❯ Make A Man Out Of You – Part 2 ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

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

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Make A Man Out Of You – Part 1
Make A Man Out Of You – Part 3