smiled slyly and wrenched his collar free, ignoring Yuhan's murderous expression. "Well, I think it's a good time for me to leave, then! Have funnnn." He walked off with his to-go box of tea bags, whistling merrily. His horribly loud voice had attracted the attention of almost everyone in the shop.
Riya was still puzzled, but she laughed silently when her childhood companion took once glance at the onlookers and then flopped back into his chair, throwing his face into his arms on the table. She was about to say something to break the silence, until...
"It's a long, longgg way to Ba Sing Se!"
Yuhan jerked his head up. It took him a moment to register the sight. The fat, elderly man named Mushi who served their tea was headed cheerfully over to the table with the cups on a tray...singing.
"But the girls in the city, they look sooo PRETTAYYY!" He winked one of his golden eyes at Riya, who giggled and blushed. Yuhan's face was back in his arms.
"And they kiss sooo sweet –" Mushi gave the agent a hard nudge, who dug his face even deeper. "– that you've really got to meet...the GIRLSSS FROM BA SING SEYYYY!"
Riya was laughing heartily, forgetting to cup her hand. She clapped appreciatively as the old man bowed and set the two cups onto the table. Yuhan, on the other hand, wasn't moving a muscle. He didn't even want to find out how many onlookers they'd attracted by now. Maybe the fat geezer would finally leave if he stayed like this long enough. Ticking off a Dai Li agent - sure, wouldn't that do the trick? As Yuhan peered glumly between the gaps in his arms, he suddenly noticed that Mushi's nephew (Li, was it?) was standing at the very back of the shop. The young brewer appeared to sympathize with Yuhan as he slapped a hand over his scarred face.
"Well young man, aren't you going to at least enjoy your tea with this lovely lady?" The old man still hadn't left. Yuhan finally gave in, unfolding his arms with great difficulty as he slowly sat up. His stone-covered fingers clanged loudly against his cup of tea as he stiffly snatched it up and emptied it down his throat. It was scalding. He gagged. Riya laughed even harder.
"My, that was quick!" exclaimed the elderly brewer. "Am I causing a disturbance to you? My greatest apologies!"
Yuhan only glared back.
Mushi smiled even brighter and tucked the tray under his arm. "Greatest Blessings upon you two, then!" he finished graciously. "Have a wonderful afternoon."
Yuhan's face reddened. "Would you please stop...suggesting..."
There was a pause as the brewer shifted his gaze over to Riya for a moment. She'd gone strangely silent and seemed to be focusing on the little leaf bits floating around in her cup. "Ahhh, I understand." Mushi's golden eyes twinkled mysteriously as he walked away. Something told Yuhan that he didn't understand at all.
Or did he?
The young agent shifted uncomfortably. Riya couldn't be...that, could she? Yuhan decided to avoid her gaze as he pondered this. No - Oh Spirits no, he was not about to associate himself with that weird thing called romance. Not with his terrible schedule and default isolation from society. But, well - it wasn't like that was any fault of Riya's. There wasn't anything wrong with her, really, but people were just taking things too far nowadays... Come on, he and Riya had always gotten along, and it was refreshing to spend time out here instead of being cooped up under Lake Laogai. She couldn't be that. She was Riya, the afro girl! Sure whatever, she was one of the few people he remembered before his Dai Li days. His old Pai Sho rival. His interesting friend. Who just happened to be very sweet and attractive. And whom he liked to talk to. And visit first whenever he was free. A lot.
A defeated Yuhan tried to rest his forehead onto the table, but he hit it with the brim of his hat instead. He finally leaned back into his chair as he swat a stony hand over his face.
"Why're you so upset, Yuhan? Is this place bothering you that much?" The agent's hand slid back off his face. It suddenly hit him he'd been brooding for quite some time. "We can leave if you want to..." Riya's voice began to trail away. "Maybe I shouldn't have laughed at you. I-I'm sorry..." She was looking dejectedly at him from across the table, in all her gentle beauty. As Yuhan gazed over, her hazel eyes stared down at the hands she'd folded in her lap.
Hiroshu and the fat old brewer suddenly melted away from his mind, and the young agent found himself smiling. "Aw, don't say that! You're fine," Yuhan assured Riya, a little ashamed at his display of grouchiness. She began to smile back. "I just get pretty annoyed when it comes to my idiotic patrol part - (ahem) I mean, Hiroshu. And I guess that old guy, too. " He quickly cleared his throat. "Sorry, I'm probably just tired."
Mushi chuckled softly when Yuhan ordered another pot of tea.
Hiroshu was the first to notice them holding hands. It was very subtle, but nothing escaped his gaze when it was related to his friend's love life. It was so much more fun to witness this than listening to Yuhan's endless dronings about brainwashing experiences. As the trusty patrol partner, Hiroshu was naturally somewhere close by whenever Yuhan paid the hazel-eyed girl a visit. Yuhan was only occasionally released from Lake Laogai and let on patrol within the city, but he was always with Riya whenever he returned. Hiroshu took it upon himself to keep Yuhan from volunteering himself back to that cursed conversion chamber; the kid seriously needed to stop living in there. He made sure that nothing interrupted the two, even secretly taking out some rebels on his own while he and Yuhan were supposed to be working together. Many times he pretended to scout other areas while actually watching the two from a distance. Hiroshu would silently curse whenever Yuhan would suddenly tell Riya to stay behind some corner and tackle down a raging member of the Resistance, right as they were having a moment. But it was worth the wait.
It had been a normal, slow afternoon in the Lower Ring, and it was particularly difficult for Hiroshu to find any hiding spots beneath the blazing sun. He eventually found use for his years of stealth training in the Dai Li, climbing along the tops of nearby homes as he watched. Yuhan had been walking in his protocoled position as always, with Riya by his side. His hands were completely hidden behind his back in accordance with the Dai Li policy, and she respected that. However, it was on this afternoon that she silently looped her arm around his. He went a little still for a moment, but they soon continued walking shyly down the dusty path together. In the distance, his patrol partner pumped his fist.
Hiroshu was ecstatic the day Yuhan broke the Dai Li policy. Riya had accompanied Yuhan along a patrol of the Middle Ring, where she looked around curiously at the elegant gardens for the first time. The sun had just begun to set, glistening brightly on the polished green tiles of the surrounding houses. The young woman was wearing, by Yuhan's courtesy, a newly tailored Earth Kingdom dress. The outer layer was a long, silky jade robe, edged with pale yellow floral embroidery and tied together at the waist in a clean, embellished white sash. Its wide sleeves flowed down to her wrists and revealed a flowing white skirt beneath that matched its sash. Even if Riya was a little too passive for his type, Hiroshu had to agree that the upgrade from her usual rags was a breathtaking sight. He could only imagine how Yuhan was feeling at the moment.
The shy pair began to cross over a curved stone bridge that stretched across a glimmering pond filled with water lilies. Riya had just begun to reach out her arm until she realized, her eyes widening a little, that Yuhan was offering his outstretched hand instead. The rock glove was gone, and she'd almost forgotten what his smooth palm had looked like after all these years. Confused, Riya looked up into his smiling emerald eyes, which stood out this time instead of hiding beneath the shadow of his hat. "Aren't you...?"
They gently clasped their hands together, their fingers intertwining as his long sleeve slid back down over them. A sudden loud rumbling in the distance startled the two, however. Hiroshu, too thrilled that his patrol partner had actually made a move for once, had toppled off the roof of a small house.
Of course, Hiroshu was also the first to witness (and ruin) the couple's first kiss. He and Yuhan were assigned to patrol the great Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se on this night, and he himself had loudly suggested that Riya be taken along to see the outskirts of the city. 'Twas a full moon, Hiroshu insisted obnoxiously. Can't miss it. Oh, and a carriage had already been arranged to pick them all up. Yuhan was visibly annoyed and embarrassed, especially with other curious agents overhearing the conversation, but he agreed eventually. And though Hiroshu was met with variety of death threats during the whole ride to the Lower Ring, his grouchy patrol partner soon forgot everything and smiled stupidly when Riya jumped out from her little house to embrace him.
Things were already going in Hiroshu's favor from the moment the patrol partners notified the guards on the Outer Wall of their arrival; as the group was hoisted up the side of the wall atop a speeding stone platform, Riya practically hugged Yuhan's arm in fright as they shot upwards, and he held her close to keep her steady. He made sure to shoot a death glare at his smirking patrol partner the entire time. Indeed, this was going to be a good night.
Ah, the full moon was perfect tonight. Hardly any clouds at all, and what a glow! Hiroshu felt very sure that something was bound to happen as he trailed several meters behind the couple, watching them point at the grey shapes on the glowing moon and sharing with each other what they saw in them. After many slow hours, however, they were still doing the same, boring thing; how they could even talk about nothing for that long, Hiroshu had no idea. Irritated, he tried straightening out his robe and untangling the tassels on his hat to relieve his boredom as he trudged along. This was getting ridiculous. If Yuhan didn't want to step it up now, then the kid was officially the most romantically challenged agent in the world.
Come on, it's so obvious that you two are together... DO SOMETHING ALREADY! Do you need a freaking sign from the Universe to move anywhere?
The sky apparently heard him.
A huge shape appeared from the darkness, a swooping shadow in front of the moon, and it soared towards the wall with alarming speed. Hiroshu's mouth hung open as he failed to believe his eyes. It was a flying sky bison. An extinct flying sky bison. Out of the corner of his eye, the couple in the distance were both also gaping at the sight. Its loud roar was deafening, and it stretched out six furry legs as it drew nearer and nearer. Before Hiroshu could finish processing the sight, its wide, flat tail rose high into the sky and swung down sharply with the force of a hurricane.
The terrifying explosion of air knocked Hiroshu straight off his feet, and he tumbled to the ground with a very unpleasant thud against the hard stone. The world was still spinning a little as he winced and slowly sat back up, tenderly rubbing his behind. Then he noticed it.
Yuhan was still standing. He'd managed to dig his boots into the ground and get a solid hold of it before the wind could finish knocking him over. The stone encased his feet securely while his robes flapped wildly in the air - and somewhere in the midst of the howling wind, he'd grabbed onto Riya's shoulders. He was still holding her steady as his patrol partner sat up and watched curiously from the distance. The young woman a was in a daze for a moment, with her windswept hair all about her face. She brushed some strands away from her eyes, rubbing the wind's dust out of her vision and blinking a couple of times. The rustle of a bunch of bright green tassels hanging down over her forehead made her look up, and she resisted the urge to laugh.
"Are you alright?" Yuhan's voice was muffled. His hat had blown down to cover his face completely.
"Here, let me get that for you." Smiling, Riya reached forward and gently lifted the brim of the hat back up. She suddenly stopped midway when Yuhan's dark green eyes reappeared, glistening strangely as they gazed deep into her own. His hands hadn't left her shoulders. Hiroshu stared from the distance, wide-eyed. This was it.
The two childhood sweethearts looked like silhouettes in front of the bright, full moon as their faces slowly but surely leaned closer and closer to each other. After what seemed like ages to Hiroshu, their eyes finally shut, and their lips gently touched. Quiet and shy, they stayed like that, with Riya's fingers curling against Yuhan's chest, his hands never leaving her shoulders, her cheeks pink with the warmth of his lips on her own. The onlooking agent was about to deem it pretty lame for a first kiss, really - but then Yuhan pulled Riya closer, and she had to lift herself onto the tips of her toes to lean in with him. The shy kiss grew warmer and warmer with passion as she tightened her arms around his neck and as his hands nestled themselves in the small of her back.
"AWWWWWWWWWWWW!" Hiroshu really didn't mean to let it out like that, but he'd just been waiting for this moment for so long. Finally!
The couple quickly tore apart, turning away from each other and blushing madly. Yuhan looked ready to fling his patrol partner straight off the Outer Wall at that moment. Hiroshu came running from behind, laughing shamelessly about how he used to think Yuhan would die alone and single, but the Peace Orator was too distracted to care when Riya began to turn her head slightly back around. Still scarlet-faced from the kiss and fiddling embarrassedly with her long auburn hair, she stole a glance at Yuhan with a tiny, subtle smile - who returned it before realizing it.
"Oho!" yelled Hiroshu, who never missed a thing. He took a frightened step backwards when he noticed Yuhan's extra murderous glare and ran the other direction as a stone fist flew after him.
Yuhan was always disappointed to say goodbye to Riya, but it was especially difficult tonight. He never knew when he would be allowed another day off, and he always felt bad for being unable to answer her. The two embraced silently for several blissful seconds, with the bright streaks of moonlight still shining down upon them through the dirty clothing lines hanging above. Riya closed her eyes contently, soaking in the warmth of his body as Yuhan rested his chin against her soft hair. It took all of his will to loosen his grip around her, and they finally faced each other for the inevitable departure. Riya's hands trailed down the sides of his arms, lightly grasping them for a moment before she gently kissed his cheek and let go. Yuhan watched her until she had disappeared completely into her new house, then turned around and climbed quietly into the carriage waiting behind him.
"She's quite a girl, isn't she?" It was the same peasant that had driven him back to Lake Laogai on the day he'd first escorted her home.
Yuhan gave a long, wistful sigh. "Yeah...she is." I'm sure her foster parents would agree, too. He leaned over and sank his face into his hands.
Yuhan almost paused in front of the cell connecting Ground Corridors 2 and 3, but forced himself to run past it as fast as he could. Tonight, he actually wanted Long Feng to assign some horrible task to him. Anything to get his mind off of Riya's parents...and her innocence...and his lies...
He stopped abruptly when he heard a large roar echoing loudly throughout headquarters. How in the world did an agent manage to sneak an animal down here...?
The animal hadn't been snuck into headquarters at all. Long Feng was standing before it, smiling formidably as a group of agents struggled to put shackles around its six legs. It was the sky bison from earlier.
"There you are, Yuhan! It's good to see you." Long Feng turned to address him, not looking as if he actually cared to see him at all. "Would you kindly lend a hand and help move the Avatar's bison to Cell 38?"
(Shifts uncomfortably) I always feel awkward posting these kinds of chaps...you know, with the luv. And stuff. Moving on now! It feels like I'm spawning chapters :X But each of these, on their original release dates, were toiled over for hours! (Or days. Or sometimes months x_x) But I figured might as well get all the posting done. Or else I'll just keep updating on ffnet...and the number of un-posted chaps on wiki will just keep growing...and then it'll be an endless cycle of trying to post a bunch of already released chaps...anyway. I'll stop there xD
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