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Make A Man Out Of You

By Mikari

Humor / Romance

Chapter 1

Valrick has a new business venture, Desna wants to become manlier and you, a fire bender, are stuck freezing in the North Pole as a diplomat. (DesnaxReader)

Make A Man Out Of You

Chapter 1: Business Trip

You briskly entered the Fire Nation throne room with no clue of what fate awaited you. You had been working in the palace for nearly a year and had only seen the Firelord a few times from afar. She had a very intellectual look to her, but also a firm gaze that denoted strength, and perhaps stubbornness. You gave only a passing glance to the elegant decorations, as your mind remained occupied in recalling what you had done wrong. Though you kept drawing a blank and were sure you had properly finished your chores, you could think of no other reason to be called before the ruler of your home nation other than being in trouble.

You marched before the throne, remaining at what you calculated was a prudent distance and suppressed the need to proclaim your innocence at the top of your lungs. You were a semi-decent fire bender at best, so you hope she wasn't planning to challenge you to Agni Kai. The flames that danced behind the throne made the lady's golden glasses glow, giving her eyes a mysterious and threatening quality. "Your highness..." You bowed nervously.

"I have called you here for a very important reason," the Firelord began, her voice ringing across the spacious throne room. "Chief Eska of the water tribe will be visiting our nation soon and as a gesture of good will, I wish to send a trustworthy member of my staff to assist her in her preparations." The voice of the ruler came closer and by the time you dared to peek up from your bowing pose, she was right in front of you. She gestured for you to stand as she continued in a secretive voice. "Eska is... She's viewed as being intimidating, but I would like to strengthen the friendly diplomacy with the North Pole. After their war with the South, I fear their people are being judged unfairly, as it happened to the Fire Nation following the end of Ozai's rule. My father, Firelord Zuko, had to work very hard alongside Avatar Aang to foster good will."

You stared at the Firelord, or Firelady rather, her voice had become caring and understanding without losing its strength, it was soothing and secure. "I will do my best to create a good impression of our nation." You smiled, finally relaxing. You were given a pretty important job and the chance to travel far away and see new places. You were so excited that you weren't immediately concerned about Eska's cold and intimidating reputation.

The Firelord nodded, "try to be her friend," you agreed to the request without a second thought. Being friendly should be easy enough, especially when your mind was filled with thoughts of delicious sea food dishes and delightfully sweet popsicles, in an icy city that glittered as if it was made of diamond. Who knows, maybe you would meet a handsome Water Tribe warrior who would steal your heart. They were said to have the deepest blue eyes, well built tanned bodies, soft brown hair... and the eyes, the looked so hypnotic in magazines. They were all probably built like Nuktuk from the movers, which were in black and white, so you didn't even notice that the main actors' anatomy was distinctly Earth Kingdom. With thoughts of being swept off your feet by a handsome Nuktuk look alike, you happily returned to your room to pack for the trip.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 2: Cold and Confused

A soft whine escaped your lips as you tried to suppress the sensation of pain. You didn't pack any sunscreen, who would pack sunscreen on a trip to the North Pole? Toph grunted and muttered something about wimps under her breath, while Kai gave you a sympathetic glance and offered a quiet "we're almost there," which you did not believe.

You assumed you would be traveling by ship or maybe even by airship if you were lucky, but you never would have guessed the trip would be by sky bison. Kai, one of the new air benders that were perhaps not so new anymore by now, was the chauffeur. Katara was visiting the North Pole, presumably as a representative from the South in a gesture of good will, and Toph, after disappearing for some time, decided to leave her swamp and go visit Katara. Never the patient one, instead of waiting for the water bender to return home, Toph decided to catch up with her at the North Pole. She stopped at the Fire Nation to find another ship to hitch hike on further up, and ended up joining you in your transportation.

Kai had only been passing by as an air nomad, but offered to take you to the North Pole. What was at first a cool ride, soon turned into a scorching death trap with no overhead protection from the burning sun. Toph had commented it was pathetic that a fire bender would get sunburn so easily, you were in too much pain to reply.

As the climate became increasingly cold the further north  you went, you found yourself debating between the discomfort of the cold or the extra layers of fabric against your skin. You changed your mind about which was worse so often that you caught a cold and were nothing but a sniffling pile of misery by the time you reached the North Pole.

You stumbled off the bison, sneezing and sniffling, with a gust of wind from Kai saving you from falling off the animal and cracking your skull. You heard the faint echo of words spoken around you and miserably stumbled after the group, while some attendants carried your bags.

Toph ran off somewhere, muttering something about the freezing cold floor and hopping around with more energy than a woman her age would be expected to have. She returned soon after, dragging you away by the arm, which caused you to yelp as her bony hand pressed the fabric of your sleeve against your tender skin.

The next thing you knew you were being shoved into a room and Toph was pulling off your coat. " I found you a healer," she explained as she tugged on the red clothing underneath.

You actually liked blue better, but your culture insisted that you wore red. "Cold," you tried to bat her hands away, but she was fast.

"Quit whining and let the healer have a look," with one last tug of fabric, the spunky old woman left you in the cold in your under garments.

"I'm freezing!" A moment later the embarrassment also sunk in. At least the healer in question was female, you thought. The situation was marginally less mortifying since you were all girls as far as you knew.

"Well? Heal her?" At Toph's insistence, the girl in blue robes nodded wordlessly.

She was tan, like the water benders from the poles, had long brown hair and bright blue eyes. The water bender called upon some of the ice from the walls, it became water at her command and covered your tender skin. She almost flinched with slight apology as you yelped at the cold sensation, then relaxed into the healing glow.

Your skin was left as good as new, but you were still cold and sick, so you hurried to dress, shivering all the while. "She's a wimpy one, this one, but she has potential," Toph told the healer. "Well, I'm gonna go say hi to Katara, she should be ready to leave by now if my mental calendar doesn't fail me. I guess we'll both catch a ride, it'll be faster than a boat."

You were too sick to comment on the fact that Toph had traveled all that way and now she was leaving along with Katara, apparently on Kai's bison. Your skin felt renewed and the coat was much more comfortable against it, but you were still lightheaded and it was getting dark...

xoxox xox xoxox

"How is your health, visitor from the Fire Nation?" You opened your eyes to a female monotone voice.

"Better," you muttered. You noticed that the one who spoke was the young woman who took care of your sunburn before. "Thank you for the healing. What's your name?" You sat up but remained under the covers, timidly admiring the decorative carvings on the icy palace walls.

"Eska," the girl replied with an expressionless face. "And I did nothing."

"What a coincidence," you smiled, assuming that by did nothing she meant it was no trouble. "The same name as the chief."

"I am the chief," Eska revealed.

You stared at her, your mouth agape. "Chief Eska?! Your highness, I'm so sorry!"

"I see nothing that requires an apology," Eska spoke in that unreadable voice of hers. "Rest and when you have recovered, we will have a diplomatic discussion  in preparation for my trip to the Fire Nation. Make sure you drink the healing water." Without waiting for a reply, Eska left the room.

You sighed and laid back in bed, unwilling and maybe unable to leave the warmth of the covers, despite feeling much better. You glanced at the icy nightstand, most things seemed to be made of ice in the castle, and spotted a bottle of shiny liquid. It was beautiful, as if it was meant to be left there as a decoration, undisturbed. You gingerly reached for it and took a zip, it was cool, sweet and soothing. Though you started your trip by making a fool of yourself in front of the local monarch and had her serve you instead of the other way around, maybe the diplomatic disaster could still be salvaged.

A knock on the door interrupted your thoughts and you called for the person to enter. You watched with puzzled curiosity as the icy door slid aside by the power of bending, momentary wondering how heavy it would feel to a non-water bender such as yourself. Yet your mind soon focused on more important matters, such as the fact, the so called fact, that Eska had returned. "Chief Eska?"

She tilted her head in confusion and opened her mouth as if to speak, only to think better of it and close it with a shake of the head. Wordlessly she exited the room and you couldn't help it but to focus on the bizarre occurrence and muse that there was something different about her. You couldn't tell exactly what it was, but for a moment her features seemed almost imperceptibly different and she carried herself with an air that you could only think to describe as tomboyish.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 3: Fangirl Vision

You were feeling much better and ready to actually go do your job and assist Eska, instead of being assisted by her staff. 'It's a miracle I haven't been fired.' You were not looking forward to explaining the happenings to the Firelord.

After leaving your room, you went in search of Eska, only to be pulled into a room without warning with a loud exclamation of "she can test it!"

You yelled in surprised and pushed away the man who had shouted the unexpected proclamation. A small flame materialized in the air in front of your hand and you recoiled away from it, even if it had not come into contact with your glove.

"Woah there, I can understand you're excited, but try to contain your enthusiasm!" The man exclaimed. He looked as if he might be from the water tribe, in terms of ethnicity at least, though his enthusiastic behavior and energetic atmosphere seemed better suited for someone who lived in one of those big cities where pro-benders and movers stars thrived. Though he wasn't a bender, that or he wasn't a particularly talented one, you could tell by the lack of fluidness of his movements, as if he was hopping from one place to another, rather than flowing like a current.

A woman whose origin you couldn't quite place sighed in exasperation and adjusted her small glasses. She was another non-bender, you guessed, as benders tended to have strong genetic ties to their nations, which often manifested in identifiable physical traits, though that might become less common as the nations continued to mix. You relaxed, you liked non-benders, they didn't care about your lack of bending skills. The man had startled you, but upon giving him a second look, he seemed harmless enough, just hyper. "What is this about?" You inquired with some degree of curiosity.

"My new invention!" The man exclaimed. He picked up an odd device from a table near by. As he took a moment to admire the odd thing, you couldn't help it but to glance around the room. It was a mess, tools, wires, nuts and bolts were tossed all over the place. This wasn't like the organized chaos of your room back home, this was simply pure chaos. "Try it on!" You were brought back to reality when the man placed the odd contraption in your hands.

"I could test it..." The woman offered.

"No," the man insisted and the woman rolled her eyes in response. The man cleared his throat, as if he himself did not understand the logic behind his behavior. "I mean... You should take a break, Zhu Li," the name sounded somewhat Earth Kingdom to you.

You had always wanted to experience an international environment like Republic City, though you didn't expect to find it here. You poked at the contraption in your hands. It looked like goggles with thick glass and a strange machine framing them. "Are these supposed to be binoculars?"

"These are fangirl vision goggles!" The man exclaimed. "They allow you to see what could be! This will be Valrick Industries' invention of the year!"

"Valrick?" You thought there was something familiar about the strange man. "The one who wrote, directed and produced the Nuktuk movers?"

"The very same! Now put on those goggles and go look at men, then report your findings to me!" Before you could inquire about the possibility of a new season of Nuktuk movers, ask if he could get you Nuktuk's autograph, or voice any other words, he pushed you out of the room, while simultaneously fastening the goggles on your head with two belts on the sides and another on top to support the machine's weight.

You stumbled dizzily before regaining your balance and trying to pull the goggles off, they made everything too wavy and strange, as if you were dreaming. Unfortunately, you couldn't get the belts untangled and Valrick's door was closed, with the sound of random clings and clangs coming from the other side, as work began on some other crazy project.

Telling yourself to endure it in hopes of being rewarded with Nuktuk merchandise, you stumbled down the icy halls, unsure of what you were supposed to do. Valrick said to look at men, did that mean you were responsible for finding a new protagonist for his next mover? Such thoughts were quite exciting, but they soon vanished from your head, along with everything else. Your mental train derailed into a rush of adrenaline, as you found exactly what you were looking for.

You hardly noticed Eska's presence, for you could only focus on the man next to her. You didn't even take a moment to wonder if he was cold walking around in nothing but shorts, you just stared. You took in everything from his well toned body, six pack included, and smooth bronze skin, to his soft brown hair and deep blue eyes that threatened to give you a heart attack there and then.

The pair turned towards you, with Eska commenting, "it seems you are still not well, your face is red with a fever."

"Perhaps you should not volunteer to assist Valrick in these conditions." The man added, while you could only smile like an idiot. It was clear to him that the contraption on your face was from Valrick, but he didn't know what it did. The business tycoon and his crew had arrived while you were bedridden accompanying Bolin, whose presence in the North Pole you were unaware of, in a tour to promote Valrick Industries.

"She might be in a worse state of health than before, she seems to have been reduced to a completely unresponsive state," Eska commented. "My water bending is better suited for combat," she hinted.

The handsome man nodded, "I will make sure no harm comes to the Fire Nation diplomat." You weren't sure if it was the excitement, or if the goggles messing with your vision and squeezing your head were to blame, but you really did faint.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 4: Pyrotechnics

When you woke up, you were no longer wearing the oversized goggles and the world no longer looked like a dreamy haze. Your consciousness connected with your memories and you sat up on your bed, you had been carried to your room. You spotted Eska next to your bed, which was odd considering she claimed to be better at combat. You thought she was a very skilled healer, though she was no doubt a strong fighter as well. "Eska?"

The water bender let out a frustrated breath. Though no words were spoken by the monarch, you thought she sounded kind of rough, as if that breath belonged to a deeper voice than hers. You immediately attributed it to anger and apologized. "I'm so sorry, chief Eska. I'm supposed to be helping out, assisting and being diplomatic, but I've been nothing but a burden." You could feel tears in your eyes as it hit you that you were making your nation look terrible. This wasn't just an impression of yourself, it was representative of your whole nation.

Eska stood without a word. You could still see some annoyance in her eyes, which were devoid of her usual eye shadow, making them look less fem... er, angular. Yet the look softened as she reached out and patted your shoulder in reassurance. She smiled, then left without a word.

You interpreted that she had forgiven you, but you still felt bad. You resolved to do everything perfectly from this point on, with no distractions.

xoxox xox xoxox

After you were sure you could leave your room without making a fool of yourself again, you did. Upon searching for Eska to ask if there was anything you could do for her, you instead found Valrick. You froze and considered running back to your room, but he spotted you before you could escape and it would be rude to openly run away.

"Ah, there you are," Valrick approached, the young man he had been speaking to before walking beside him. "This is the lady I was telling you about, the one that will discover the next movers star if you don't hurry up and sign a contract for a Nuktuk sequel!"

Albeit you were determined not to be distracted, you couldn't help it and asked. "Are you Nuktuk's agent?" The young man with green eyes was handsome enough to be an actor himself, and there was something familiar about him.

"Um, no," Bolin blinked, actually surprised. "I am Nuktuk."

You laughed, "of course you are. Nuktuk is a water bender, he's tan and has blue eyes and walks around shirtless to please his fans." He used to be a pro-bender, you read in a magazine, though you were never into pro-bending for personal reasons, thus the details eluded you.

Bolin just stared in shock, as if he didn't know how to react, his jaw ajar. Valrick nodded, taking mental notes of everything you said. "Right, right, the next movers star should walk around shirtless to please the fangirls, makes sense. It's decided, it's time to move on. Next time I'm casting a water bender as a fire bender!"

Zhu Li approached the group at the hallway and announced, "everything has been loaded onto the ship."

Bolin took that as his cue and headed out of the palace towards the port, muttering "I'm a has been." The whole way.

"Thank you, Zhu Li," Valrick cheerfully replied, letting Bolin go about his business, mind occupied in other matters. "You're the best wife a man could ask for."

"I also made tea," she added. Valrick hugged his wife and pulled her into a kiss, though he ended up being swept off his feet and held at an angle while they both melted into the embrace.

Looking past the PDA you mused about how you never understood some men's fascination with tea. The now retired Firelord Zuko loved it, a habit he picked up from his uncle Iroh, after whom his grandson was named. The legacy of Iroh's tea was still strong and some said that a man wasn't a man if he didn't know his tea. Women drank tea as well, but to them it was just a beverage.

Honestly, there was nothing inherently manly about a cup of tea, though that was just your opinion. You heard they used to market little tea sets as toys for girls decades ago, but despite tea being a unisex drink, you were doubtful about that. Tea parties were such a stereotypical boy thing, not that it was in any way wrong for girls to have them, it just wasn't as common.

The loving embrace ended and Zhu Li cleared her throat. "We apologize the fangirl goggles made you ill," she elbowed her husband.

"Yes, sorry about that," Valrick recited, before continuing with genuine interest. "Before we head out to Republic City, let me ask, did you observe anything peculiar while wearing the goggles?"

Your face turned scarlet at the memory. You could hardly find your voice, but the man you saw needed to be in a mover, such perfection couldn't be hidden from the world. "There was a man, he was walking with chief Eska. I don't know his name but... He was... He looked like he could totally be a movers star!"

"Could be," Valrick mused, rubbing his chin in thought. "Could be," he repeated as if the condition was critical. "Zhu Li, let's do the thing!"

"Alright, I'll have our things unloaded and have the ship continue the tour without us," the woman agreed. You couldn't help it but to stare. What just happened? When was this decided? Was she a mind reader?

What exactly was decided anyway? What was making them stay? "The thing?"

"Yes, you can be a part of it too," Valrick sounded as if he was doing you a favor, or maybe more so bestowing a great honor upon you.

The alarms in your head went off. "I don't think I should be getting involved. I mean, I have a job to do and I'm already so behind!" Far more behind than you thought, as you realized you still didn't know the specifics of your job.

"You're doing the diplomatic thing with Eska and Desna, just do more of it with Desna." Valrick resolved, in an explanation that left your head spinning.

"Huh?" You stared in perplexity.

"Desna, Eska's brother, he must have been the man you saw walking with her, or rather a version of him," Valrick explained.

You weren't sure what he meant by a version, but the image of that perfect man was too distracting in your memories. "He did look like he was from the water tribe."

"Exactly, which is why we're going to make his character a fire bender, gotta bring out his acting potential, Nuktuk was an earth bender after all. You didn't even recognized him a while ago." Valrick continued talking about his project and discussing plot ideas, but it was all list to you.

That was Nuktuk? The real deal? You tried to imagine him in black and white, without the tan, or the brown hair, or the blue eyes that water benders from the poles often had. The basic shape was there, the hair style was there, the facial features were... mostly there. The nose looked bigger in person, but movers stars were known to wear make-up on the set, even the men, so the slightly smaller nose on the screen could be attributed to that.

"Nuktuk..." You kept muttering the word repeatedly in a soft whisper under your breath, mentally kicking yourself for your missed opportunity. You considered running out of the palace and into the port, right into the ship, but Zhu Li's approach directing a multitude of hired servants carrying various supplies could only mean the ship had sailed.

You remained unresponsive throughout Valrick's speech until the very end when he spelled out your doom, "and you'll be in charge of the pyrotechnics!"

"What?!" You shouted in shock, all color drained from your face.

"That's movers speak for fire effects," Valrick calmly but excitedly explained. He walked off to tell Zhu Li about his plot ideas, mentioning something about how fortunate it was that they happened to have a fire bender in hand, as if you were part of the supplies.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 5: Illusions

You had to find Eska, you had to get her to assign you a job. You desperately needed to look busy, feel busy and just be busy. You shuddered at the thought of having to firebend. Lack of practice due to trauma fueled fear made you a mediocre bender at best and combined with your inevitable nervousness it would be a recipe for disaster. Your only escape, without appearing to be rude, uncooperative, or revealing your lack of talent, was to become so occupied in more important official matters, that you couldn't possibly find the time to assist Valrick.

After inquiring of the guards, you were directed towards an ice garden at the back of the palace courtyard. You looked around in wonderment at the detailed ice sculptures of flowers. Elegantly carved pillars stood with icy vines wrapped around them. The most impressive part was that unlike the silvery white palace, the garden was filled with color.

The water had been tinted with various shades before being crafted into ice by skillful water benders. You admired the detailed red roses tempted to remove your thick gloves to touch them, though you knew it was a bad idea. The cold would be very unpleasant against your bare skin and you didn't want to break any of the ice flowers.

The sound of an echoing voice nearby caught your attention and you approached the structure at the other side of the garden. It was similar to a hedge maze, except it was made of ice. They must have put some metallic particles in the ice or something, because it was far too reflective, like mirrors.

You didn't want to get lost in the icy mirror maze, but the voice sounded close, a gentle female monotone. "If you want to participate in the mover, I will support you, just as I did when you expressed interest in learning healing techniques."

You hurried to catch up with whom you assumed to be Eska and called out to her. "Chief Eska!" You stopped a few feet inside the maze. Mirrors reflected mirrors and it was very confusing. You saw Eska, but you didn't know which one was real. Oddly, there seemed to be twice as many reflections of Eska as there were of you, and some of them seemed different from each other, though it was hard to say why.

Seeing your helplessness Eska approached, her reflections moving in pairs, as if there were two of her. "Is there something that you require?"

"Um... Actually..." You looked down in embarrassment, ashamed at the job you had done thus far. This prevented you from further observing the odd phenomenon of the mirrors that reflected Eska twice as many times as you. "I was hoping I could do something for you."

There was a pause, as if the water princess was considering what to say. Then she came up with something you were not happy to hear. "Assist in the process of the mover."

That was it, you received a direct order from the person you were supposed to be assisting. You couldn't very well refuse, it was your job to be useful to Eska and you did feel bad that you had been taken care of but were yet to give anything in return. "Yes, princess," you replied sadly.

"You may call me Eska," the chief voiced. You didn't lift your head and didn't question it when she said, "you may call my brother Desna. You will be assisting him as well, if he decides to partake in the mover."

"I will do my best," you nervously replied. "I will prepare immediately, excuse me," you bowed, though you hadn't lifted your head in the first place. Though Eska just basically asked you to drop the formalities, this was the only way you could think of to hide your panicked expression.

You hurried out of the maze, which wasn't too bad since you had only walked in a short way, not quite enough to get lost, though you were sure you would get lost if you went any further. Glancing back at the structure, it seemed that Eska had continued her stroll. Who was she talking to before? She was alone as far as you could tell. Maybe she was practicing what she intended to tell someone, her voice echoing off the walls and helping her measure her words. You supposed it wasn't all that strange if she wanted to say things just right. She mentioned the mover, maybe she was practicing what she would say to her brother.

The selfish part of you hoped Desna would refuse Valrick's offer, whatever it might be. At least then maybe you'd be off the hook as the pyrotechnician. You thought of Desna and wondered when you would see him again. You had only met him once, as far as you knew, when you were wearing the goggles that made your vision wavy. He certainly looked handsome enough for a mover but that would only mean you had the opportunity to embarrass yourself in front of the next mover star.

You sighed hopelessly as you made your way back inside the palace en route to Valrick's lab.

"You okay, pretty lady." You gave the question no mind, you didn't think it was directed at you. Then one of the guards stood in front of you, making it impossible to ignore him. "Lost in thought, beautiful?"

You looked around confused, "me?"

He grinned and a rush of heat washed over you. He was handsome, quite a bit taller than you, his hair was in a short ponytail, shaved at the sides in a more southern warrior style. It was different from the long haired half ponytails that northern water tribe men had come to favor, but it suited him. Yet the heat wasn't a blush rushing to your cheeks, it was an alarming kind of heat. It was as if your body had decided of its own accord that you were in danger and had to fight.

It was stupid, you mentally chastised yourself. You were in no danger, you were inside the palace, with a guard right in front of you. You shifted uncomfortably, "sorry... I..." Your fingertips tingled and you tried to hold it back. Your natural element wanted to manifest itself and you couldn't allow it.

"A bit shy? Oh pardon me miss diplomat. Far be it for this humble warrior to overstep his place," he bowed, a hand over his heart. He slightly looked at you, now closer to eye level since he was bent over. His eyes were such a pale blue, almost silver. His hair was a dark brown and his skin a perfect bronze.

"It's nice to meet you..." You tried to calm your wildly beating heart, refusing to allow a single spark of fire to manifest.

"Kalok," he supplied with a seductive tone that was almost lost to you in your stress.

At least you managed you give him your name, which he already seemed to be aware of anyway, but in your defense you could say that you weren't used to being recognized. "I must be going..." You clenched your fists and wondered what you looked like to him, shifting your weight nervously.

"Of course, I hope we can speak again during your stay here." Kalok moved aside, allowing you to pass.

You scurried away, feeling your out of control bending starting to settle down. Kalok probably assumed you needed to go to the bathroom, badly.

To be Continued

Make a Man Out of You

Chapter 6: Colors

Your feet carried you, after a few wrong turns around the palace halls, to the room where you had met Valrick during the goggles incident. You still didn't understand the full functionality of the device, but decided not to question it too much. It only seemed to be good for giving headaches and messed up vision.

You were standing in front of the door, procrastinating knocking when you heard someone approaching from the opposite side of the hall and caught a glimpse of Eska. She didn't seem to have any makeup on and was walking in her somewhat tomboyish stride. You dutifully knocked, you didn't want her to see you slacking off.

Valrick opened the door after a clatter of noises and pulled you into the room, flooding the sound waves with special effect ideas, fire based special effects of course. Making a dragon out of flames could be done, but only by someone of exceptional skill.

In a final attempt to escape your fate, you made an innocent suggestion, which Valrick reacted to as if it was a terrible crime. "A fire bender, playing the part of a fire bender is unacceptable!" The writer, director and producer snapped, as if to make sure you wouldn't dare to suggest it again.

In a calmer tone, Valrick went on about how the hero's eyes wouldn't stand out if they were the classic fire bender gold and that blue would be a better contrast to flames. Besides, having a star with bronze skin would help him sell the tanning beds he invented. They weren't selling very well in the poles, mostly because people were already tan, but they would be a big hit at the Earth Kingdom, never mind that using the actual sun was a lot cheaper.

Zhu Li handed you a cup of tea and showed you to a chair, an indication that she knew her husband's rant would go on for a while. You sat there, sipping tea who Valrick spoke of the tanning beds. Ginger, the heroine from Nuktuk was returning to the movers, sporting an artificial tan and platinum blond hair. Blond hair was extremely rare, but not for long if Valrick could help it, he was going to launch a line of hair dyes in every color the eye could see, according to him at least.

"From the perspective of a fangirl willing to spend her life savings on merchandise, you like that, right?" Valrick asked. "I wonder if we should bleach Desna's hair too, after he lives up to his potential that is."

You weren't quite ready to get a word in when you were finally asked to. Then you thought of Kalok, him being the last tan man you saw, and imagined him as a blond. Before you could pass judgement on the image, you thought of how he acted. You were distracted by your suddenly malfunctioning bending, which you still couldn't explain, but you knew he was flirting, probably only because you were the supposed fire diplomat and he had the impression that you were more important than what you considered yourself to be.

You remembered your platonic crush on prince Iroh and how you would go on and on about his golden eyes. One of the guards from the fire palace asked you out some time ago, he had amazing golden eyes and was very handsome. But you were just getting into Nuktuk and, assuming he was actually of water tribe ethnicity, you got over golden eyes and liked tans and blue eyes instead, so you politely turned down your potential date.

You recalled a conversation you had with a friend who was a maid at the fire palace. You couldn't recall her exact words, but she said something that rubbed you the wrong way and made you adamantly clarify, "I'm not racist," let alone against your own race.

"Of course not," your friend had retorted. "Racism implies discrimination and you're afraid of all men equally. That's why you change what you like so often."

She was wrong, there was nothing wrong with being a little picky. Everyone had physical traits that they preferred, it was simple, no need to over think it. It was also natural that those preferences would change over time. You told yourself that over and over until you believed it.

"Tan and blond?" Valrick prompted, tired of waiting for your answer.

You snapped awake from your little flashback and shook your head. "I prefer a lighter tone and green eyes," that was what the real Nuktuk looked like. Kalok just wasn't right for you, as a friend yes, but not as a potential boyfriend. Seeing Valrick's disappointment you added, "blond hair is good, very handsome." You had never seen a natural blond person before, though you knew they existed.

Black was the most common hair color at the Fire Nation capital, where the fire ethnicity was still mostly pure after years of restricting immigration during Ozai's rule and years of not getting many foreign visitors despite welcoming them during the difficult first few years of Zuko's rule. You supposed that people might enjoy looking different just for the sake of standing out, so you weren't lying when you told Valrick the Fire Nation would probably be a good market for hair products. However you had to wonder, "what does it matter what is what color? Movers are black and white," and gray if you wanted to get specific.

"Not for long! My next mover will be in color!" Before you could get over your surprise at the genius' ambition, Valrick declared, "give her the thing!" and watched with great excitement and anticipation as Zhu Li gave you the aforementioned thing.

The thing in question turned out to be an old book detailing techniques to make fire take on distinct shapes and how to keep it in those shapes while moving it. The book was ancient, fragile, expensive looking and above all else, extremely flammable.

You wanted to return the book to Zhu Li's arms before you accidentally damaged it, but Valrick interrupted with a vague, but still very excited, "do the thing!"

You realized after a moment that he was not talking to Zhu Li, he was talking to you. You looked at Valrick, looked the book, at Valrick, at the book... Finally you held up the book, "this thing?"

"Yes! The thing!" Valrick insisted.

You gulped and looked through the pages. Nothing made sense, you quit fire bending a long time ago and had only really studied the basics. This book was far too advanced for you to even understand in theory, let alone perform, paralyzing fear aside. "I can't..."

"Maybe we should give her time to practice," Zhu Li suggested in well intended gesture.

"Oh right..." Valrick mused with moderate disappointment, but without completely losing the creative spark in his eyes. "Not everyone's a genius. Alright, go prepare miss Pyrotechnics, I'll call on you when we're ready to film."

With that, you were dismissed, pushed out to the hallway book in hand. Eska was still standing there, much to your surprise. She had rolled up the sleeve of her coat a little and was observing her forearm and wrist critically, though you didn't notice anything on her arm that would merit observation. You did notice her wrist was kind if thick for a girl, not very delicate looking. As soon as she saw you, she pulled the sleeve down and stepped aside, as if granting you passage, or inviting you to go away.

You decided not to question her odd behavior and left. From the corner of your eyes, you discretely watched her enter Valrick's lab. You couldn't hear the conversation behind the closed door but as you continued on your way you Valrick's loud voice went beyond the closed in an exclamation of "skin bleach?!" Then the conversation became once again too quiet for you to hear beyond the closed door and increasing distance as you walked.

Skin bleach, what an odd thing to yell. Maybe it would be another of Valrick's crazy products. Artificial tans for the pale and skin bleach for the tan. Everyone always wanted to look exactly how they didn't, personally you didn't care what color you were. Your sensitivity to sunburn was annoying, but not unmanageable. Colors aside, you just wished you were undamaged.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 7: Delays and Apologies

You stood on the set, a replica of Ozai's throne room, and you were a nervous wreck. Valrick decided to do something daring for his color mover. The world was at peace, so there wasn't much to be done in terms of propaganda. The whole Kuvira incident was over. It was recent enough that people didn't need a retelling, but not present enough for people to be affected, as they would inevitably recall that the battle was already over. Valrick needed something that would resonate with people's emotions and the lack of current controversies meant it had to be something timeless.

The self proclaimed greatest writer, director and producer of all time went with the obvious answer, forbidden love. Then he took a route that he himself described as daring, he would set the story in the past, during the time when the Fire Nation was taking over the world. That wasn't the only daring aspect of the mover, which he intended to be a trilogy. The first mover would present the hero as the antagonist, a successful member of Ozai's elite guards, who, after a defeat at the hands of his sassy co-star, fell in love with her and joined the resistance. Of course, people wouldn't know they were supposed to root for him until the second mover, during the first they would only root for Ginger's character. Then from the second mover onward, they would root for the couple.

Ginger would have a more active role in the trilogy, her character was more so a badass than a damsel in distress this time around. She was under a contract, so she was a safer investment for the production of fan merchandise. If Desna decided he didn't want to be in a second set of movers, Valrick would just come up with a tragic death story and center the second trilogy on Ginger's quest to avenge her lost love... He might actually do that anyway.

Eska arrived on the set and you felt a cold chill run down your spine. You noticed several other people shuddering, some more visibly than others, and wondered if her entrance had the same effect on everyone. You felt cold despite your warm clothes.

"My brother will not be in attendance today," Eska informed Valrick, sounding a tad protective amidst her indifference. You also sensed a hint of what you could only describe as murderous rage.

Valrick took a moment to stare at Eska's eyes and gulp, but he was a brave man, foolishly brave some would say. He looked away from her face, unable to compete with Eska's icy glare, a feat you didn't think anyone could achieve. Then he dared to speak, "why?" You could have sworn the temperature dropped when that one word was spoken, and this was already the North Pole.

"His skin is blue," Eska's voice took on a clearer tone of accusation as she emphasized every word.

You didn't know when it started, but through the short exchange Valrick had inched away from the angry princess and now his back was up against a wall. "I'm sure he'll be fine in a few days..." the frightened business tycoon finally managed to reply.

Eska didn't say anything more. She turned around and walked away with such grace she gave the appearance of floating. It was quite different from the tomboyish stride you'd seen her use before, but the anger was never the less palpable. The temperature seemed to return to normal, which was still cold, but at least your coat was doing its job.

While Valrick let out a breath and sat back to finish watching his life flash before his eyes, probably making mental comments about the editing and directing, you took a moment to ponder Eska's words. Desna's skin was blue... Well, if he walked around in the North Pole wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, no matter how used to the cold he was, he would turn blue eventually. You weren't sure why Eska was so accusing though, it's not like Valrick had anything to do with it, did he? Eska was the one asking about skin bleach and she seemed to be the same shade of tan as the last time you saw her.

You shook your head and told yourself not to over analyze things that weren't your business. What was very much your business was the fact that the production would have to be delayed. "So I guess this means you won't be needing any pyrotechnics today," you smiled.

"No, not today," Valrick half replied and half thought aloud. "I'll have to revise the entire schedule."

"Well, in that case, I'll go take care of my other duties," which were not specified at the moment.

xoxox xox xoxox

After escaping from the mover's set, you were unsure about what to do. You should ask Eska or Desna for direction, but Eska was angry and Desna was ill. You weren't sure you'd be allowed to see him and you weren't sure you wanted to see her. Plus you didn't want to pester Desna about work, though you did want to see him, maybe apologize for fainting when you first met him during the goggles incident.

Your feet carried you to the royal chambers. You had more or less learned to get around, though you occasionally still stopped to ask a guard for directions. You didn't run into Kalok though, you wanted to see him, but at the same time you didn't want him to see you.

"It wasn't her fault, it was my idea," a calm male voice was heard from behind a large door. You carefully got closer, listening. You were sure eavesdropping was a diplomatic no-no, but you couldn't resist.

"You shouldn't have concerned yourself with what she likes or doesn't like," Eska replied, with a clearer hint of emotion than what she had shown since you met her. Perhaps the man she was speaking to was important to her.

There was a pause, then the man agreed, "you're right, sister." Desna, it was Desna! "I just found it vexing that she wouldn't acknowledge me." You couldn't imagine what kind of girl wouldn't want to give him attention.

"Brother..." Eska let out an unsure breath, but pressed on. "People know who you are when they hear my voice and know who I am." You wondered if there was a metaphor somewhere in there. Eska was the better known monarch and Desna was just the chief's brother.

Desna didn't sound bothered by it though. "I know, I am your brother, that is who I am, it is my identity, but to not even be granted that... It shouldn't bother me so much, I am content being your shadow if that is what I must be." This was not sounding like a typical dispute between heirs...

"Good," in any other context, you would think Eska to be selfish, even a little cruel, but she sounded protective. You didn't understand how anyone could be content in the shadow of another, not even being acknowledged as an individual, never mind a prince. Yet Desna really did sound like that was enough and Eska sounded as if she was keeping him safe from... Well, the whole world. It didn't make sense.

The Desna you remembered was strong and independent, that is until you realized you didn't really know him. You saw him, confidently walking around shirtless in the cold, well tone muscles, bronze six pack, piercing pale blue eyes, and just assumed that he was every bit a warrior on the inside as on the outside. But you wouldn't make the same mistake again. Your short meeting during the goggles incident was not enough to judge him and neither was a single stolen conversation.

The icy door opened, moved by bending, and you jumped back, quickly excusing yourself. "I was just wondering if there's anything I can do!"

Eska gave you a critical look, she was displeased and you worried she was going to tell the Firelord that her improper diplomat was eavesdropping. The Fire Nation would be known as the land of gossips that had no respect for privacy.

"I also wanted to apologize." You forced yourself to look up, worried that if you didn't meet Eska's eyes, she would judge you as insincere.

Surprisingly, Eska seemed to be somewhat appeased by your apology. "Very well," she stepped aside. "You may serve my brother during his recovery as a way of apology."

You had the nagging feeling that you and Eska weren't quite on the same page, but she just offered to accept your apology in exchange for a job that was far from being a punishment. With those terms, you weren't about to complain. "Yes! Thank you!"

You entered the room and felt the door close behind you as Eska left you to your task. It was easier to be around Desna than Kalok, you subconsciously mused, because Desna was a prince, an unreachable platonic interest, so you didn't need to remind yourself that you were into green eyes now, it's not like you were looking for a date, you would just enjoy the view and try to make a good impression on behalf of the Fire Nation.

The only problem was that you couldn't enjoy the view with all those blankets covering it. You could see a basic silhouette and a bit of brown hair peeking out, but other than that, Desna was covered from head to toe. It was reasonable, you reminded yourself, he had been exposed to the cold until his skin turned blue, he had to stay warm. "Um... Desna..."

"I heard," his voice came from under the covers. "You are forgiven."

"I'm glad, thank you..." You weren't sure what he was forgiving you for. Was he also aware of the eavesdropping just now? How embarrassing.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 8: Diplomatic Meetings

You had been given the task to serve Desna, you were currently in his room while he rested, the blankets covering him from head to toe, but he was yet to tell you what to do, so you asked shyly. "So, um... Is there anything you need?"

A short silence transpired and then he spoke, calm and regal, unfazed, or in the habit of appearing unfazed. You wondered if this was a water tribe royalty thing. "Do you believe that skin color is important?"

You were transfixed in listening to the quality of his voice, trying to drink it in as much as you could beyond the muffling of the covers, and imagining his handsome face, reconstructing it from your memories of the scene that would forever be known in your mind as the goggles incident. You were so focused on the sound in fact, that you almost missed the actual words and were close to automatically responding that yes, everything he said was important, before you took a moment to actually interpret the question.

Your voice got caught in your throat, you didn't think you'd be dealing with any ethnic tensions. Besides, people tended to make a bigger fuss about bending elements and the lack there of, more so than the color of skin, or eyes, or anything else, except for maybe artistic reasons in the magazines. It wasn't racism though, everyone was just used to wearing their patriotic colors. Red for fire, blue for water, green for earth, yellow for air... And maybe brown for non-benders. Maybe people should be encouraged to wear different colors, you heard that in Republic City they did and the streets looked like rainbows.

You realized you were taking too long to answer and quickly blurted out a "no!" That sounded more indignant than you meant, but it did ring of sincerity at least. "I mean... No, it doesn't matter, and neither does the element a person bends or if they don't bend." You weren't ready for these kinds of sensitive questions. You knew what you believed in, but you didn't know how to communicate it in a way that couldn't be twisted or misunderstood. "Everyone is equal, we're all human beings!"

Your mind flew to that time when one of your friends back home claimed that you were afraid of men. You didn't think much of that though, you couldn't be afraid of men with your tendency to spend long hours looking at full color cologne ads in magazines, even if you had no one to buy any cologne for. Yet you had recently decided that green eyes were a vital requirement and that tans were out, it made you feel kind of shallow. Ok, so maybe you did like green eyes, but you never truly stopped liking blue or gold, and a good six pack was something that you could appreciate in any color.

"I'm sorry... It's hard to explain, but I just realized something." Unplanned and uncensored, yet still vague, you shared your epiphany. "I used to think that this or that quality was more pleasing to the eyes than any other, but then I saw someone with an entirely different appearance and changed my mind about it. I guess what looks good is what you make look good..." Or what the media says is the in thing. But if you confessed to yourself, even in the privacy of your own mind, that you had no elemental or ethnic preferences in men, you would be out of a way to easily rule out men who were not platonic enough to be a safe crush.

You pushed your thoughts away and forced yourself to focus. Suddenly, the sensitive diplomatic question placed before you wasn't so bad, it was at least less scary than your self analysis. "Does that make any sense?" You quietly asked, hoping you haven't said anything that was terribly wrong.

"It does," Desna's hidden voice replied, much to your relief. Another paused stretched out, longer than any previous ones.

"So... Can I get you anything?" You asked when the silence became unbearable. You wondered if you should instead be asking if you should have another diplomatic discussion, but you really didn't want that.

"A glass of water," the request was simple and you fulfilled it easily. Sensing the water, a blue hand reached out and beckoned it to join its owner under the covers.

You stared, when Eska said Desna was blue, she meant it literally. That was not the blue tint that skin got from being exposed to the cold, it was a bright and vivid blue. "Are you ok?" You couldn't help it but to ask, then thought the question was stupid, he was blue for crying out loud, that wasn't ok. Maybe he wasn't even talking about race before, just about colors. Well, you were sure that he'd look handsome with blue skin as well, but he seemed determined not to be seen.

"Reasonably so," Desna replied, you were so curious to see him all blue, but you knew better than to pull the covers off him. What if he wasn't wearing anything under the blankets? Your face started to turn red and you were suddenly thankful that he was completely covered so he couldn't see you. "My healing instructor recommended repose, but I can't sleep in a bed." If not in a bed, where else would he sleep? You wondered about it, but didn't want to sound like a nosy spy asking too many personal questions.

"I can't sleep in the tub either," Desna continued, answering one of the enigmas by creating another, maybe it was a water bender thing. "The water will slow the process of the defective skin dye fading away, I'm only allowed to bathe once a day and I must dry myself immediately.

"Oh," you weren't sure what else to say. He was laying on his side, judging by the shape under the blanket. "Are you still thirsty?"

"No, I had enough to drink before you came in, I only wanted to hold the water." He didn't drink the water you brought him, you realized. He seemed to be holding the liquid in a ball floating on his hand. His other arm was positioned with the elbow on the bed, the hand holding his head. His head held the blanket up creating a little area under it where he could hold the water in a small space where it didn't bump into the blanket and was absorbed by the fabric. Although, he could retrieve that water from the fabric too, you were sure, he was a highly skilled water bender no doubt, he was a prince after all.

You were still uneasy about having diplomatic conversations, but you had to do something. Part of you wanted to leave and part of you wanted to stay. It was always thrilling to be in the presence of a prince, though you had seen the handsome prince Iroh on more than one occasion before. Being near a prince was different from being with a regular guy, it was so platonic, so safe. It was ok to get a crush on a prince, everyone did and nothing ever came of it. You decided to be brave and offer further discussion. "Is there anything you want to talk about? I mean so you're not bored, since you're supposed to rest and you can't fall asleep."

He appeared to consider the suggestion. "People do entertain themselves by speaking to each other at times," he acknowledged. You wondered if idle chat was too much of a peasant activity for a prince to be interested in, though even nobles and aristocrats seemed to do it. "Very well, choose the starting topic."

You weren't sure what topic to choose. You didn't want it to be too mundane, but if you picked something too political then you wouldn't know what to say. You decided to take the safest route, complimenting your host nation. "The Northern Water tribe is a very majestic place. I saw the ice garden with the roses, they're very beautiful."

"They were made for the ball," Desna replied, short and to the point.

You worried you were already boring him, but you had to ask, "the ball?"

Desna paused, as if reminding himself that short simple answers, albeit effective for communication, would defeat the purpose of a prolonged conversation that was meant to occupy time more so than inform the participants. "There will be a ball in a few weeks to wish for peace and success during our diplomatic visit to the Fire Nation," something that you were supposed to be helping with, you mused. "The ice was dyed red to commemorate the Fire Nation with its national color. Mother has heard there are many red roses planted at the fire palace and thought it was fitting to sculpt the garden that way."

"Your mother did that?" You were surprised to hear it. "She's so talented!" Eska seemed to be in charge, which would mean her mother was retired, or authority went straight to the heir after their father passed away. He was involved in quite a scandal with the evil spirit Vaatu, though you weren't sure how much of it was real and how much was the doing of Nuktuk's rival who was based on Unalaq. You haven't heard anything about Eska and Desna's mother and felt bad for assuming she had passed away during the north versus south war.

From then on, the conversation turned more animated. At times you could feel that Desna was trying to make himself speak, but when you didn't bring up any follow up questions, wondering if he was just tired of talking to you, he would bring them up himself.

Thus went the next few weeks, as the dye took longer to fade away than expected. You spent long hours talking to Desna and even told him the story of when an unusually large turtle duck chased you around the fire palace garden when you were given the task to feed them. The only drawback was that he never let you see him, still too self-conscious about his blue skin.

When you weren't with Desna, you were eating with Eska, at a long table with all sorts of dishes, some more appetizing than others, or sleeping. Thus you spent most of your days with Desna. You were in a good mood, though you knew it would be time to go home after the ball, when Eska and Desna traveled to the Fire Nation. You told yourself that even if your adventure was over and you never saw Desna again, you would still treasure your time with him. He was so calm and could be very sweet, though he seemed somehow unaware of it, which made it feel genuine.

You ran into Kalok in the halls sometimes and made small talk. You couldn't stay for long because your fire bending seemed to go crazy when he was around and it scared you. It wasn't fair to him though, he was a nice guy and when it sunk in that you'd be going home at the end of the month you decided to talk to him, but not get attached. Kalok was from the North Pole, you couldn't get a real crush on a man who lived so far away, but you could still be pen pals or something. As for Desna... You didn't think a commoner could be pen pals with a prince, you would have to let him go completely when your little diplomatic mission was over... Which was all the more reason to let yourself get attached, distance and lack of communication would take care of letting go for you.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 9: Broken Diamond

The ball of diplomatic good wishes drew ever closer. Though it took some time, Desna recovered, and by then you felt you knew him pretty well, despite not having seen him during the whole recovery process. You didn't think he actually needed repose during the ordeal, and you were fairly certain he knew that, but he didn't want to be seen all in blue and you weren't about to complain about spending time talking to him. He always had a calm, serene and utterly unaffected tone to him despite his refusal to be seen.

The fact that he hid made Desna feel more human to you. It was the same basic principal behind how Eska had been making an effort to be less tomboyish lately. During all of Desna's recovery, every time you saw her she was wearing her makeup and little ornaments in her hair. Even royalty had times when they got concerned about their looks, you thought.

The day of the ball Eska took you to meet someone. The chief introduced you to a woman in the garden, whom you were surprised to find was Malina, Eska and Desna's mother. The woman had a kind look to her, a large contrast from the serious face of her daughter. She smiled gently and hugged you as a greeting, thanking you for befriending her children and watching over her son during his recovery.

You could feel Eska watching you during your interaction with Malina. She was pleasant, but she didn't have the authority her daughter carried. You didn't mean to sound cruel in your own mind, but it was understandable that the position of chief was not passed to her after her husband's death. She wouldn't be strong enough to run a country, especially not one that had recently been through turmoil and was still being resented by the world.

It dawned on you that part of that resentment was Valrick's fault and only Valrick could fix it, which was why he was being allowed to come and go as he pleased and the tribe didn't entirely reject Nuktuk, it would make then look bad if they denied what had happened. You also realized something else, something problematic, it seemed that Valrick was going to smooth the North Pole's tensions by comparing them to the tensions of the Fire Nation. Maybe he wanted to say 'we got over that, so we'll get over this,' but as a fire diplomat, you weren't sure you should be allowing it.

With the spread of radio and the increased accessibility of print, news traveled faster than ever across the now open borders. What if your participation on the mover was undiplomatic? You could use that as an excuse not to participate...

While your mind was occupied with such musings, Malina was talking about hair. She improvised some styles on her own hair and by the time you were back in attention, she had several different braids, which you stared at in amazement. You didn't even know hair could be weaved like that and especially loved the braid around her head that looked like a tiara. Upon hearing your sincere compliment, she offered to do your hair. Her face darkened for a moment as she subconsciously added, "he wouldn't let me do Eska's hair..." Her voice lowered more as if in a trance. "He said not to distract them, not to make them soft..."

At that point Eska, who had never stopped supervising the meeting, interrupted. "You seem tired, mother. You should get some rest." Malina nodded, opposing no argument and allowed Eska to guide her into the palace, presumably to her chambers.

You stood at the garden, noting that the mirror maze was gone, likely melted away, the materials stored elsewhere for later. You thought of the garden, of the missing maze, of the mover, or rather you tried to think about those things but couldn't. All that truly occupied your mind was Malina and her family. The he in question must have been Unalaq, he ran her life and the twins' lives. The twins learned to keep their emotions in check and Malina's life was drained away with worry.

Suddenly, Desna's charming calm serenity took on a whole new meaning, one born out of past hardships. You thought it was cute how he seemed partially disconnected from ordinary life, assuming it was a part of being a prince. Though you had seen a prince before, you had never held long conversations with one. You had a feeling that talking to Iroh would be very different. A prince wasn't any different from an ordinary man at heart, unless he was forced to be. The things he didn't experience, the stories of your childhood games he listen to with fascination, they weren't a part of his world because he was a prince, he missed out on that because his father wouldn't allow him a childhood.

Malina had mentioned Desna told her about you. He was getting ready for the ball too, scrubbing the last bits of blue off with a dry rough sponge, Eska had commented on it when Malina asked why he wasn't there. You realized that few people got to meet Malina and never without proper supervision. You were a foreigner, so Eska herself supervised, but Desna had trusted you and gotten a positive impression of you enough to tell Malina about you. No doubt, he convinced Eska to allow you to meet her.

You looked at the ice palace. Eska now stood at the entrance by herself. "The staff will attend you when it's time to get ready."

The ice palace glittered like a beautiful giant diamond, but inside things were not so sweet and simple. "Thank you... For letting me meet her." Eska nodded quietly, satisfied that you understood the uniqueness of the visit and though her reasons remained unspoken, you knew, albeit without too many specifics, why she couldn't help it but to be protective of her mother.

A particular point in one of your conversations with Desna surfaced in your mind as you returned to the guest quarters, wondering if Malina really would do your hair, or if it would be determined that it was too cruel to allow her to dwell on the fact that her husband refused to let her do her own daughter's hair when she was little. Desna wondered what it was like to be chased by a turtle duck. You asked if he had ever been chased by any animal, a polar bear dog or some kind of penguin. He said he had not encountered them, that he was busy training, then changed the subject back to you and your life story.

It was such a small detail for your mind to cling to, but now you knew why. You felt, and knew you were, powerless to change the past, but somehow, even if you were just a servant girl from the Fire Nation who got a lucky break and was sent on a diplomatic mission, you wanted to do something to make sure he had a happy future, yet you could think of nothing...

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 10: Letters

It was the evening of the ball and your dressed had been shipped over and taken care of by the attendants. It arrived just in time, though no one seemed to doubt it would, while you didn't even know it was coming. It was odd to be taken care of that way. You spent most of your life as a servant, so it was strange to be on the other side of that. The dress was warm, a showy dress would mean frozen skin, so that was both understandable and relieving. It was red, your national color, with rubies that were probably worth much more than any material thing you could ever own.

You pushed your worries away for a moment to focus on the words written on the letter delivered with the dress. Firelord Izumi, the daughter of lord Zuko, mother of prince Iroh and ruler of your homeland was addressing you in correspondence and that was an important matter in itself. Fearing the worse, you read.

Dear Lady (name):

I hope this letter finds you well. I received notice that you had fallen ill during your arrival at the North Pole by reason of the climate change, but was assured that you would be well tended to.

In her missive, Chief Eska requested to prolong your stay at the North Pole for the purpose of strengthening the diplomatic bond between our nations. I will leave it up to you to judge if your state of health will allow you to continue in the cold climate of the north. If you feel that a warmer climate is vital to your full recovery, please do not hesitate to mention it in your reply.

Best wishes,
<br />
Firelord Izumi

The letter was not what you expected. There was nothing on it about diplomacy and no advice on what to say or how to present yourself. You were sick for a while, but you've had plenty of time to make a full recovery, so why bring it up? You were surprised that Eska asked to keep you around. Wasn't she leaving on a diplomatic visit to the Fire Nation? You wondered if Desna was staying...

A knock on the door got you out if your thoughts. You realized that you felt warm, but paid it no mind. You opened the door and there was Kalok. You smiled, as your bending once again threatened to go out of control, bug you refused to let it show.

He leaned in close and you stayed still, trying not to appear unfriendly. "I'm here to pick up your letter, milady." You were sure the word milady couldn't be pronounced in a more seductive tone than that.

"My letter?" You stammered.

"Your reply to the Firelord's letter, I volunteered to deliver it to the captain of the trade ship," Kalok specified. In a bold move he placed his hand on your shoulder and you stiffened, trying to hold in your natural element. If he was discouraged, he didn't show it. "We wouldn't want then to think you're being held hostage, though personally, I wouldn't mind keeping you willingly."

He was kidding, he was flirting, you didn't know if his words were born of suspicion or not, but they made sense. You had not written home and the Firelord was concerned, she didn't fully trust Eska just yet and it was clear she was expecting a reply from you if the caption who brought her letter and your dress was requesting it. "Oh, right, my letter... Just a moment." You hurried to write a letter, afraid that you would accidentally burn the paper. Your hands felt unsteady, so you took off your gloves to get a better grip on the pen. Thankfully your guest quarters had a desk with everything you needed for correspondence.

Honorable Firelord Izumi:

Cordial greetings to you and the royal family. I want to thank you for the opportunity to make this trip and assure you that I am of sound health. I was caught off guard by the change in climate, but I have since adapted and everyone has been very kind to me. If you would allow it, I wish to remain here for as long as you and my esteemed hosts see fit. If there are any diplomatic topics that you wish for me to discuss with Chief Eska and prince Desna during my stay, please write to me.

With sincere gratitude,
<br />
(name)

You hoped that would smooth over any doubts in your ability to handle this mission. Folding he letter carefully, you placed it in and envelope and handed it to Kalok with trembling hands.

"An I making you nervous?" He sounded almost proud as he gave you a handsome cocky grin.

"N-no..." You forced yourself to smile. You felt feverish from the effort to keep the fire from manifesting itself. "I enjoy your company," you weren't enjoying your struggle, but that wasn't his fault.

"I'm off duty tonight," Kalok hinted, and you only had a split second to prepare for the request. "May I ask to accompany you to the ball, milady?"

At that point you weren't thinking. Your mind was focused on not fire bending and the tension was painful. "Yes... I must get ready now."

"Of course," Kalok took your hand and kissed it. You knew he must have noticed how hot it was, but tried not to show it.

As soon as Kalok left you pulled up your sleeve and produced a small flame, quickly moving your hand away from it in fright. You took deep breaths and repeated the exercise until your arm started feeling cold, as it should. You pulled your coat back into place and exhaled, your head was pounding.

xoxox xox xoxox

That night, you were all dressed up to go to the ball, a masquerade, but you didn't feel ready on the inside. You didn't see Malina and worried for her health, then your own personal worries took over. What were you expected to do? Mingle? Say a few words to the attendees? Act like a noble lady? Dance without stepping on your partner's feet? All those doubts assaulted you as you walked to the garden.

You started feeling feverish again and stopped. It would be very bad if your bending went out of control at the ball. What if they thought you were attacking? What if they thought it was some kind of assassination attempt? Why was this happening? It was in no way normal. Was it that the cold really was getting to you and your body was overcompensating with too much heat? If that was the case then you might really have to leave for the safety of everyone.

Kalok came into view at the end of the hall. Most of the guards were outside with the guests. You vaguely recalled your agreement to go to the ball with him. You initially thought you were supposed to go home after this, but right now your fate was uncertain.

There he stood, in a mask and formal attire, but you knew it was Kalok, your bending went out of control when he was around. You couldn't help it, you had to say something. "I'm sorry, I can't stop it, my fire bending wants to come out... I can't stop it... What should I do?"

To be Continued

Make a Man Out of You

Chapter 11: Moonlight

"So that's what it is..." Kalok's voice sounded sinister somehow. "It wasn't my technique that needed perfecting, you had a defense for it all along." He took a step closer and you took a step back. "I thought you would tire of trying to talk to Eska and leave in frustration like the other diplomats. Water and fire are not meant to be friends, we can only be enemies!" In a fast movement his hands grabbed your throat, it was painful and you couldn't breathe. The just as suddenly he let you go.

You fell to your knees gasping for air and watched in astonishment as Kalok punched himself in the face, hard. At the other end of the hall way stood Eska and Desna. They were dressed alike, their masks identical. You were sure you would easily tell them apart if not for the matching masks. You searched for a sign of their respective identities and quickly found that one of them was wearing lipstick.

Eska stepped forward, stopping next to the window in the long hallway. The light of the full moon illuminated her as she declared, "you are here by charged with treason."

A flood of guards appeared from the hallway behind the twins and took Kalok away. The whole time he struggled against the superior numbers and protested with colorful words and a variety of insults for the Fire Nation.

"Are you unharmed?" Desna helped you to your feet.

"Yes..." You were confused and felt compelled to say so. "I don't understand..."

"He was trying to kill you," Eska explained simply. She took your silence as a request for elaboration and continued. "Kalok was trying to use a forbidden technique. It is linked to blood bending, but easier to master. It consist of partially freezing blood. This can cause it to stop flowing or at least cause some damage to the heart and veins as the small partially frozen shards are pushed through. The very existence of such a technique is in question, thus it's not legally forbidden, at least not yet. I noticed that you were able to neutralize the technique, thus I waited to intervene when I had evidence that would stand in court."

You understood was she was saying though it was still shocking. You considered being upset, but you perceived that neither Eska nor Desna thought you were in danger. They somehow imagined you to be a much more capable fire bender than you actually were. "I didn't do anything to neutralize it, my temperature went up on its own." You found yourself smiling inexplicably. It was odd, but you felt relief. You were relieved that the fire bending problem wasn't random, inexplicable or something caused by the weather. There was a reason for your ailment and that reason was being sent to prison. Then you felt disappointed at how easily you fell for it.

Searching for a less depressing thought to cling to, you curiously asked. "Why did he punch himself?" The twins remained silent and only looked at the window, the moon was full. "Blood bending," you realized.

"My sister is free to be as strong as she pleases now, but do not worry," Desna vaguely explained. You could only conclude that he was referring to Unalaq. Eska must have been holding back, hiding her true talent so her father couldn't use that kind of power.

"I understand," you breathed. "It was an emergency, I won't tell anyone. Desna, out of curiosity, have you...?"

"I have never tried to blood bend," Desna admitted. You were curious about what circumstance caused Eska to learn, but you didn't want to be nosy about a sensitive subject. Their gesture towards the full moon told you that Eska could only blood bend when that condition was met.

"I see..." You shifted uncomfortable. "I'll keep my promise and won't tell. There's no need to complicate things, but just so you know, I'm not really a skilled bender. I can't explain why that defense activated, but it wasn't willing." You thought that it might be better for your health if they didn't overestimate you.

"I see, we will address all assassination attempts more swiftly in the future, although I do not foresee any," Desna assured.

"Thank you..." you weren't sure what else to say.

"Let us go to the ball. The people wish to see us there," Eska broke the ensuing silence. She didn't seemed to be looking forward to the ball, but was willing to humor it for the sake of her people. It made you wonder just how many were in attendance.

The three of you exited the palace and looked at the garden, the walls of ice surrounding the palace were gone and the garden was no longer separated from the street. A multitude of people were out, the whole tribe if you had to take a guess. Long food tables were set up with staff me members constantly replenishing them. There were stalls and carts with a variety of games, snacks and souvenirs. Everyone was dressed up and wearing a variety of masks. This wasn't just a ball, it was an all out festival.

Despite the chaos around you, you felt relieved and even excited, though a part of you still worried that someone else might try to follow Kalok's example. At least you would be around regular people and not in a nobles only party. "You may enjoy the festival if you wish," Desna voiced.

"We must go speak with the community representatives," Eska added. Those two really were twins. They looked so similar wearing the same sapphire decorated coats and masks. The sound of their voices and Eska's painted lips were the only noticeable indications that they were different people.

"Right," you shifted unsure. "I'll just um... hang around..." Maybe you could find Valrick and Zhu Li, but you didn't want to play the third wheel. Perhaps you could enjoy the festivities on your own. No one would dare to attack you in such a large crowd, right? But what if someone did and innocent people got hurt because of it?

You had an odd feeling. A voice echoed in your memories 'innocent people got hurt,' other voices offered words of reassurance and that distant voice repeated, 'please forgive me...' You couldn't place the broken memory and wondered if it was a fragment of a dream. It was so haunting.

"You seem uneasy," Desna observed.

"I will speak to the community leaders," Eska volunteered. "Desna, you should accompany (name) and see to it that no harm befalls her."

Desna paused for a moment, as if he wasn't expecting the suggestion. If not co-chief, he was at least Eska's closest advisor and had similar duties to her own. But he supposed his absence could be excused this time. "Very well," he agreed. "Let us be careful not to be separated in the crowd. He took your hand and led you towards the happy commotion. You had worried that your hands would be cold despite the long sleeves of your elegant coat, but now you were glad you weren't wearing gloves.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 12: A Dance of Masks

You and Desna went from one festival stall to the next and before long you've purchased several souvenirs to take home as gifts for your friends and tried out a few games. You found that carnival style game were more of less the same regardless of where in the world they took place, though that didn't mean you were any better at the games here than back home. Your aim could use some improvement, but Desna's aim was better, enough to win several prizes.

There was noise all around from the bustling crowd, but as you went full circle through the festival stalls and returned to the palace garden, music filled the air. Valrick and Zhu Li were dancing a tango, though the music was not tango. Through the crowds you spotted Eska sitting on a sort of throne behind the rows of food tables. She was surrounded by several people, most of them elderly or middle aged, and looked utterly bored. You felt sorry for her, Desna must have been concerned because he started moving in her direction and since you hadn't let go of his hand the whole time, you followed.

Eska looked up from staring into an unspecified spot on the floor. You shifted unsure of what to say as the elders examined you with curiosity, your red outfit made you stand out and made it clear who you were. You felt scrutinized, standing there, your hand in Desna's. He held your bag of souvenirs on his other hand, while your other arm was occupied in holding the penguin plush he won for you.

Eska opened her mouth as if to utter a warning, but it was too late. The elders flooded you with questions about political, cultural and business matters that you couldn't understand. Overwhelmed, you exclaimed, "the world is like a cup of tea!" You had heard Lord Zuko say something like that before. You didn't know what it meant, but he was wise, so it had to be something deep and philosophical. It seemed to work, the elders began to debate among themselves, presenting to each other their interpretation of your words.

Eska slipped away, leaving the elders to argue among themselves. "Tea metaphors, I shall remember that," Eska voiced. You just hoped she wouldn't ask you to explain it.

"Has mother come outside?" Desna inquired.

"Yes, but the crowd and noise were making her uncomfortable, so she's watching the festival from the balcony," Eska explained. You followed the twins' gaze to the palace of ice. One of the towers held an elegantly carved balcony, where Malina was watching the events below. "She expressed interest in watching us dance, but no one has amused me enough to motivate me to do so. Perhaps she will be satisfied if you do."

"Tonight has been entertaining... Very well, I will grant mother's wish," Desna agreed. Before you even had time to let it all sink in, your bag and penguin were handed off to the staff to take to your guest quarters and you were with Desna among the many couples. You had absolutely no clue what to do and you started getting the sinking feeling that neither did he.

You stood awkwardly still for a few seconds while Desna studied the people around you. He suddenly pulled you close, hand on your waist and more or less moved to the music. "Have you done this before?" He finally asked.

"No..." You admitted. From the corner of your eyes you saw Eska signaling something to Desna. He should be able to have a better view of what she was trying to communicate, though you didn't understand what it was.

Desna seemed to get the message, as he nodded in understanding and twirled you around, then smoothly brought you close to him. How did he become so good at this so suddenly? "What did Eska say?"

"She signaled a water bending exercise," Desna revealed. You had heard before that bending was like dancing in some of its techniques. You followed along as best you could until... "Ouch..."

"Oh no... Sorry!" You tried to remove your foot from his so quickly that you tripped and he had to catch you. "Sorry..." You regained your balance, though you feared your dignity was a lost cause. "I guess you can't water bend fire, huh?" It was a completely idiotic joke and you mentally kicked yourself for it the second it left your mouth.

Surprisingly, Desna laughed, not a forced laugh out of mercy, but a real quiet laugh that you might have missed if you weren't so close. The acknowledgment of the proximity made your face turn even more red. "You amuse me," he smiled.

Despite a few stumbles, some more literal than others, the night was overall good. The cheerful atmosphere of the party and Desna's close proximity made you stop thinking about your near death experience and focus on the positive.

The masquerade ended with fireworks and the streets slowly emptied as people started getting sleepy and going home. "Did you enjoy the ball?" Eska asked when you and Desna headed back inside.

"Yes, very much!" You replied cheerfully.

"It was quite entertaining," Desna added.

"Good," Eska nodded. She began to walk, with Desna automatically following her as he was used to doing and you automatically following him for reasons you couldn't explain.

Eska sped up and so did Desna, thus you did as well. Then Eska stopped and Desna stopped, but you couldn't stop on time and bumped into him. "Oops... Sorry..."

"Escort (name) to her chambers, that is what you do after a date," Eska declared in such a matter of fact way that you'd think she was simply saying what time it was.

"Date?" Desna mused on the word while you blushed in incredulity. Could this actually be called a date date, or maybe just a diplomatic date? He was a prince, he was unreachable, unattainable, an impossible dream.

"Very well," Desna agreed without question, as if he was simply used to agreeing with his twin. He took your hand again and walked off, taking a detour down a different hallway to the guest quarters.

He stopped and looked towards the end of the hall where Malina was. "Mother?"

"I just wanted to say good night," Malina smiled.

"I would not go to sleep without going to see you," Desna assured. "Are you here to see (name)?"

"I know, dear, and yes I'm here to see both of you." You couldn't quite place it but Malina seemed to be searching for something. "Well, I hope you two had fun."

"Lots of fun," you smiled. "It was a great night. Thank you for making the garden so pretty for it."

"You're welcome, dear, good night. I'm going to my room. Take your time Desna, I'll just have a chat with Eska until you come by." Malina quickly left, disappearing at least in part around the corner of the hallway. Desna turned to face you and didn't seem to notice that though she was not visible, Malina's shadow could be seen from the moonlight streaming through the window.

"Thanks... For everything..." You couldn't stop blushing. It's not like you expected him to kiss you. There was no way something like that could happen. He was just being nice, that's all, nothing special, you told yourself.

Desna was about to speak, but a small current of water was thrown at the back of his head with just enough force to push him forward so that your lips met. You could feel your face becoming a bright shade of red that no human should be able to achieve. Desna blinked in confusion and blushed. He looked towards the turn at the end of the hall where his mother retreated from her position peeking out a little. Her shadow disappeared as this time she really did head to her room. "I cannot explain why my mother did that..."

"It's ok!" You replied a little too fast. Your personal explanation for Malina's actions was that she was a very kind lady.

"Have a good night..." Desna finally voiced, he seemed to be considering something, but you were too focused on your own thoughts to try to figure it out.

"Good night!" After you parted ways with Desna, you closed the door and leaned on it, feeling your heart pound. An accident, it was just an accident, you reminded.

You changed and got ready for bed. You crawled under the covers and hugged the penguin plushie from Desna. It was just an accident, it wasn't real, he's a prince, it's all purely platonic. If you didn't convince yourself of that soon instead of treasuring tonight you would be sad that this could only happen once in a lifetime...

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 13: Comedy of Errors, The Musical

The morning after the ball you had breakfast with Valrick and Zhu Li. Apparently, Eska and Desna were too busy preparing for the trip to the Fire Nation. One or both, you weren't entirely sure, would be sailing off today. At the table, Valrick had shared an announcement filled with excitement. "Last night, I had a dream!"

You had a dream too, you blushed as you recalled it. Desna was in it, dressed, or undressed, as he was during the goggles incident. Thankfully, Valrick was focused on his announcement and Zhu Li on Valrick, so neither saw your blush.

"I dreamt of dancing with my darling Zhu Li during our wedding and I was inspired!" Valrick loudly declared, motioning with his eating utensils like a maestro conducting a very chaotic orchestra. "The new mover will be a musical! I'm changing the storyline to be about saving the world from evil aliens that came from outer space to consume sound waves! But music comes from the heart, so when the nations unite against the threat of a silent world, they must be heard! Zhu Li, send a message to Ginger, have her start taking singing lessons. (Name), I'm sending you on a mission to Republic City, I want you to find the same band that played at my wedding, the Wolfbats, and get them under a contract for this mover. This is going to be spectacular!" Valrick went on and on about his great idea.

You were taken aback by how fast and suddenly it was decided that you would go to Republic City. If Eska and Desna were away, then there would be no diplomatic reason for you to stick around. You did want to see Republic City, but you were still sad to leave the North Pole. At least you didn't have to worry about how your nation was presented in the mover. If there was such a thing as aliens, let their diplomats worry about it. You also wondered about Desna's role in the mover and how it might have changed. "What about Desna's character?"

Valrick paused his 'this is going to be awesome' rant and looked thoughtful. "I had one of the female palace guards investigate further and he has not reached the potential predicted by the goggles yet. In his current state, I doubt the fans will be entirely pleased. Maybe with some training he can still be ready on time. I'll remind him to prepare."

You weren't sure how the goggles played into measuring Desna's potential. Valrick had to be talking about acting skills, Desna was certainly good to look at after all, so that couldn't be the possible issue with the fans.

The rest of the day was a blur. You tried to get ready for the trip but were distracted the whole time, though thankfully the palace staff took care of packing for you. You did manage to run into Eska in the hall and wish her a good trip, but you didn't see Desna, maybe he was meeting with Valrick at the time. You were distractedly trying to write a letter to send home when the twins left, and missed wishing them bon voyage at port.

It was soon time for you to leave as well. You went to collect the contract you were supposed to convince the Wolfbats leader to sign. He was a water bender by the name of Tahno, a probender turned musician. Some claimed he was a genius trombone player. Zhu Li had given you the thick envelope with the contract, she gave you her well wishes then returned to the task of freeing Valrick from the block of ice in which he was encased from the neck down.

As his teeth chattered, the partially frozen entrepreneur kept muttering something about people being unable to take constructive criticism and adamantly arguing that 'scrawny' wasn't a serious enough offense to be worthy of this punishment. You wondered who he had called scrawny. It was obviously the wrong person, Valrick did kind of have a big mouth.

With the contract in hand, you headed out to the port, escorted by royal guards just in case. You boarded a ship and sailed off. You were shown to your cabin and dropped off the envelope with the contract there so you wouldn't lose it, then went up to the deck for a little walk to sort your thoughts.

As you approached the front of the ship, you were surprised to find none other than Eska there, or so you thought. You concluded that Desna had gone to the Fire Nation alone and wondered why Eska was there. Maybe she had business in Republic City, but what could be more important than the diplomatic visit to the Fire Nation? "Eska?" You stood next to her.

Eska looked different. She wasn't wearing her makeup or hair ornaments and there was that tomboyish air about her again. You assumed it was because she was away from home and the public eye, so she was taking the opportunity to relax. She seemed displeased though, as if you'd said something wrong, then she looked away as if blaming herself for whatever it was.

"Are you ok?" You inquired with concern.

Eska let out a hopeless breath and nodded. She seemed to be debating if she should say something or not, but finally decided against it. She touched her throat and shook her head.

"You have a sore throat," you concluded. "In that case, it makes sense that you want to rest your voice." You were curious as to why she was there and not on a ship with her brother on their way to the Fire Nation, but you would have to save your questions for later. For now you supposed you could just hang out quietly. You didn't question why her throat wasn't healed by water bending as you understood that it only worked on wounds, so it wouldn't work on bacteria or a virus. Eska's sore throat must have been caused by some sort of infection. Maybe she got it from one of the more exotic rare fish and fancy algae dishes that you generally stayed away from in favor of the more appetizing common roasted fish.

Most of the trip was like that, when the silence got to you, you talked and Eska listened, smiling as if your stories entertained her. You made her laugh a few times, sometimes without even realizing how. You felt bad about that, she tried not to make any sounds but when a few did escape, she would cover her mouth and try harder to hold them back. From what little sounds escaped her, you could tell her voice sounded too deep. That throat infection must be really painful. Maybe you could find some medicine in Republic City that wasn't available anywhere else. They did have a lot of fancy things there from what you've heard, with satomobiles and a variety of gadgets all around.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 14: The Pursuit of What is Elusive

At Republic City, you and 'Eska' managed to track down the Wolfbats, but were informed that the founder of the probenders and band, Tahno, was not in the city. Apparently, he had gone off to visit his relatives, and the Wolfbats needed him to look at the contract before giving a formal reply, though they did seen interested. You weren't sure if you should wait or go see Tahno, but his team made the choice for you. Excited about the possibility of being in a mover, they gave you the address where Tahno was and encouraged you to  go offer him the contract right away. Thus your travels continued by train.

The train trip was very similar to the trip by ship. You tried to get Eska to at least look at the selection of medicines at Republic City, but she wouldn't have it. You wondered if she was trying not to be recognized. She didn't really dress up much and with her baggy clothes it was impossible to tell there was a woman under there. You were sad to leave Republic City so soon, but you had a job to do.

After the train tracks ran out, you had to ride on a satomobile, which was fun, until the road ran out near an ostrichorse farm. The reality sunk in that you wouldn't be able to reach the out of the way address by satomobile, since the terrain was too rough. You and Eska had left the staff that accompanied you back at the Republic City port, thinking that the swamp detour wouldn't take too long.

You stood outside at the farm, staring wearily at the fenced in animals. Eska went inside, to talk to the farm owner, you assumed. You wondered if her voice had improved enough, since she still wasn't talking to you, but couldn't listen in on the conversation from outside due to the noise the birds made. Yet you couldn't pull yourself away from your spot watching them, feeling as if they were watching you with less than friendly intentions.

After a while, Eska went into the fenced area with the farm owner and returned to your side holding the reins of a big ostrichorse. She used some of the water collected into puddles on the swampy ground as a step to boost herself to jump via water bending onto the creature's back. She seemed unsure of what she was doing, but invited you to climb aboard anyway, patting the large animal's back behind her.

"Are you sure we can't walk?" Her reply to your pleading question was a reassuring, and distinctly tomboyish, smile, and an extended hand to help you up.

Reluctantly, you took her hand and climbed aboard. It felt just like Desna's hand, but you tried not to think of him. He was a prince, a distant dream, an impossibility. If he wanted to be with you, not that you were stupid enough to think he did, then he would have come on this trip and let his sister go to the Fire Nation instead, she was the main chief of the Northern Water Tribe after all.

Before you could dwell on your thoughts much longer, Eska tried to get the ostrichorse to move forward and accidentally startled the creature into taking off at breakneck speed. You yelped and held on to Eska for dear life, terrified to fall off the speeding monster and break your head open on some muddy rock.

You spent some time fearing for your life until the earth rose in front of the ostrichorse and it was forced to stop to avoid crashing into the muddy stone wall. "Not a very good driver, are you?" A familiar old lady made her entrance on the scene. Toph's visit was over and she had returned to the swamp.

"Toph!" You exclaimed in relief. "Thanks for stopping this crazy thing!" The earth and metal master was a bit hard on you, from your vague memories of your initial trip to the North Pole, which were fogged by illness. But at least she stopped that crazy animal so you could finally get off.

Predictably, you tripped and fell on the muddy ground. Eska jumped off the ostrichorse, who seemed to have taken an instant liking to Toph and was letting her pet it. The water bender called the mud away from you, manipulating the water to carry the thick dirt particles away along with it, leaving you cleaner than you thought was possible through bending alone.

"Thank you," you noticed Eska's red face and concluded that she must have been just as scared for her life as you were, despite appearing to be so brave. You were clinging to her for your life, you hoped you didn't accidentally choke her too badly.

You resolved to push forward with the mission and ask Toph for directions. The sooner you could get this overwith the better. You were starting to fear the band played a cruel joke on you. This swamp didn't look like a place for a well known probender and musician to be hanging out. "Eska and I are looking for Tahno, do you know him? Is he here?"

"I know him, he's visiting his family near here," Toph confirmed, much to your relief. "He was an egotistical, cocky, braggart in the past, but a run in with the Equalists humbled him. He got his bending back though. He said something about his experience making him reevaluate his life and inspiring him to pursue music alongside probending, or some such emotional nonsense. So, where's Eska?"

"She's here," you replied as if it was the most obvious thing. You knew Toph was blind, but she was so good at sensing the world around her through other means that it was easy to forget. "I mean, right next to me." You saw a hint of movement from the corner of your eyes and glanced at Eska, but she quickly went still, with a poker face expression.

"Right..." Toph shook her head then shrugged her shoulders. "If you say so... Tahno's family is over that way, not too far, so you can walk if you're too scared to give the ostrichorse another run."

"We'll walk," you stated drily and began heading in the direction she pointed. Eska walked next to you, while Toph hopped on the ostrichorse and amused herself running around the swamp.

Fortunately, you soon found a little village in the swamp, though it was so small and covered in vegetation that it was easy to miss. Eska and you were noticed by the locals, most of which seemed to be swamp fishermen of some kind. A few greetings and questions later, you were led to one of the huts, where you found Tahno scribbling away musical notes with a little boy looking over his shoulder.

You would later learn that the boy was Tahno's cousin. Tahno had left the swamp, claiming he was too good to stay, and pursued a career in probending. He cheated his way to the top, learned his lesson after his run in with Amon and took to the stadium again, until the call of music was too strong to ignore. Nowdays, he was both a probender and musician.

You weren't sure how to go about the negotiations and Eska was as quiet as ever, so you just explained it as best you could and gave Tahno the contract. He wasn't pleased with the contract, but was interested in the mover, so he agreed to travel to the North Pole to negotiate with Valrick personally.

With your mission fulfilled, you were invited to spend the night. The sun had set and you didn't want to venture into the swamp at night, it didn't look, or sound, or smell like a good idea. It would smell like a bad idea anyway, but at least the daylight would bring better visibility and less nocturnal predators.

Tahno tried to find a place for you to stay, though the village was small and lacked an inn. They didn't like taking charity, even if it was from one of their own with whom they had reconciled.

"We don't need two rooms," you pointed out, to try to make things easier. This wasn't a fancy place, but it was well needed hospitality that you were grateful for. Besides, you and Eska were both girls and you had slumber parties back home, so a bunch of girls rooming together was nothing strange for you.

"If it's like that, you can stay in my old room then, and I'll room with my cousin tonight," Tahno resolved. The boy seemed happy with the idea, Tahno was clearly his hero. You weren't sure what Tahno meant by 'like that' but your guess was that he knew Eska was royalty and expected her to demand her own room.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 15: Of Men and Proteins

You curiously observed Tahno's old room by the light of the oil lamp he had handed to Eska after showing you the room. He haven't lived in it in years, though it looked untouched other than basic cleaning. There was a poster of past probending champions on the wall, ruined by the moist air of the swamp, but still discernible. The closet door had been left open with a few articles of clothing tossed about, but mostly empty, as if Tahno packed in a hurry when he ran off to the city. You spotted some camping gear at the bottom of the closet, and old lantern, a rolled up sleeping bag and thick heavy boots. Who'd want to camp in a swamp?

You looked at the bed, the only bed. "You should sleep on the bed and I'll sleep in the sleeping bag," you suggested, the princess should get the bed after all. Eska shook her head, but you insisted, picking up the sleeping bag and spreading it out next to the bed. "No arguments, you're taking the bed." You crawled into the sleeping bag, exhausted. "Good night!" Eska seemed displeased, but you attributed it to the murky atmosphere of the swamp. Morning couldn't come soon enough, and with the wish for a speedy sunrise, you drifted off to sleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

You woke up at some point during the night because the sleeping bag was a little too hot. You blinked drowsily, clinging to the dream you were having. It was an odd dream lacking a plot and context. You were in Desna's arms and he had wished you sweet dreams. Taking a moment to recall where you truly were, you crawled out of the sleeping back to lay on top of it instead. Something felt off though, and you realized that you were on the bed. Eska had apparently placed you, sleeping bag and all, on top of the bed. The oil lamp burned dimly in a corner, but your roommate was nowhere to be found.

You got up and picked up the lamp, examining the small flame inside. There was a time when even such a tiny flame would scare you, but your fear of fire had lessened over the years, though still not enough for you to willingly bend. You ventured out to find Eska, but didn't see her in the living room, or kitchen, and the bathroom door was left open, empty. You headed outside and finally found her.

Eska was in a little clearing just outside the modest residence. She had fashioned a block of ice that looked surprisingly clear. She must have used her bending to filter out the pure water, letting the particles of earth fall away from it. She was lifting the block repeatedly, making quite the effort, which meant that she was not using her bending, only physical force.

This wasn't the first time you had witnessed such a scene. Eska had been doing similar exercises on the ship, pushing herself more and more. This was getting out of hand and you were starting to get concerned. That block of ice looked very heavy, certainly heavier than anything you could lift. If Eska kept working so hard she might end up with biceps like her brother.

You searched for a possible explanation, watching her discretely before she noticed you. Surely she must be preoccupied about her weight now that she didn't have her fancy fish and algae stu to eat. You had to find a way to cheer her up, that's what a good friend should do. You left your position at the doorframe and ventured out.

Eska noticed you and set the block of ice aside. She waited for you to speak as if expecting you to share some grand realization. "Wow, you're really skinny. How lucky that you don't need to worry about your weight. I bet you're lighter than Ginger!"

Eska was surprised, shocked even. You smiled, allowing her a moment to reevaluate her self esteem. "I'm going back to sleep, good night." You went back to the borrowed room, feeling satisfied with yourself for being a good friend. You took Eska's shock as a positive sign, she didn't take your words as empty reassurance, but was really giving them some thought.

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The next morning, you woke up alone in the room. You got ready for the day and wondered if Eska had gotten any sleep at all. You heard part of a conversation at the table when you headed over there. Tahno was saying something about manly protein tea. Eska was drinking a very unappetizing concoction. You knew it had to be awful if someone capable of eating seaweeds and fish eggs was making a disgusted face at the liquid.

"Morning!" You greeted and joined them at the table. The second Eska saw you, her face turned serious, which made her look even more tomboyish, and she gulped down the tea.

You couldn't even bring yourself to ask what was in it, but Tahno handed Eska a piece of paper with a reminder that the recipe was to be kept a secret.

After having a semi-normal breakfast with Tahno's family, it was time to deliver the Wolfbats' leader to Valrick, after making a stop at Republic City to pick up his band.

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You walked to the nearest satomobile transportation service, the ostrichorse left forgotten. The satomobile took you, along with Eska and Tahno, to a train station, which would take you the rest of the way to Republic City.

During the train ride you offered to do Eska's nails, but she only shook her head. Tahno snickered and suggested she should allow it, but Eska stomped on his foot and he was quiet the rest of the way. It was too bad really, there's nothing like a good manicure and a pretty shiny coat of nail polish to make a girl feel better, and Eska looked like she had a cloud of disappointment hanging over her, though it was mixed with a stubborn determination.

To be Continued

Make a Man Out of You

Chapter 16: The Necessities of Men and Women

After the train trip, you spent the following night at Republic City, staying at a nice hotel, ready to leave in the morning. You wished you could stay for longer, but you had a mission to accomplish. Your hotel room had two beds, though Eska had silently communicated that she preferred to sleep in the tub, that reminded you of Desna.

It was a bit too early to go to sleep though, so you sat on your bed, flipping through your little agenda. It mostly listed the chores you were supposed to do when you were a maid at the fire palace, but you had not written anything on it for a long time. You would draw a happy face on the dates that corresponded to your days off. You paused as you saw a frowny face on one of the pages of an upcoming day and mentally counted in your head.

"Eska?" She looked up from the magazine she was flipping through, something focused around gyms and training equipment, maybe she was just looking at the pictures of the muscular men, you couldn't imagine why she would be interested in actually reading the articles. "Do you... Well..." You weren't sure where the embarrassment came from. You were both girls and it was a perfectly reasonable concern to have. One that you needed to resolve before the date marked in your agenda. "Do you have any... lady supplies packed?"

Eska looked confused, tilting her head to the side in puzzlement, her bangs falling over her eyes, they were getting kind of long.

"You know, lady supplies, time of the month stuff. It's just that I didn't pack any and we have a long way to go by ship," you explained as a matter of fact.

A few seconds passed in silenced until your words were properly interpreted and Eska blushed, then shook her head. You thought she was embarrassed to have forgotten such a vital thing for a woman to pack for a long trip.

"It's ok, Republic City never sleeps, and it's not all that late anyway. I'll run over to a shop and get enough supplies for both of us. Be right back," you grabbed your purse and left.

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Finding a shop was easy enough and you got some sweets while you were out shopping for necessities as well as a few small souvenirs. You hurried back to the hotel walking down the sidewalk.

A shadow emerged from an alley as you passed by and whispered in your ear, "what are you doing out by yourself, sweetheart?"

You jumped away, startled, and shouted at the top of your lungs, "taxi!"

As if summoned by a magical incantation, a yellow satomobile obediently stopped near the sidewalk next to you. "Where to?" The driver inquired.

"Woah, where are you planning to take me?" Tahno laughed, looking smug.

You pouted, "it's you. Don't sneak up on me! What are you doing in a dark alley anyway?"

"It's a shortcut to my favorite noodle shop, and most girls would be thrilled to have me whisper in their ears," Tahno laughed. "Not that I have any intentions of stepping on any toes."

Now that you knew you were not in any danger you couldn't help it but to blush, even if you knew Tahno was just kidding around, he gave you the impression of being a big flirt. You recalled that Eska would send deadly glares his way whenever he said something flirty to you back at the swamp. Maybe she was upset that he didn't give her any attention. Focusing on the present, you decided not to mention that there were no toes to step on, since you didn't have a boyfriend.

"Hey, are you getting on?" The impatient taxi driver interjected.

You shook your head, "I can walk. Sorry, I just called out taxi because that's what people do when they want to make a quick escape in the novels." That kind of scene usually led to another character also calling a taxi and shouting 'follow that satomobile!' Then the nameless taxi driver, just as obedient as the first, would drive off full speed and a chase would ensue.

"The taxi's here, so you might as well use it." Tahno gave the driver some money, "take the lady to her hotel before her prince starts getting lonely." He held the door open for you.

"It's not like that, and you didn't have to do that..." You tried to explain. Did Tahno really think you hooked up with some random guy? Was that how things worked in Republic City? Nah, he must have been kidding around to embarrass you.

"Hey lady, are you getting on or what?" The taxi driver grumbled.

"Alright, alright!" You got into the taxi. "Thanks Tahno, bye."

Tahno closed the door with an expression as if he was laughing at a private joke that flew over your head. "See you tomorrow, princess," he winked, emphasizing the word 'princess' as if it held a hidden meaning.

You stuck out your tongue at him in an effort to be sassy, which seemed to amuse him.

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You returned to the hotel room where Eska was waiting, still studying the workout magazine as if it held all the answers to the universe. "I'm back!" You announced.

Eska looked up from her reading and smiled, her long bangs falling on her face. She must have cut them often to keep them so perfectly symmetrical and was due for a trim. You put your bags down and dug through one of them, pulling out a pack of time of the month supplies. "Here," you handed it to Eska, who looked embarrassed. She nodded stiffly and shoved the supplies into her suitcase.

"I also got you something else." You looked through another of your bags and found a flower hair clip. "You can keep your bangs out of your eyes until you can have them cut, then you can just wear it as a decoration." You went to put the hair clip on her hair. You and your friends did things like this back home, lending each other hair clips, helping with makeup and sharing beauty tips.

"There you go," you smiled, though it took some effort to maintain the smile after giving Eska a second look. Without her bangs she looked even more tomboyish, almost like her brother.

You paused, noticing something and went to dig around your suitcase for your bag of hygiene products. You pulled out a bottle of facial moisturizer and offered it to Eska. "Your face is a little rough, right around here." You pointed at your own chin in indication. "This moisturizer should help."

Eska received the moisturizer. You observed her hands. Her nails were clean, but they were very short. Her hands didn't look feminine at all. "Are you sure you don't want a manicure?" You offered. Friends were supposed to help each other look their best, even if certain defects were impossible to fix, you bitterly mused about yourself, rather than Eska.

Eska shook her head and quickly retrieved something from her bag. You couldn't see what it was, as she concealed it in her sleeve. Then she ducked into the bathroom, with the mystery item and the bottle of moisturizer. She emerged a short while later with a perfectly smooth face. You knew that moisturizer was good, but you didn't think it was that good.

While Eska was in the bathroom, you had picked up her magazine and were looking at the pictures of men. "They're handsome," you observed, "though a lot of them are overly buff." You flipped through the pages until you found a model that was toned just right, with muscles that were noticeable but not exaggerated, he had nice abs too. "I like this one," you showed her the page.

Eska observed the picture as if making a mental note, then took the magazine away. Instead of showing you which model she liked best, she put the magazine in her suitcase and kicked it into the bathroom. Then she tried to pretend like that wasn't totally strange by smiling and waving good night, before going into the bathroom, to sleep in the tub, you surmised.

You shrugged, everyone had their little oddities and moments of shyness, you had plenty yourself. "Good night!" You called out before turning off the light and going to sleep.

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Chapter 17: Emergency

An urgent message arrived at the Republic City the next morning and your plans changed. By the time you got up, Eska had apparently had enough time to share the news with Tahno because he seemed well informed while talking at a table at the hotel's breakfast buffet. You decided not to dwell too much on the fact that her throat as supposed to still be out of commission, as there were other ways to communicate, though it was still worrisome. You considered further pushing the idea of going to a doctor, but it was probably best to wait until you were alone to bring that up.

"Look at that, sleeping beauty decided to join us. Your prince has been waiting for you, but didn't want to disturb your precious slumber." Tahno's greeting remark earned him a kick from Eska under the table. The Wolfbats were there as well, snickering in amusement, though Eska's glare quickly silenced them.

"Um, morning... Sorry I'm late," you replied uncomfortably. Eska must have a crush on Tahno and there he was calling himself your prince. You mentally kicked yourself for blushing even if you knew he was only teasing you. "You were saying something about a change of plans?"

Tahno proceeded to explain that Valrick had been transported to the Fire Nation capital by airplane, escorted by General Iroh himself. This had happened right after you left the North Pole. "The message from the Fire Nation also said that..." He paused as if searching for the right words. "This twin's presence is requested by the other twin."

You frowned, you didn't like how distant Tahno sounded. It was mean to not even say Eska's name. Your glare was obvious enough so that Tahno noticed it and unexpected enough so that his expression revealed that he noticed it. "Eska," you corrected. "Not that twin, their names are Eska and Desna." Eska buried her face in her hands in frustration, which only made your glare intensify.

Tahno rose his hands in surrender and gave Eska a friendly pat on the shoulder. "I can sincerely say I'm sorry." He sounded more like he was communicating pity than guilt. Eska made no motion to directly respond to Tahno and instead reached for one of the tea pots on the table and gulped down its entire contents. "Hey, that protein tea is for the Wolfbats!" Tahno protested and was ignored. You thought it was an odd revenge, but were glad that Eska was standing up for herself.

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You headed towards the Fire Nation, wondering what was happening and worrying the whole way. Upon arrival, Eska went off on official business and you had a moment to catch up with your friends and family, but you couldn't stop wondering what was going on. It had to be something big if Valrick, and most likely Zhu Li, were transported to the Fire Nation capital by air, accompanied by the crown prince himself.

You were home, in a sense that meant that your mission was over, but you weren't ready to let it go. Since you were a maid at the fire palace, the guards let you move around freely. You used that to your advantage to make your way to the royal guest quarters without any necessity to sneak in. You asked the guards and they informed you where Eska's room was, possibly assuming that you had gone back to your old job and intended to do some cleaning.

You froze in front of the door when you heard Desna's voice on the other side. "Tahno said that a real man is so manly that it is impossible to miss, even if he tries to hide it."

"I will beat him up for you." Eska offered.

"I am not angry at him," Desna explained. "He is vexing at times, but has provided a helpful resource with the protein tea recipe that he shared. Do I look any different?"

"I think you put on some muscle, but it is hard to tell with that outfit," Eska admitted. "The climate here is warm. Why are you wearing a long sleeve coat? It is because of what Tahno said?" There was a pause and maybe a nod that was concealed from you behind the door, then Eska sighed.

Desna then casually mentioned, "I need a haircut."

"Keep your hair like that," Eska suggested, "it suits you well. You can tie it back to keep it out of your face."

"But it is so different from yours," Desna pointed out and you could almost sense the confusion and disappointment in his voice. "I am your brother," he stated as if to reassure himself.

"And I have missed you, but I have also been thinking that perhaps you need to be more than my brother. I believe this is what's best for you," Eska voiced.

You felt bad for interrupting the sibling moment, even if you were also kind of confused by it. What did it matter that they had different haircuts? You couldn't really see Desna's hair clearly with the mask on during the ball, since the front was partially covered by it. You knew he had long hair, but you couldn't imagine him having the same girly bangs Eska had. You took a deep breath and resolved to stop your eavesdropping. You knocked on the door and waited.

Eska opened the door just enough to peek out, which didn't give you a good view of the room or of Desna. "(Name)," there were some footsteps and the sound of a door hastily closing before Eska shook her head and opened the door the whole way, stepping aside to grant you passage, "come in."

You walked in, Desna must be in the adjacent bathroom. You wanted to assume that he coincidentally had to go, but the timing was too perfect. He had retreated as soon as Eska voiced your name, as if announcing your arrival. He was avoiding you and it hurt more than it should. You had been away from him as far as you knew. Maybe spending time with his sister made you feel that your connection to Desna wasn't truly broken. You thought you could except this, he was a prince, you had no business missing him. Platonic crushes used to be fun, when did they become so painful?

You looked at Eska, who seemed to be waiting for you to speak. She looked very different. You assumed that she had a meeting with a royal stylist and her more princess-like appearance was restored. Her bangs were cut, no longer falling over her eyes, but symmetrically framing her delicate face. She was wearing light makeup, highlighting her eyes, framed by long eyelashes.

She had little ornaments in her hair and was dressed in a way that was appropriate for the climate of the Fire Nation, though she still wore shades of blue, her national color. The dress was elegant and tasteful, though it still hinted at the figure of the one who wore it. The sleeves were short, only covering the shoulders, her arms bare except for the sapphire bracelets that adorned her wrists. Her hands were slender and feminine and her reasonably long nails were perfectly manicured, painted silver.

You tilted your head in confusion, "Eska? You look so different," furthermore, her very presence felt different. "I mean, not in a bad way." You stared at the floor. You could never be with Desna and suddenly you felt as if the girl before you wasn't the same person that you had traveled with. You couldn't even be friends with the twins, you came from different worlds. It wasn't a matter of your respective home nations of water and fire, but rather the fact that they were royalty and you were a servant girl who got an inexplicably lucky break.

"You seemed distressed," Eska observed.

"Yes..." You admitted. "I don't understand what's going on and I'm worried..."

Eska motioned towards the small livingroom area in the room. "We should sit down, there is much to tell."

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Chapter 18: Cat and Mouse

You waited expectantly for Eska to explain what was going on. Part if you wish she'd hurry and a bigger part hoped that she would take her time so that Desna would get tired of hiding. "Remnants of the Red Lotus that didn't fully fit into the main group have found a way to build devices that create spirit portals. They can go to the Spirit World and create another portal from there that leads to a different location in this world. They have been using this method to get to and away from various crime scenes, mostly around the north and east states of the Earth Republic, for now."

"The spirit portals close shortly after they are made, but that drains energy from the Spirit World," Eska explained. "The portals have been described as dimensional rips rather than gateways like the one in Republic City. Kalok was trying to join this new group, but had little to say, since he was not officially in. He did mention that they call themselves the Black Lotus and their goal is anarchy through war. They believe that the elements are natural rivals and nonbenders are unworthy of acknowledgement. Right now, the Avatar is trying to stabilize things in the Spirit World, but it is going poorly."

"The plan is to have Valrick build a machine that strengthens the dimensional fabric. If he is successful, then the Spirit World should be accessible only through the legitimate gates." You listened intently as Eska finished her explanation by adding her thoughts at the end. "I find this ironic. The Black Lotus has benders of all the elements working together for their cause. They claim that after the stage is set for the elements to go to war, they will no longer be needed and will disband to join their respective groups."

You took it all in with shock. You didn't think things were this serious. "This is..." You let out a heavy breath. "I never would have guessed it was this serious. Has Valrick made any progress?"

"He claims that the theory of his machine is possible, but has not yet produced a functional prototype," Eska replied. With how calm and collected she was, you'd think the world wasn't in the tremendous danger that it was. "Even so, it was voted that Valrick's life should be protected. There have already been assassination attempts."

"Wait a minute," your mind quickly worked through the possibilities. "The Black Lotus can essentially teleport by using the Spirit World as a shortcut. If they know Valrick is here, wouldn't they just come for him?"

"Yes," Eska answered simply and you waited for an elaboration that never came.

"So why isn't he hiding?" You asked.

"There are concerns that the Black Lotus could cause significant casualties searching for Valrick. This way, they will focus their efforts here at the fire palace," Eska explained. "Most of the world leaders left after the plan consensus, but I have decided to stay and personally represent the Northern Water Tribe alongside my brother."

"You and Desna will be in danger..." You felt helpless. You knew they faced danger before, but that was before you met them.

"Yes," Eska didn't deny it. "We will be cautious. You should get ready, you are to leave for the North Pole by airship early tomorrow morning."

"What? Why?" You exclaimed in disbelief.

"My brother requested it," Eska explained. "He wishes for your safety."

You weren't sure how to feel. You were happy Desna still remembered you, but why was he refusing to see you? Maybe sending you to safety was all Eska's idea and she was just trying to make her brother sound concerned for diplomatic reasons. You knew he was still hiding in the bathroom, no doubt listening to the entire conversation. "I can't leave... I won't leave..." You built up a stubborn determination. "I appreciate your concern, Eska, I honestly do, but if Desna shares it, he can tell me himself." You pointedly looked at the closed bathroom door, it did not open. "Please excuse me," you stood. "I pray for your safety and that of Desna and the others who share your mission... But I cannot accept the invitation to return to the North Pole at this time," you left the room.

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That night you couldn't sleep. You tossed and turned, unable to make your racing thoughts slow down. Then you heard your name being called by a familiar voice and saw a shadow at the window. It was too dark to get a good look at who it was, but you recognized Desna's voice. "Desna!"

"Please, go to the North Pole," he requested.

You were upset before, but you couldn't stay mad at him. You rushed to the window, but the shadow swiftly moved away. You opened it and watched as a barely discernible shadow disappeared into the darkness and your heart fell. Your hurt emotions returned with stubborn anger. If he was so concerned why didn't he stay to talk to you? Why did he retreat the second you tried to go near him. You weren't going anywhere.

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The next morning, you were at the fire palace early, refusing to leave your home country. You went to Valrick's workshop, determined to make yourself somewhat useful in the task of saving the world, even if it was by doing small menial tasks. The spacious chamber had failed prototypes and scrapped parts all over. Grease and oil stains covered the once pristine floors and you feared you'd get stuck cleaning them. You had refused a direct invitation to the North Pole and you weren't sure if you could consider yourself a diplomat after that.

You heard Valrick talking behind a pile of spare parts. As you partly walked around it, Zhu Li came into view first. Tinkering with a strange device that looked like the hilt of a large sword, elaborate with circuit boards and wires. The artifact had a spirit vine as the power source and produced a beautiful blade of prismatic light.

"Do the thing!" Valrick cued. Zhu Li swung the sword and it created a cut in thin air. "It's still not strong enough..." he frowned.

You could barely believe your eyes. It was as if the world was made of paper and the page below displayed a strage land, the Spirit World. That sword must be a replica of the devices the Black Lotus was using to cut through the dimensional fabric.

As the rip healed itself and disappeared, a massive chorus of alarming beeps invaded the room. "It's overloading!" Zhu Li shouted.

"Stupid lever!" You moved further around the pile of spare parts to get a better view. Valrick was trying to pull down a lever on a large odd looking machine. The device looked more like a junk pile with circuit boards and wires sticking out in every direction. You supposed there was no time for presentation, which was probably driving Valrick insane. The level broke and sent Valrick to fall sitting on a puddle of oil that was leaking from the machine. The contraption glowed red hot and threatened to explode as electric sparks surrounded it. "Use coolant formula number nine!"

A silvery blue liquid flew at the machine, encasing it in goop. The reactions slowed down until the machine stopped shaking and beeping. Everyone let out a breath of relief, only to cover their noses at the pungent smell of the completely charred spirit vine that Valrick pulled out of the fuel compartment of the failed experiment. The vine disintegrated into black sand and Valrick frowned in frustration.

"We'll get it next time," Zhu Li placed a comforting hand on her husband's shoulder. "Maybe you should get some sleep." It was morning, they must have spent the whole night experimenting.

"I was sure my calculations were perfect!" Valrick pouted. "I can't quit now, I need to make sure the world isn't thrown into an endless war or ceases to exist or whatever will happen if the Spirit World runs out of energy. Whatever it is, it won't be good, and a nonexistent world is not a proper place to raise Valrick Jr.!" He paused and gasped as if recalling something vital. "Zhu Li! What are you still doing here? You should be getting some rest. You said you would go to bed in ten minutes and that was five hours ago!"

You gasped in surprise. Zhu Li was pregnant! She wasn't showing yet, so she probably found out recently. Even so, she was there, as hardworking as ever. Saving the world could be a dirty job, judging by the stains on Valrick and Zhu Li's clothes, but it was better than hiding away feeling heart broken and useless.

You approached the group, walking all the way around the big pile of spare parts and coming fully into view. You opened your mouth to ask if there was anything you could do to help, but froze when you saw the person who was gently manipulating the coolant goop off the machine. The water bender placed the odd substance in its container than glanced in your general direction, seemingly with the intention of asking Valrick something. The water bender stopped silently, eyes locked on yours.

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Chapter 19: The Heat of Battle

You stood at Valrick's workshop at the fire palace, staring at a familiar water bender. It was the tomboyish Eska, the Eska that went with you on the trip. No, that wasn't right. You saw her just yesterday and she looked very different. The sounds in the background slowly faded. The clings and clangs of engineers working on Valrick's blueprints became silent in your mind. The voice of someone talking also dissolved and you could hardly hear them say how the new materials should arrive safely this time because they were being escorted by both fire and water benders, the water benders being a pro and a royal. Your whole surroundings became nothing as you focused on the water bender standing before you.

All the oddest moments of the trip flashed before your eyes and everything that had seemed unusual stood out even more. Then there was a flash of light, as the reality in front of you was torn apart and a man came from the clandestine portal.

"We're under attack!" Valrick shouted. "Run!" He bolted away from Zhu Li, knowing full well he was the primary target.

The large man that came from the portal glared with snake-like pale green eyes and tried to run after Valrick. He was delayed by a strike of coolant to the face, followed by more of the goop wrapping around his hands and legs. That didn't stop him though, even if it looked like the water bender was putting a great effort into it.

"Coolant formula number nine won't solidify," Zhu Li warned. The water bender must have been trying to turn it into ice, working with the only liquid that was readily available at the moment.

A flood of Fire Nation soldiers rushed in, making their way through the cluttered space as quick as they could. Another portal was ripped open and two more enemies appeared, a man who shot lightning and a woman who controlled air.

Valrick slipped and fell and the big muscular man who came from the first portal was resisting the constant hits of coolant that assaulted him. The goop couldn't be made into much else than a soft dodge ball without the shard edge and weight of ice.

The air bender released a series of small tornadoes at the fire soldier who attacked with their native element. The debris took flight and caught aflame with burning materials and red hot metal raining down. There were too many things that were conductive and if the enemy who wielded lightning attacked or the Fire Nation soldiers retaliated, the whole chamber would be filled with sparks. You realized that the fire soldiers were trying to minimize the damage to Valrick's prototypes and research, which made them hold back.

The muscular man revealed his element to be earth as he boosted himself with a platform that rose from the floor and escaped the hassle of dealing with the coolant goop. Valrick kept running in place in a puddle of slippery oil, unable to get away. The marble tiles of the floor broke as the man summoned raw materials from the layer below. He fashioned a mallet of stone and held it high over Valrick.

The earth bender was assaulted by the coolant goop again. The water bender was only supposed to be assisting Valrick rather than playing bodyguard, judging by the lack of bending material. The fire soldiers were busy in the cluttered and crowded space, trying to detain the enemy air and fire benders while trying to protect the half finished mechanical components and parts that littered the room. The enemies were doing a good job of keeping the fire soldiers away from Valrick.

The water bender tried to disarm the earth bender, but couldn't pull the hammer out of his grasp without icing the coolant. A loud bang echoed and the earth bender screamed. Blood poured from his shoulder but the cause was too fast for you to identify. He dropped his stone mallet, but fortunately, Valrick was able to roll out of the way. The enemy demonstrated his ability to metal bend when he pulled out a small piece of metal that had been logged in his shoulder. It was amazing how something so small could cause such damage when it moved so fast.

"Forget the prototypes, just get everyone out of here!" You knew that voice. You watched as Iroh rushed into the room, shooting fireballs left and right without a care for collateral damage. The soldiers began advancing now that they didn't have machines or a castle to protect and easily overpowered the enemy air and fire benders.

Seeing that his allies were captured and he couldn't hope to win this battle, the earth bender hastily put a desperate move into action. The soldiers rushed towards Valrick, but the enemy was moving away from him. With another platform boost he jumped and landed right next to you. You tried to get away, but he quickly grabbed you. He held you so tight you couldn't breathe and it felt like he would literally rip your head off. You mentally berated yourself for not getting away, but the fire bending all around, even if most of it came from ally troops, paralyzed you with anxiety.

The battle slowed as the chaotic fight became a hostage situation. "Let her go and surrender!" Iroh commanded with a flame at the ready in case the enemy made any sudden attacks. The water bender who had traveled with you was at his side in a split second, glaring like death itself.

"How about I trade you the girl for Valrick?" The enemy offered. It didn't make sense to do it, he couldn't expect them to actually consider the offer.

"Let her go," Iroh ordered, growling out every word in frustrated anger. But he knew that he would be ignored if he didn't at least try to negotiate. "I'll trade her for you, if you kill her, I'll turn you to ashes on the spot."

"Killing me won't bring her back," the enemy chuckled. He only had full strength in one arm, but you knew that would be more than enough to snap your neck. "Before our almost member Kalok messed up and got arrested, he informed the Black Lotus that the Northern Water Tribe prince was rather fond of your little diplomat. If you let her die, I wouldn't put it past Desna to go to war. Either way, it's a step forward in our cause."

Iroh looked conflicted, like Zuko and Izumi, he was dedicated to protecting his people, and part of that was also protecting the world they lived in. Iroh fell silent, realizing that no matter what he did, there would be a loss. It was a matter of deciding which was the lesser of two evils. Zhu Li held a metal pipe in her trembling hands with a handle and a little switch attached to it. She was aiming it at your captor, but seemed afraid to hurt you if she used it. You guessed that was the weapon that launched the little piece of metal that saved Valrick's life before.

The water bender next to the fire prince looked back and forth between you and Valrick. "You're going to do it, aren't you?" Valrick quietly spoke, then grinned in grin understanding. "I'd have to kick you if you didn't, a real man would give up the world for his girl."

Iroh became more tense, as did Zhu Li. You couldn't allow this, as a diplomat, you were supposed to be a bringer of peace, not a tool to cause war. "Desna..." You chocked out with difficulty, "understand..." Iroh got the message, you were telling him not to risk Valrick, he was too vital.

The enemy saw the look of defeat in the fire prince eyes' as he searched for the resolve to convince himself that sacrificing an innocent from his own land was necessary for the greater good and that Desna would understand. "Don't try to stop me..." Iroh voiced quietly and slowly raised his hand, flame at the ready. The enemy took a step back, but as he expected, the coolant liquid responded to the call of the water bender. Iroh shot the flame, but the goop blocked it, then the enemy howled in pain and dropped you.

You scrambled out of the way in panicked confusion. Iroh had moved too slowly, he knew his flame would be stopped, as did the enemy. But the earth bender was burnt anyway despite seemingly being protected from Iroh's fire. How was that possible? Then you realized it, that tingling sensation at your finger tips and the warmth in your palms. They had created a distraction and the fire that freed you was your own. You had somehow used it without thinking when you came face to face with an alternative that was more frightening than fire itself.

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Chapter 20: The Secret's Out

After escaping the hostage situation, you ran towards your ally group. Suddenly, another rip in reality appeared before you. A block of stone sprang up under your feet and threw you towards it. Another loud bang rung out in a failed attempt to stop the man from jumping through the portal, he was wounded but he made it through. The water bender jumped after you, followed by Iroh, but a gust of air from the other side threw the fire prince back to the side from where he came.

"That was General Iroh!" A young girl scolded.

"Sorry!" A younger boy called out.

The portal closed and you were in the spirit world. A boy and a girl who could air bend were fighting a water bender who held a sword of ice and a sword of prism light. The young air benders must be trying to stop the attack from the spirit side, preventing the light sword from being used to dispatch more members of the Black Lotus.

Your water bender ally easily called the sword away from the woman's hand, the element responding to him more readily than her. The earth bender who had held you hostage was shouting at her that they had to retreat. Another man, also an earth bender, perhaps related to the first arrived on the scene in time to hear the warning and add bigger news. "The Avatar discovered our base!"

The water that had previously answered to the female Black Lotus now wrapped around her in a ring of ice. She dropped the prism sword, kicking it toward the earth bender men. The young air benders tried to intercept the device while the two water benders fought for control of their element. The new arrival stopped him with a wall of stone that blocked their air currents and the prism sword reached him.

"Ikky! Milo!" The Avatar came running over as the earth benders ripped open another portal.

You wanted to do something to help and in the rush of the moment you jumped in after the two men. Your allied water bender jumped in after you, followed by the two young air benders who were trying to confiscate the prism sword. The Avatar was too far to reach the portal on time before it closed, but the female Black Lotus left behind was as good as captured with the Avatar on the scene.

You found yourself at a desert landscape. You were back from the Spirit World, but you weren't sure where you landed. The earth bender who had held you hostage before had two bleeding wounds, but he still refused to give the other man the credit for exterminating you. He levitated the sand, focusing the particles until they formed a boulder. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have the strength to keep the boulder up and it fell, crushing him. You yelled and jump back as you saw blood come from under the large rock.

The other man, who was also an earth bender, remained unfazed and lifted up the boulder that had killed his comrade to throw it. The two young air benders, whom the Avatar had called Ikki and Milo, simultaneously shot gusts of air at his feet to make him lose his footing. He did throw the boulder as he fell, but it didn't hit anyone.

You looked at the water bender, he was looking in every direction with unease and that worried you. You tried to shoot a fire ball at the enemy earth bender to help the air bending kids, but your fire manifested in short range. You forced yourself to focus and just as the air benders were entrapped by pillars of sand and another had started to form under your feet, you managed to hit the enemy with a fireball square in the chest. He yelled and you cringed, your hands trembling from the impression of shooting a fire ball.

The earth bender retreated, using the prism sword to open another portal. Ikki reacted and knocked the device out of his hand, though the portal had already been made. "Destroy it!" She yelled.

You realized Ikki was talking to you and reacted automatically to shot another fire ball, this time aimed at the prism sword. With his portal making machine going up in flames, the enemy earth bender jumped into the open portal just before it closed and left you and your three allies stranded in the desert.

You let out a breath and tried to calm yourself. Your heart was racing and you were trying not to look at the crushed remains nearby. You walked over to the water bender who had followed you here, who was breathing heavily.

"It's too hot!" Milo declared at the top of his lungs and began to pull down the top of his glider uniform. "You okay, man?" He addressed the uneasy water bender. "Here, this should help!" Without pausing to think about his actions any further, he pulled off the water bender's shirt to reveal a very obviously male torso. Ikki scolded Milo for his rudeness and he defended himself by saying, "the guy was choking! Actually he still kind of is."

By this point you knew who this water bender was, but that didn't make the facts any less confusing. "Desna... Did you travel with me?" You felt your voice raise in volume and become accusing, but didn't stop it. "Was it you all along? Why didn't you say anything?"

Ikki's hand on your shoulder made you go quiet. "I don't know what this is about, but now's not the time to yell at him."

"Right..." You agreed. You looked at Desna, at how out of place and stressed he seemed to be. Something was really bothering him and it was more than the obvious situation.

"A town!" Milo announced, pointing to a collection of small structures in the distance. You had a lot of walking to do and would no doubt get a lot of sunburn.

"Desna," he focused on you and you reached your hand out to him. "You can explain later, let's go."

Desna took your hand and apparently noticed for the first time that he wasn't wearing a shirt. He had been too focused on his panic to notice before, he also noticed that you called him by his name. He tried hard to stay in focus, to regain his usual calm and got at least some of it back, though he was still uncomfortable with his surroundings.

The four of you walked mostly in silence, save for Milo, who felt compelled to comment on everything, even when there wasn't much to comment on. Upon reaching the town in the distance, you went into an inn to inquire about ways of long distant communication. This was a small town in the middle of nowhere, so telephones were not common. You did hear about the mayor owning some kind of long distance radio that could communicate with another town towards the west, as you had landed on the eastern side of the earth continent. Then maybe the message could be passed on from there.

Ikki offered to go talk to the mayor, dragging his brother along, which left you and Desna to go upstairs to an inn room to try to sort out all the confusion.

To be Continued

Make a Man Out of You

Chapter 21: Insecurities

You quietly made your way into the desert inn room in the middle of no where. Desna walked to the bathroom as if an invisible force was calling him, and turn on the sink. With a ball of water floating in his hand, he seemed to feel much better. "Are you thirsty?" He finally broke the silence.

"Yeah..." you admitted. The water floated towards you and glowed, then remained still. It looked so very clear, clearer than what you'd imagine the tap water from a place in the middle of nowhere to look. You drank it in mid air and felt refreshed.

Desna had some water as well, then took a moment to look you over, which made you shift selfconsciously. "I will heal you," he got more water and began to heal your sunburn. The desert sun was brutal and it didn't take long for it to affect you. The healing felt good and you closed your eyes, momentarily losing touch with reality. Then your eyes shot open when you felt Desna's hand on your back. "I cannot heal it," he admitted. "I tried before, but was unable to."

You bit your lip and tried to stay calm, indifferent. He tried before, what did that even mean? If he was the healer out of the twins, then was he the one who healed you when you first arrived at the North Pole? "You've seen it..." You concluded.

"Someone tried to kill you... a long time ago," Desna's words made little sense to you. There was the Black Lotus and Kalok, but those events didn't feel like they happened a long time ago.

"What do you mean?" You began to turn around, but Desna's hand on your back stopped you.

He reached under your shirt, lifting it to just under your chest and gently touched an area on the left, on the back of where your heart was. "Blades of ice, this one went in, the others lost control." He traced the two lines from your right shoulder down and diagonally from left to right across your mid to lower back. "I can tell it was ice because the drops of water were boiling when they melted."

You've seen your own back in a mirror before and you hated it. The cuts, the texture, the little spots of darker red all over the pale red. This wasn't a little scar, it was big and obvious and it made you uneasy. Combining that with your embarrassing fear of your own element didn't do wonders for your self esteem. You had two things that you wanted to hide, things that sooner or later would become known, especially in a relationship. One problem was physical and the other was not, so there was no escape, you didn't think you had true beauty, not outside and not inside. You were just an ugly coward.

"Does it hurt that much?" Desna's voice woke you from your thoughts.

"No..." You were surprised at how unsteady your voice came out. You didn't realize tears had already escaped you. "It doesn't hurt." You pulled your shirt down. "Aren't you totally grossed out?" You asked before you could stop yourself. You turned in Desna's direction, but looked only at your feet. "If not by my appearance, then you must be disgusted by my fear of fire, or both. I'm an ugly coward."

Suddenly, Desna hugged you, "neither is true."

You couldn't even find a way to describe how you felt. Relieved, happy and stubborn. Even if you were a commoner and he was a prince, you refused to let him go, there and then you decided that against all odds, you wouldn't let him go.

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You weren't sure for how long you stood there, hugging Desna in silence, but the two of you had eventually sat down close together and talked. "Then you do not remember?"

"Not really..." You replied unsure. 'I'm so sorry...' There it was again, that voice in your memories. It was a man, but who was he? Why was he apologizing to you? You felt bad for him, like he shouldn't be apologizing. He shouldn't be falling apart over you, he had to stay strong to protect everyone else. You had to let him know you were alright...

"Bits of this one memory sometimes come up and now that I think about it, it might be related. I was young and maybe I was kind of traumatized, so it's all faded..." You admitted. "I need to learn to be brave..."

"You already are," Desna held you close. He had one arm around your shoulder and held a floating ball of water in his other hand. "You even pursued the Black Lotus to the desert where I was unable to do anything. I apologize for my incompetence... I lost my composure being away from my element. Perhaps I am the one who still needs to overcome the past."

"Not at all," you immediately argued. "You were very helpful against the Black Lotus. I would have been killed without a second thought if not for you." You blushed, remembering what Valrick said about Desna. You assumed the Black Lotus overestimated the depth of his feelings, but Valrick too? "I'm sorry... I feel really bad about not seeing who you were, and... embarrassed too... I was upset that you didn't tell me, but I did worse by not noticing."

"Are you angry at me?" Desna inquired. You were getting used to reading even the slightest fluctuations of emotion in his voice, which others may not perceive so easily. He was worried about upsetting you.

"No, I'm not angry... Are you?" You asked, worried that he thought less of you for being so clueless.

"You tried your best to be kind to my sister, I am very grateful." Ironically, it seemed that the confusion had worked in your favor. The twins were very close, so Desna saw an act of kindness for his sister as also being an act of kindness for himself.

"That's good to hear," you rested your head on his shoulder. "Desna... What did you mean when you mentioned overcoming the past?" Desna was silent and for a moment you thought you pried too much. "I'm sorry, I want to know, but I don't want to bother you about it. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to..."

Fortunately Desna didn't seem upset at you, it was just an unpleasant memory. "I want to tell you," he finally decided. "Because I want you to tell me everything too. This is something that only my sister knows, and you..." He paused, unable to find how to explain it, until he finally settled for saying, "you have the right to know... If you are to be my girlfriend."

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Chapter 22: Revelations

You listened to Desna tell you about his past, about an event of which Eska was the only other living witness until now. "When I started water bending, I found it to be difficult. Unalaq thought that if my life depended on it, I would have to learn. I do not know if I was actually in real danger, but I remember the thirst. I was locked away in a cave, I could see ice and snow at the entrance, but I could not reach it, very much less change it to water. Eska snuck in to give me water, but it was very difficult for her to do so. I eventually did learn to water bend, but the memories make me uneasy and I find it difficult to relax when I'm away from my element."

That must be why he liked sleeping in the tub. It wasn't a water bender thing, it was a Desna thing. "That was terrible of Unalaq to do that to you."

"Eska was the only one I could count on for a long time, but that was enough. We tried to protect mother, although we were not always successful. Eska was always a natural at combat water bending. She taught me how to glide on the surface of water without sinking and many other things. She also learned to blood bend for me," Desna revealed.

"How... Did that happen?" You had kept your promise and not told anyone about Eska's blood bending, but how she learned was a curiosity that stayed in the back of your mind.

"I was sparring with Unalaq and my performance was lacking. He struck me down and I could not get up. Eska tried to stop him, we were away from town, away from everyone. Unalaq cast her aside, then I started yelling at him to stop him from hurting her. He turned his attention back to me and attacked me. I was in pain and could not move, then I felt my body move on its own. Eska was not experienced, so it was not gentle blood bending, but I was already in pain, so I tried to stay still and not resist. She somehow took control of my bending, I have never heard of that being done through blood bending and Eska has told me that my bending is the only she senses she can control other than her own. She made me fight back until Unalaq was satisfied with how strong I had become," Desna had his eyes closed, his head leaning against yours.

You were amazed at how peaceful he looked despite the events he was retelling, which had obviously affected him.

"I wanted to be like Eska and for the longest time I was happy being her shadow. Then after we went on that trip, when we were at the Fire Nation, she told me to make my own identity. It was disconcerting..." He admitted.

"I think Eska is right," you tried to encourage him. "Everyone should have their own identity. You'll still be her brother and I'm sure the two of you will still be close, you won't lose anything, but you'll gain something good."

"Something good..." He looked to be lost in thought.

"Yeah, and I'll be there too," you smiled. He slowly drew closer and your heart raced, he was going to kiss you...

Then the door suddenly opened and Milo strolled into the inn room, followed by Ikki. "Milo, I told you to knock!"

"Why do I have to knock? It's not like they're up here kissing..." Milo paused and gave you and Desna a suspicious look. "Were you?" Neither of you replied, but Desna's poker face was infinitely better than yours.

Thankfully, Ikki interrupted the akward moment with a narrative about how the visit to the mayor went. In summary, the message had been relayed and someone should be here for the group soon. She then proceeded to drag Milo out of the room, announcing that they would be in the room down the hall if they were needed. Milo protested about wanting to play cards with everyone and was dragged off while offering different games to play. "Go fish? Crazy eights? Or how about..."

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Later that night, Desna was sitting near the window, looking out with unrest. There was a draught and the water was out, which was apparently not that much of a rare occurrence in the desert town. What little water was available had been used for drinking and there was nothing left for Desna to hold to relax.

You didn't get your kiss. The mood was interrupted after Milo burst in and you felt your face remained bright red until well after the air benders left. There was the feeling in the air that the little boy would get bored, escape from his sister and burst into the room again. Locking it might send the wrong message. "We should get some rest."

"Sleep, I am not tired," Desna replied.

"It's been a long day," you joined him by the window. "We should try to be well rested for tomorrow." You felt his head on your shoulder and blushed, but took it to mean it was ok to hug him. Then you realized how still he was. "Desna?"

"Hmmm..." He blinked. "Was I asleep just now?"

"I think you were," you laughed. "I knew you had to be tired."

"Can I sleep next to you?" He asked with as much calm as it would take to ask the time.

Your face turned scarlet even if you had not misinterpreted the question. He was only asking to sleep next to you, nothing more, but it was still a lot more closeness than you were used to.

"Would that make you feel uncomfortable?" Desna inquired softly, waking you from your thoughts. He gently touched your face, you knew the rosiness was obvious.

"No! I mean... I don't mind... I, um... Can we go now?" You finally asked to stop yourself from continuing to trip over your words.

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The next morning you woke up in Desna's arms. You noticed he was awake, but had remained very still. You really didn't want to get up, and for a while you didn't. You just lay there comfortably until without warning the door was opened.

Rather than finding Milo at the door, he and Ikki were no where to be seen. Instead, Eska stood there, her eyes slightly wider than usual. Tahno was near by, looking over her shoulder at the scene in the inn room. "Way to go, Desna!" Tahno congratulated. Eska silenced him with an elbow to the stomach and closed the door.

You scrambled out of bed in shock and bolted out the door in pursuit of Eska and Tahno. You already had the cliche phrase 'it's not what it looks like,' on your lips, but you didn't get to say it.

Eska stopped at the end of the hall and turned around when she heard you rush out of the room. You immediately fell silent at the sight of her piercing gaze and her words made you forget how to speak altogether. "You shall marry my brother."

Tahno whistled and hurried to keep pace with Eska as she headed downstairs. You stood there with your mouth open and that's how Desna found you. "Are you alright?" He asked.

You nodded and forced your voice to work. "Yeah... Eska just gave me... Some advice..." To say it was advice was stretching it. It sounded more so like an order.

"I do not know what she might have advised, but whatever it may be, I am sure it is for the best," Desna smiled.

It turned out an airship had come for the group with Eska and Tahno on it. Ikki and Milo were already abord. After you and Desna boarded, the airship took off for Republic City.

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Chapter 23: Full Circle

During the airship ride to Republic City, Tahno went on and on about an encounter he and Eska had with the Black Lotus while transporting materials to the fire palace by land. Tahno described Eska's technique in detail, throwing in several compliments that went without any reaction or acknowledgement from the princess. She apparently made water from an underground river burst out of the ground and it soon rained blades of ice that surrounded her opponents in a variety of poses, all of which would result in injuries if they moved.

Though the Black Lotus attackers did have water benders in their ranks, they're bending was rendered useless, as all the water in the area immediately fell under Eska's control and answered to no other, not even to Tahno. He could feel the water and grasp it with the invisible hands of bending, but it was like someone who was not an earth bender trying to move a solid wall.

After the airship landed in Republic City, the group went to their newly established based near the spirit gate. Valrick had been moved there, in hopes that he could further his research faster being closer to the gates and having access to more spirit vines. You weren't expecting any attacks so soon, but everyone was still on the alert. Even so, the Wolfbats still managed to joke about how Tahno was trying so hard to get Eska's attention despite being the one surrounded by attention before.

The probending team had lost count of how many times Tahno recounted the moment when Eska created a scythe of ice and threatened to decapitate the most troublesome of the Black Lotus group that had attacked them. Thankfully, the surrender did occur, though Tahno was still impressed by the icy angel that everyone else present at the time was secretly calling the grim reaper.

Other than laughing about how karma was coming back to bite Tahno for all the fans that fruitlessly fought for his attention, the Wolfbats also wished him luck. Their hope for his success came not only from their friendship and unity as a team, which solidified after the whole Amon incident, but also because if Tahno ended up dating the reaper, no one would dare to go near him and they would get all the fangirls to themselves.

That evening, you decided to give the twins some sibling time and take a breather from everything that had happened, though you still wouldn't lower your guard. Walking through the base, you found Zuko, who seemed to be resting from the chaos as well. You had heard he had a meeting with the president of Republic City, who was not too fond of Valrick, the most wanted man by the Black Lotus, being at Republic City at the moment. Since Zuko and Aang established the city in the first place, as there was no time to waste, he was the fastest way to convince the president to allow Valrick's research to continue in the city.

Falling into your old habits as a maid at the fire palace, you greeted Zuko with a polite, "good evening, Lord Zuko." Then automatically asked, "is there anything you need?"

"A way to make Valrick's machine work would be nice, but that's something that will take time," he breathed. With the prism sword technology already in existence, simply taking down the Black Lotus wouldn't be enough in the long run, but sending too many people to storm the Spirit World all at once would do more harm than good. "You don't need to get me anything though, you have a different job now." He smiled and you realized you were playing the role of maid without noticing.

You laughed as the realization hit you. "I'm still getting used to being a diplomat I guess... I'm still a diplomat right?"

"You are if you wish to continue on the job," Zuko replied. "Do you?"

"Yes!" You answered immediately. "I mean, yes Lord Zuko, it would be an honor!" You meant it, but your curiosity still got to you. "I was just wondering why I was given this opportunity." It was very sudden, you were a maid for some time, then out of no where, you were a diplomat. It wasn't a one time mission as you had thought, you could continue in your position, which made its origin all the more puzzling.

"I recommended you," Zuko revealed. "After all that happened, when I saw you again you were happy, friendly and cheerful. Eska had not taken to the previous diplomats very well, so I thought it would be good to send her someone whom she could befriend, then no doubt her brother would follow. Izumi agreed as well, she agreed that it looked like you were still loyal, courageous and kind, as before."

There was something that caught your attention about his explanation. "Thank you for the recommendation and the compliments," which you weren't sure you entirely deserved. "But what do you mean before? I had not met you or Firelord Izumi until I started to work as a maid."

Zuko looked confused, "you don't remember? I wanted to apologize again when you were old enough to understand..."

"Apologize?" That voice in your memories, it was his voice. "The blades of ice..." You gasped.

"Yes..." Zuko nodded, lowering his head at the bitter memory. "Please forgive me for failing you that day. I was not only the Firelord, but also your instructor at the time, I should have kept you safe, but instead I harmed you."

A flood of repressed memories came over you. Firelord Zuko was giving fire bending lessons as a way to connect with his people and also to give young Iroh the opportunity to be around other children. You were there, at the fire palace courtyard with a group of children. There was an attack, a water bender who couldn't let go of the past tried to kill the young prince. You got in the way, and the Firelord... You woke from your thoughts, "Lord Zuko, stop, you don't need to apologize. You saved my life, if you haven't melted the blades of ice, I would be dead."

You could remember now, the screams of frightened children. The Firelord was so angry and frustrated that an innocent had been hurt that when he fought against your attacker, his fire turned blue from its high temperature. The blue flames were fascinating, your mind clung to their beauty amidst your pain. Later, he kept apologizing at the hospital, but you couldn't allow that, he was the Firelord, he had to take care of everyone. 'Let's just forget about it...' You pleaded, he didn't forget, but for a time you did.

Your family didn't let you go back to the fire bending lessons. You didn't know if they had even continued, moved to a more secure area with guards, or if the last you attended really was the last royal lesson open to the children of the Fire Nation. Either way, you didn't want anything to do with fire. With your memories becoming blurry, you wondered if the scars were all due to your own clumsiness and lack of control. It had to be, that was why you feared fire, that was also why you thought you loved the color blue, because it represented the water that could put out the fire.

Now you knew the truth, the flames had hurt, but they had also saved your life. It was the blue fire that you saw that day which made you take a liking to the color. You felt relieved somehow. It wasn't your own lack of control that was a problem. Your fire would obey you if you chose to let it out. "Thanks for telling me this." You ignited a small flame, letting it float above your palm. It would take time to feel completely comfortable, but you could do it. "I'll practice my fire bending and become really good at it, then maybe one day I'll be able to make blue fire too."

"Blue fire..." Zuko voiced quietly, as if he was being reminded of something, or someone... "It doesn't matter what element you bend, as long as you do it for something you believe in, you'll be strong. I could explain a few techniques if you want..."

You smiled widely, this was a great opportunity to learn from a master. "That would be great! Thank you Lord Zuko."

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Chapter 24: Zero Hour

You had never before seen someone look so exhausted and happy at the same time. "It works! It works!" Valrick stumbled around with the great announcement. He was a living zombie clinging to the meager remains of a caffeine high that was stretched too thin. "There wasn't enough energy on this side to keep the power source spirit vine alive with the effort of the machine. It needed to be changed constantly and that just wasn't practical, ha ha ha, not practical." He laughed as if someone had told a very funny joke that only he understood.

Valrick looked like a raccoon with how dark the sleepless rings around his eyes had become. "But out there in the Spirit World," he began to sing at random, "out there in the Spirit World! The vines could be recharged! The air around them powered them! Powered them!" With a broken high note, Valrick fainted. He was carried off to rest at last and the world was left in someone else's hands.

The fight wasn't over. The machines would have to be installed in key locations of the Spirit World and guarded from the Black Lotus. The Avatar has managed to talk the spirits into allowing the machines to stay and helping defend them. From what you heard, she had some help from Iroh, as in Zuko's uncle, who resides in the Spirit World. A few people were getting ready to patrol the Spirit World and capture the remaining members of the Black Lotus.

The spirits had been warned, though they were still uneasy about more people crossing over. Tours generally focused on the vines and area near the gateway, but rarely ventured in. If they did go in, they retreated soon enough and never went out of sight of the gate.

While Valrick rested along with Zhu Li, his team was setting things up for the musical color mover. After the president was assured that Valrick was not a liability, as the Black Lotus situation would soon be put to an end, the president no longer minded if he stayed. Perhaps it was just easier to get the proper equipment in Republic City after all.

The Wolfbats seemed confident about the plan's success. They occupied themselves arguing with Ginger about screen time. You didn't know what they said to her, but she was throwing a hissy fit, claiming that she did not want a costar. Well, there goes Desna's role. Not that you minded, since you'd rather not have him kiss her, even if it was a pretend kiss for the mover. How did a pretend kiss even work?

Tahno was, surprisingly, not competing for screen time. You heard him brag about being the poster boy of a prestigious brand of hair gel produced by Valrick Industries, but he deflated at Eska's indifference. It's like he was invisible to her. He pouted at Desna, who shrugged as if claiming he couldn't be of assistance. You approached the twins as Tahno left in frustration, yet somehow, you knew he was still refusing to accept defeat.

"Good morning, Eska and Desna!" You greeted. Their 'good morning' was in absolutely perfect sync. Yet other than the natural family resemblance, they each appeared distinct. The fact that Desna wasn't wearing the same outfit as his sister was there, but they just looked different. Their hair, their faces, their bodies... and you tried not to think of the incident with Milo and the shirt at the desert, fearing that you'd get distracted and forget what you meant to ask.

"Um... So... I was wondering..." You began, unsure. "About Tahno, I don't mean to be nosy, but are you mad at him, Eska?"

"I am not angry at Tahno, he amuses me," Eska replied. "Your strategy is very effective."

"My strategy?" You asked in confusion.

"Ignore a man and he shall pursue you relentlessly," Eska smiled with a mix of confidence and sadism, abundant sadism. "I shall have a wedding collar around his neck before he knows it. I thank you for your fine example."

You weren't sure how to respond to that. Wasn't the girl supposed to get a necklace in Water Tribe weddings? Eska seemed like the kind of girl who would take charge of a relationship and there was nothing wrong with that. But surely there was something more fitting than a collar to be the male equivalent of a betrothal necklace. You felt compelled to say something in reply, so you settled for a simple, "you're welcome," and shifted uncomfortably looking at your feet.

"Very soon we shall journey to the Spirit World. The Black Lotus is expected to attack the machines during the installation, as travel will be difficult for them after they are fully functional." Desna reminded.

"Right, I already talked about it with Lord Zuko and I'm being allowed to go too," you announced. You wonder if Desna was okay with Eska's earlier comment. Apparently, he was, because he took it very naturally. Then again, he would take anything his sister said as natural. You wondered if part of him was expecting you to put a marriage collar around his neck, then you tried not to think about it too much because it was... distracting... and tempting.

"I see, then you shall accompany us..." He seemed to accept that rather well.

"Are you okay with that?" You curiously inquired.

"Yes, although I wish for you to be safe and protected, I realized that it was ignorant of me to assume you would be comfortable with that," Desna explained. You smiled, thinking about how easily you won the argument, though the next thing he said was rather peculiar. "My sister has informed me that young women have certain physical necessities that need to be tended to," you refused to let your mind theorize about what he meant. "Chief among them is..." Desna continued, "the necessity to vent excess energy by partaking in acts of violence, such as with sparing or real combat."

That was another thing that you weren't sure how to respond to, but none the less you appreciated the sentiment. It was sweet in own peculiar way that he thought of your apparent necessities. "Thank you for being so considerate," you finally replied.

"Since we are not going to part ways, it would be inappropriate to request a farewell kiss and ask you to wait for my return," Desna mused aloud.

You blushed, what about a mutual good luck kiss? You'd never kissed him, really kissed him. There was the incident with the water orchestrated by Malina, but that was an accident, a precious accident with purposeful causality, but still an accident from Desna's perspective. You were about to swallow your fear and pitch the idea of a mutual good luck kiss, but you were sadly interrupted. The group was called to attention and the conversation ended to give way to the strategic review.

There was nothing overly complicated about the plan. You would be divided into pairs of opposing bending elements and given an area to scout. If you encountered the enemy, you were to alert your comrades via a flare, a firework-like shot invented by, who else, Valrick. Although you heard the weapon that shot the little pieces of metal at invisible speed was actually a Zhu Li original.

You were glad to be on Desna's team. Eska was with prince Iroh, since she was a water bender and he was a fire bender. Tahno was partnered with a high ranking detective called Mako, rumored to have served as the inspiration for several well known detective novels. The probender didn't seem too happy with the arrangements, if looks could kill, Tahno would be arrested for murder and the Fire Nation would need a new heir to the throne.

To be Continued

Make a Man Out of You

Chapter 25: The Final Battle Part 1

The Black Lotus, being so fond of anarchy as they were, didn't have a formal leader, all leads to find one with the intention of ending the problem from the top turned out to be useless. Although they had some who tended to call the shots more often than others, and they did share common goals. It was true that several amazing inventions have come out of war, as humans were most creative when their lives depended on it, necessity is the mother of invention, some would say. Yet to say that war was good and even necessary for human potential, it was going a bit too far, the price would be too great, even if advancements were achieved.

The teams of two benders with opposite elements were spread throughout the Spirit World in a pattern designed to cover a vast amount of land, with little chance for the Black Lotus to slip by unnoticed. You and Desna were sticking to your assigned route when he suddenly stopped and looked around in alarm. "We are being watched," he cautioned. You went on the alert as well, but weren't sure of where the enemy was hiding. After a moment, Desna started walking again. "It seems to be an angry spirit," he explained. You let out a breath of relief and continued walking. At least the spirits had more of a reason to be angry at the Black Lotus than the Avatar's allies.

As you made it out of the forested area and into a clearing, Desna looked back. It appeared that the creature preferred to get around without being seen. He occasionally looked towards the foliage, which silently indicated that the creature was nearby. The two of you eventually reached the first check point in your patrol. In the center of the clearing, Asami Sato, the president of Future Industries, was working alongside a few engineers to set up one of Valrick's machines. You let them know you haven't found any Black Lotus members nearby, and Desna mentioned the spirit, just in case, though the creature had chosen to avoid a confrontation, at least so far.

The mission went on, leading you and Desna to once again enter a forested area. It was creepily quiet, with all the spirits having gone into hiding. Occasionally, you'd see a small spirit or two peeking out from under the bushes or hallow tree trunks, but they quickly hid the second you looked in their direction. Though you hardly got a good look, some of them looked pretty cute, like small, brightly colored animals. When you thought about spirits, you imagined something creepier. The forest wasn't exactly a friendly looking place with its tense atmosphere and abnormal quietude, but you were with Desna and that reassured you.

You took his hand and he gently squeezed your hand in response, though his alertness and focus never faltered. He had come prepared with water he could use to attack in case that for whatever reason he had to fight in an area that didn't have available water, though it was an unlikely scenario. The route the two of were to follow led towards a river, which you started to hear as you approached it. The sound stood out because everything else was so quiet, but when you reached the river, it was not what you expected.

The river flowed wildly, angrily, its waters were a dark red, instead of the clear waters you were expecting to find. "This thing... It's alive!" Desna managed to warn before the river itself went on the attack. You had to let him go as a wave of unpleasant sticky dark red liquid slammed down between the two of you. Desna was clearly trying to manipulate the river, but despite being made of liquid, the will of the creature was too strong. He tried a different tactic, using his water to draw circles in the air around the spirit to try to calm it. Unfortunately, the technique only made the creature angrier.

"Spirit!" You called out, "why are you attacking us? We're not with the Black Lotus, we're not the ones endangering your world. We're trying to help you!"

The river of blood, as you had realized by the horrid smell that's what it was, attacked you. You were swept out of the way by Desna, who had created a path of ice that he moved on to gain the speed needed to save you just on time. Though the two of you managed to dodge that attack, not a second had passed before another came, this time in the form of fire.

You and Desna moved out of the way, but couldn't get much further before a wall of stone emerged from the ground and finally a gust of air pushed you towards the bloody monster. The creature formed a whirlpool as if to swallow the two of you. Desna tried to block it with ice, but the monster absorbed it into itself with little effect. You threw a fire ball at the air bender, a very petite woman who floated in a spinning ball of air, the tip of one foot balanced on the ball, legs crossed. She managed to deflect the fire, but the distraction was enough for the wind to stop pushing you towards the deadly whirlpool.

Desna quickly clicked over the wall, pulling you along and the two of you spotted the earth bender, an impossibly large man that was surely over seven feet tall. Muscle and body hair covered him from head to toe, making you think that maybe he was to blame for those articles in the newspaper about some creature they called bigfoot. The man began to throw a rapid fire of rocks, but you couldn't turn back, you and Desna dropped from the wall, just as the bloody whirlpool destroyed it and tried to dodge the rocks, though one of them hit Desna on the shoulder as he tried to shield you from it.

Angered, you shot a few fireballs back at the man, only to have more fire be thrown in your direction. You saw the fire bender behind the large man, he was a young boy, barely a teenager, and you wondered how someone so young could glare so maliciously.

The petite woman laughed in a high pitched mocking voice, floating on her ball of air, she was so light that using the air current to move around was very easy for her. "You're surrounded and one of you can't even use his element!"

The fire bender boy scuffed. "Weaklings!" Electricity crackled from his finger tips and it was easy to see what was coming, but not easy to stop. He lifted his right hand, index and middle fingers pointing right at you. In a split second Desna was in front of you. You didn't know how to redirect lightning, but Zuko had taught you a safer alternative, though you were unable to master it during training. You wouldn't be able to use his lightning against him and this technique would drain your energy, but it was the only thing you could do.

You extended your hand over Desna's shoulder at the last second, having no time to position yourself in front of him. You shot out your own lightning with everything you had, trying to make it stronger than the boy's. You couldn't direct it back at the source of the opposition's lightning, because the push would be too strong, the trick to it was directing it elsewhere and hoping that the enemy lightning was attracted by your own electrical current, if it was strong enough, and directed away. You managed to do it, but the burst of electricity left you panting for breath. You didn't even think you could produce lightning that was so strong, but you wouldn't let Desna get killed. He had placed himself in front of you without a moment of doubt, protecting you with his very life, but you had promised yourself you wouldn't lose him, not to your past insecurities and not to the Black Lotus.

"What?" The fire bender boy yelled.

"Cocky brat," the earth bender chuckled, amused by his own teammate's failure to kill you.

"Oh shut up!" The boy growled. "She can't keep up with me, I'm the better fire bender and she's the only one we need to worry about. Her boyfriend's useless now, water benders are nothing. Taking away what little power they have is as easy as taking away their water," he laughed. "No one can take this away from me." A fire ball began to form in the boy's hand, growing larger faster than you thought was possible, it was huge. Yet suddenly, the bloody river sprang forward and flew over the two of you, entrapping the boy and drowning him in a gruesome death.

You were still in shocked horror when the air bender woman's shrill laughter interrupted your astonishment and brought you back to the terrible reality. "You never liked him much, did you, Kalok?"

You gasped, "Kalok?"

"Sort of," the evil woman smirked. "Toro over there broke him out of prison," she gestured towards the large man. "He was swallowed up by the river spirit when he tried to control it with his bending, but he was too stubborn to die. Instead the river turned bloody with Kalok's spirit. I'm not sure how conscious he is, but his hatred towards fire benders is still strong."

"Enough talk, Aria," the tall earth bender called Toro interrupted.

The air bender female, Aria, shrugged her shoulders, "fine, fine, let's finish this and destroy those troublesome machines." She prepared to launch a tornado, but stopped when a fireball emerged from the bloody river. How that was possible, you didn't know.

You and Desna managed to dodge it, but the new found power seemed to send Kalok over the edge as the bloody liquid started to trash about wildly. "What are you doing? Focus!" Toro yelled and tried to fence in Kalok to get him to calm down. The bloody river didn't stop trashing about until it expelled the soul of the fire bender boy, which drifted away, disappearing into a foggy area in the distance, where it seemed dangerously easy to get lost. It was the edge of the parameter you were supposed to follow, and you were cautioned not to go near that place where souls wandered helplessly lost.

"You hate fire benders that much?" Aria huffed, as Kalok calmed down and flowed over the walls, to stand in a pillar of liquid.

Kalok stood there for a few moments, while Toro shook his head. You were watching for an opening and were about to shoot a fireball, but Desna stopped you. You realized that if you used your fire, Aria would redirect it towards you in a fiery tornado, that's what she seemed to be hoping for. "The kid was a brat, but his power could have been useful," Toro shrugged. "Oh well, no use in-"

Without warning, Kalok devoured Toro in his bloody water, condemning him to the same gruesome fate as the fire bender boy. Toro was stronger though, and struggled against the currents. He partially emerged from the spinning currents a few times, making terrible noises of agony, but was unable to break free. Finally, the muscular man met his end.

Desna grabbed your hand and pulled you into a hasty retreat. Water was useless in this situation, as Kalok could take control of it and absorb it and his new form would not be easy to defeat. You needed reinforcements.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 26: The Final Battle Part 2

Aria had flown away on her air ball as soon as he realized that, though he hated fire benders, Kalok had no problems with absorbing the power of earth and air. The bloody water dashed towards her, snaking through the ground at amazing speed. She turned back from the foggy area, and Kalok was momentarily unable to turn towards her, as he was mesmerized by the echoes of agonized cries from the fog. He broke free a little later and continued to chase the petite air bender.

Aria had turned in the direction you and Desna had gone. You were moving away from them, but not back towards Asami, because you didn't want to endanger her, the engineers or the machinery. They had their own vital job to do stabilizing the Spirit World before the damage to it worsened and didn't have a second to spare dealing with the Black Lotus.

Aria threw gusts of wind in front of her to open at path and move forward on her air ball at full speed. She was moving at a much faster pace than you and Desna could travel on foot and soon was within sight behind you. Desna suddenly stopped, much to your confusion, and  pulled you close, holding your face against his chest.

"You humans are not welcome here!" A voice, whose owner you had not seen shouted with great rage and a woman's scream echoed. "Such a deliciously beautiful face..." the voice spoke. "What about her? She had a pretty face."

"You will not touch her," Desna stated. "Leave us be, Face Eater, unless you wish for your home to be consumed by the Black Lotus. You want us to get rid of them, don't you? That's why you didn't attack when you were following us before."

"Fine..." The face eater growled. The creature couldn't consume a face as long as it remained in expressionless neutrality, and the only person in the world with a poker face as good as Desna's was Eska. You were sure his face was safe, yours on the other hand, would have been an easy prey if not because of Desna keeping you safe. "I will leave you to deal with this." The Face Eater retreated.

Desna loosened his grip, "it's gone, but..." You dared to look up and regretted it. Kalok had caught up and was devouring the faceless Aria. It was a gruesome sight, her thin arms and legs flailing until they were broken like twigs, her mouthless face unable to scream.

Kalok stood before you and Desna and tower of blood reached out. It absorbed the moisture from the fauna all around and became larger. A tornado emerged from the creature and a rain of pebbles bruised and cut you. Desna tried his best to shield you, but you were still hurt. Though you were not deadly injured, you felt the pain and sting of the multitude of shallow wounds and bruises all over your body. Kalok was toying with you both, trying to make you suffer with a slow painful death.

Desna tried to retried some water from the surrounding fauna to heal you, but it was ripped away from him and absorbed by Kalok. "Don't worry about me," you stood up. "Let's just... do everything we can!" Lightning gathered in your hands as you shot a massive bolt towards Kalok. You didn't know where all this power was coming from, during your training with Zuko you learned to produce lightning, but could only make small bolts. Yet you just couldn't allow your lives to end here. Desna had been trying to protect you this whole time, even when his life was in danger. He had saved you in more ways than one. You were not going to die here, you were going to live a long and happy life with him.

Screams of terror filled the air as three souls floated out of the bloody river. One was of Toro and the other of Aria. Though her corpse's face was gone, her soul did have with a face in its ghostly translucent appearance, but that face only showed the pain of a rage that she could not let go of. Toro's expression was the same. Their souls were pulled away in the direction of the fog, as if the Spirit World itself was reclaiming it's defeated prisoners into their jail.

The third soul that emerged from the bloody river after the shock was not that of Kalok. This soul had no human form and floated about weakly. The ghostly silver liquid retreated from the dazed bloody river. It wasn't scary though, it looked like a friendly watery wisp. "Thank you for freeing me!" The wisp spoke in a gentle echo. "I was once a river who lived in peace in the Spirit World, but that man tried to use me as a weapon. He tried so hard that the struggle was too much as he died clinging to me. His soul took over my body as his human vessel expired and the blood of his crimes tainted it."

Kalok recovered and the bloody pillar shook. He realized that he couldn't use earth or air bending, then switched to his natural element, water. A multitude of blades of blood flew towards you and Desna, but Desna stepped forward and stopped them in mid air. "Now that the original spirit of the river's body is no longer your prisoner, you are much weaker."

Frustrated, Kalok spun around in a deadly whirlpool, surrounding you and threatening to swallow you both. Desna froze a platform in the middle of the spinning bloody water and worked his way outward. In a desperate attempt multiple currents rose up all around, reaching towards him, but they froze, inches away, trapped by the command of Desna's bending. For a moment you felt it was over, then the good water spirit shouted, "look out!"

You looked every which way, but couldn't see anything that would cause such alarm. "What is it?"

"Do you not see it?" The water spirit spoke with fright. "That terrible man's soul rode the energy current to the bending's source!" The water spirit floated away, disappearing into the distance before you could even ask what it meant.

Desna's hands wrapped around your throat, his face contorted in a terrible expression of malice. This was not Desna, this was Kalok. You wanted to scream at him to get out. How dare that filthy creature possess Desna's body? Desna was fighting, you could feel the pain and regret this was causing him. He would never hurt you, he had proven he would give his life for you. He had told you his past and you had told him yours after you managed to remember it. He had gotten to know you through peculiar and sometimes frustrating circumstances and  you've earned his trust and affection, and he had earned yours.

The struggled went on for several minutes until you felt yourself blacking out. As your eyes closed, there was the sound of a sickening crack and the pressure on your throat stopped. You gasped for air, your lungs desperate for more as your heart pounded. A terrible scream of pain echoed and Kalok's ghostly soul appeared in front of you, but it was pulled back into Desna's body.

Suddenly, you heard the water spirit again, "there they are!" But you couldn't look at the water spirit, you could only look at Desna with horror. His body was twisted at odd angles, his limbs and torso bend in ways that should be impossible.  

Kalok's soul was fighting to get out, but Desna was keeping it trapped in his broken body, keeping it away from you. "Run..." Desna gasped in pain. "Get.... away..."

There was no way you could do as he said, no way you could leave him. "Desna!" You called his name in desperation, unaware of anything else happening around you, unable to focus on anything but him.

"Hold on!" The water spirit had been left weakened after Kalok stole its river body and couldn't fight, so it had flown away to get help and made it back just in time. The one who had arrived to help was a beautiful lady with white hair, despite her eternally youthful face. She removed Kalok's soul from Desna's body and entrapped it in a silvery light that drained away what little remained of his power. "Be gone, terrible monster, into your eternal prison!" Kalok's soul became encased in an ice crystal and it sunk into the ground of the Spirit World.

The white haired lady examined Desna with worry. "He blood bent himself..." Desna had caused himself terrible painful injuries, refusing to let his body be used to kill you.

"Please, help him!" You cried. "You're a spirit, isn't there something you can do?"

The lady focused her healing energy and tried her hardest, gently moving Desna's limbs back into their proper angles as her energy flowed through him. "His wounds are too great!" The lady cried, "not even I can heal him, his heart is too damaged..." She paused and looked at you, then the tears that flowed down your face floated into her hand into a glowing ball of water. "Please let this work..." The lady used the tears as healing water, the liquid sunk into Desna's chest, absorbed into his heart.

You waited, unable to do much else other than cry and tell him over and over to please live. "you have to make it, please Desna, you have to live. I love you..."

The glow that surrounded Desna's body faded, and the spirit lady looked relieved. Desna's eyes opened and he slowly sat up. He was beyond exhausted, but he was alive, his wounds had been completely healed. "I love you too."

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 27: Forever

You hugged Desna and without thinking kissed him in joy and relief. He held you and kissed you back until you both needed to breathe. You realized that the water spirit and the lady were still there. "Thank you," you voiced sincerely. "Thank you so much!"

"I didn't do any of this alone," the lady smiled. "Kalok's soul was already weak when I arrived, he'd sooner cease to be than escape from Desna. You helped greatly with the healing (Name), your bond with my nephew is very strong."

"Nephew?" You stared at the lady in shock.

"Great aunt Yue..." Desna recognized her, though this was his first time truly meeting her in person.

"Yue... The moon?" Your jaw dropped. "Lady Moon!" You vowed.

Yue laughed, "you don't need to be so formal, we're practically family. You clearly love my nephew and he loves you, I can feel it."

You blushed and smiled but before you could find your words, more people arrived on the scene. Eska ran over, followed by Tahno, their respective fire bender partners were a few feet away, discussing something with a spirit that looked like a big panda bear. By the looks of it, the mission had been a success. The other teams must have captured the remaining members of the Black Lotus. There was the slight chance that someone might have escaped, but with spirits and spiritual adept humans on the lookout, sensing everything around for miles, it was unlikely that they could make a move without being swiftly captured.

"It pleases me to see that you are both safe," Eska voiced. "Great aunt Yue, I thank you for protecting my brother and his fiance." Your eyes widened in realization. Eska had given you the task to propose matrimony to her brother and with all that was going on you were yet to do so.

"I was only able to arrive when the battle was nearly over," Yue replied, "my little friend here let me to them." Though the twins were technically meeting Yue for the first time, they recognized her easily. Maybe they had dreamed about her, you heard spirits sometimes communicated with humans through dreams. "I am happy to see that you are safe as well."

"They saved me," the water spirit gratefully said. "I'm a lot smaller now than I used to be, but just wait for the rainy season and I'll be back to normal in no time."

Throughout the exchange, Tahno watched on in shock. "Are you alright, Tahno?" Yue asked. She seemed to know everyone's name. She was the moon, so she must have a good view of what went on in the world.

"I can't... I just... Can't take this anymore!" It looked like the probender finally had too much and snapped. "You're the best water bender I've ever seen, you've got more power in you that all the probenders put together." Tahno threw his hands in the air dramatically as he stared at Eska in frustration. "You're not afraid of anything, you're willing and capable of fighting anything, you're beautiful and deadly at the same time, nothing fazes you, nothing makes you lose your cool, you're a princess who's as serene as a goddess and now it turns out you really are related to our tribe's deity?!" Tahno shook his head, his trademark hairstyle bouncing around as he did. "How am I supposed to impress this goddess?!" He motioned towards Eska with his open arms in an overly dramatic gesture.

Without batting an eye, Eska walked right into Tahno's arms and kissed him. He was still in shock when they parted. "Great aunt Yue, will you perform our marriage ceremonies?" Eska pulled out a pair of rings from her pocket, she had said ceremonies, as in plural. "In Republic City, they use rings." She took Tahno's left hand and placed his wedding band on his ring finger.

"We're getting married?" Tahno finally found his voice.

"Yes," Eska replied nonchalantly.

"But I haven't been able to make you fangirl over me." Tahno pointed out, then cringed, mentally kicking himself for admitting it.

"You will have time to try," Eska grinned in a combination of mischief and deadliness, though judging by Tahno's expression he found it to be alluring. You decided this was the perfect time to tell your imagination to shut up, because you really didn't want to know what went on in their heads.

"Well, it certainly looks like love is in the air," Yue laughed. She looked at you and Desna. "I assume the other ceremony will be yours."

You were unable to find your voice and instead found a ring on your finger. "Eska said we could have our weddings together. She said I should wait for you to ask, but if you were shy about it then I should do it myself." Desna explained. "Will you marry me?" He finally inquired.

You could feel your face was a warm red. You weren't sure how, but you managed to force your voice to work and squeeze out a "yes!" and throw yourself into his arms where you were received with a kiss.

xoxox xox xoxox

The group went to the spirit gate at Republic City. Everyone was gathered there. The Wolfbats went over to Tahno, telling him about what had happened while he was away. "Ginger doesn't want a costar, we couldn't convince her to let either of us be her costar!" The fire bender complained.

"We did manage to get the Wolfbats some good screen time though," the earth bender added.

Valrick and Zhu Li could be seen buzzing about, getting everything ready to film the color mover musical. She had fortunately taken the time to properly rest, though Valrick seemed to be in another caffeine high. He'd likely go back to his rumored habit of sleeping until noon after the mover was done, but for the time being, he was bursting with so much creative energy, he couldn't stay still.

"Guys, I have news bigger than this mover," Tahno proudly informed his teammates. The two young men looked at their leader waiting for him to speak, ready to look enthusiastic, but not truly expecting the news to be bigger than something along the lines of hair gel that he claimed was nothing short of miraculous. "I'm engaged!" The Wolfbats' stared in open mouthed shock and Tahno grinned. "Yep, I finally found a woman who can truly stand at my side. She's beautiful, powerful, royal and even divine. Yes, that's right, Eska's the great niece of the moon goddess herself and she's tending to our ceremony right here and now. I always knew I was destined for greatness."

"Wow," the earth bending Woldbat breathed. "I knew you had a thing for tough girls who refuse to fangirl over you just because you're a famous probender, but I thought that titles bigger than yours scared you."

Tahno cringed and his eye twitched in discomfort. "Yeah," the fire bender Wolfbat added, "weren't you lamenting that you finally met a cute, ultra powerful, nearly impossible to impress girl you could seriously chase after and she had to be a princess?"

"You're not helping," Tahno growled.

"Do not fret, my little wolfbat cub, I had already known from the start that you were trying to impress me despite my position rather than because of it," Eska patted her fiance's hair, playing with the bouncy texture.

Tahno blinked and tried to remain composed. He gave Eska a seductive grin. "So... Are you impressed."

"No, but I am amused." Eska replied honestly.

Tahno sighed, "it's a start."

The fire bender Woldbat grinned and whispered to his earth bending comrade, who gave an eager laugh in response. "We'll get all the fangirls to ourselves now!"

Eska raised her hand and snapped her fingers. At the signal, Valrick's team of stylists stopped fussing over Ginger and dashed over. The next thing you knew, you were whisked away to get cleaned up, changed into a dress, get your hair and makeup done, and in record breaking time you were delivered back to the area next to the spirit gate, which had been cleaned and decorated.

Eska must have intended for the weddings to happen after the mission all along, even Malina had been brought to Republic City and seemed to recover the light in her eyes at the happy occasion. You heard during your speedy preparation that normally this type of ceremony was done by the light of the full moon, to ask the moon to bless the marriage. That rule was being bent a little in this case, since it was sunset and the moon would be showing up in spirit form.

You had no time to take it all in before you became captivated by the sight of your husband to be. He was all dressed up for the occasion and looked very handsome and happy as he took both your hands in his. He was sweet, protective, considerate and a handsome prince related to the mystical moon. He was like something right out of a fairytale that you could hardly believe was coming true.

The moon spirit, emerged from the spirit gate, giving the area an even more mystical fairytale aura. She began to speak in a soothing majestic voice. "As a river's waters flow together, so shall you be forever. Inseparable from each others' current of life, facing united both pain and delight. By the moon that shines at night in the sky, this you shall swear, with truth verify. That your love forever will last, no matter what may come to pass."

"Forever..." Desna said.

"Forever..." You replied, realizing this was the moon marriage ceremony's version of 'I do.'

You and Desna kissed, as did Eska and Tahno, among the cheers and applause of all those present. Yue faded away to take her proper place watching over the world from the night sky, as the sun disappeared in the horizon. A beautiful starry night with a happy full moon began along with the start of your new life. There was delicious food, music, dancing, cheer, joy and a happily ever after that you knew would last forever...

End

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Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."

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Spectra

Ro-Ange Olson: "Loved it and couldn't put it down. I really hope there is a sequel. Well written and the plot really moves forward."