❯ Make A Man Out Of You – Part 5 ( Chapter 5 )
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.
xoxox xox xoxox
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. »
xoxox xox xoxox
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… »
xoxox xox xoxox
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.
xoxox xox xoxox
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.
xoxox xox xoxox
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. »
xoxox xox xoxox
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
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