Fanfic: Head Games|
Title: Head Games
Author: Dark Puck
Fandom: Avatar: The Last Airbender
Pairing/character: Xin Wan (OC); Ichiro, Yui, and Kouji (OCs); Liu (OC)
Warnings: Mindbending of children, creeptastic
Notes: Xin Wan, Liu, and most other Dai Li OCs belong to Bex and are used with her permission and assistance.
Summary: A refugee child in Ba Sing Se is found somewhere she shouldn't be by a Dai Li agent. This proves disastrous for her and her brothers, as they have a secret: they're all from the Fire Nation...
"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly;"'Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you may spy […]
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."
Yui and Kouji have been missing for five days, and Ichiro has been on the run for just as long. It's a hard game, staying ahead of the Dai Li without using his bending, but so far he's managed it well enough. Unfortunately, he knows that his time is running out. The only thing left is for him to leave the city—
But he's spent his entire life looking after Kouji and Yui. Well, mostly Kouji; Yui takes care of herself. He can't leave them to their fate here. He has to rescue them.
But he can't. He doesn't know where they are. If he escapes, he can come back without help and—
What help, you idiot? he yells at himself. You're alone! Wanted by the Fire Nation and enemy of the Earth Kingdom! There's nobody to help.
—the way is clear.
Quickly Ichiro slips across the street, settling into a restaurant so he can have some lunch. So long as he acts normal and keeps his emotions from influencing his firebending, nobody notices that anything is out of place.
He orders his lunch and has a seat, mentally going over the places he's already looked for the twins in as well as hiding places that have been discovered. Fortunately for him, Ba Sing Se is a huge city.
Unfortunately for him, the Dai Li know the city much better than he does. And as he discovered on his first day on the run, they too were used to travelling up as well as on the ground.
Annoyed, he takes a bite of his xiazi jiaomian* while considering his options, of which surrender is not one. By the time he's done, he's no better off than he was when he first came in here.
He's getting ready to rise when a man sits down across from him. There's nothing really remarkable about the man, save for the scarf covering the lower half of his face. Ichiro nods to him and stands— and just as quickly sits back down, ducking his head a little.
A Dai Li agent has just walked in, and Ichiro is relieved to note that he's not the only person who has ducked down — among others, his new tablemate has ducked as well. Ah— he must have been got by a firebender, Ichiro realises. Maybe a refugee, or a soldier during the Great Siege. Poor bastard.
The Dai Li is looking away. Quick as a flash, Ichiro slips off his hat and passes it to the older man. He can shield his eyes easily enough; the scarf is much more obvious.
The man glances up at Ichiro, who whispers, "Block sight of the scarf from the side." With a nod, his tablemat puts the hat on. The Dai Li's head is turning their way; Ichiro half-lids his eye and looks into his bowl, pretending to find the contents extremely interesting.
The other man, in the meantime, lifts a cup of tea to the scarf and tips his head as though taking a drink. After a last glance around, the Dai Li agent leaves; instantly the atmosphere relaxes as a number of breaths are released.
Ichiro's tablemate makes a hand-sign at him, one the firebender assumes is a thank-you. He grins at the older man and bows in reply.
The man smiles with just his eyes, then carefully works his scarf so he could drink his tea for real. Ichiro finds himself curious, and then assailed by a short wave of guilt — obviously his tablemate isn't permitted out in public often. Just as obviously he had been hurt by a firebender.
Oh, stop that, he tells himself crossly. You were eleven when the Siege was broken.
The man reaches inside his robe and removes a writing kit. He wets the inkstone, inks his brush, then writes on paper, 'Again, thank you.'
Ichiro smiles. "My pleasure," he says quietly.
'Most only try to avoid the Dai Li,' the man writes now.
"Seems wise to me," Ichiro replies. "I get the feeling anyone fighting them would be in for a nasty surprise."
His tablemate nods, and then manipulates his scarf again to drink some of his soup. Ichiro can't help but be fascinated by this, though he tries not to stare. You can't trust anyone in this city, he reminds himself.
The man is writing again; Ichiro looks down to read, 'War-child?'
"There is No War," the colonist replies. "Which is why I wear a hat, usually." His companion nods and touches his scarf, and now it's Ichiro's turn to ask. "Refugee?"
A headshake, then he writes 'Siege.'
Ichiro nods and sighs softly. "They're known for ruining lives," he says, and is proud — he's got the bitterness mostly under control.
The man tilts his head. 'Fire or Earth?' he asks, and Ichiro traces the stylised flame of the Fire Nation flag on the table with one finger.
A nod from his companion, and Ichiro rises to get himself another cup of tea. With the Dai Li nearby, it's best if he stays put for the moment. As he seats himself again, he notices that his tablemate has dipped some bread into his soup, holding it there until it's soggy. Weird, fire like that shouldn't have affected his teeth— but he doesn't talk. His throat. That would certainly do it.
He seats himself and bows slightly to the older man. "Call me Kouichi, by the way."
'Liu. A pleasure to meet you.'
* Pork and shrimp dumpling noodles
"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high.Well you rest upon my little bed?" said the spider to the fly. […]
"Oh no, no," said the little fly, "for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again who sleep upon your bed!"
Ichiro is too wary to tell Liu the entire truth of his situation — and, given the older man's scars, he doesn't think Liu would take well to the truth regardless. Instead, he implies that he's on his own, a refugee outcast by both sides (not entirely untrue) who was vastly unhappy to discover that there is No War in Ba Sing Se, and therefore his existence seems to be something of a problem.
He does admit to Liu that he hasn't been home in awhile, though he doesn't tell him the precise number. Liu touches his scarf, then writes, 'My existence is a bit of a problem as well. Fortunately, I have a place to stay, and some small income.'
Ichiro smiles wryly. "I used to. I think one of my neighbours got nervous about these," he gestures to his eyes, "and ratted me out."
The older man nods. 'I could give you a place to stay for a few days. If you want.'
Ichiro hesitates — he's getting damn tired of sleeping on roofs and out in the elements, but at the same time… can he really trust the older man? "I wouldn't want you to get in trouble on my behalf," he hedges.
Another touch to the scarf. 'I can take the risk on a few days.'
The boy bites his lip, considering. He has no reason to trust Liu. But on the other hand, the older man has no reason to like the Dai Li, clearly. And it isn't a permanent berth, but only a few days.
Finally, Ichiro nods. "All right."
They've finished their meal, so the two men pay and head out together, Ichiro with his eyes half-lidded to hide the gold. He lets Liu lead the way, but keeps an eye out for Dai Li agents. Liu seems to sense his apprehension, and so takes Ichiro in the direction of a theatre. The boy almost balks, then realises that it would be hard for him to be identified in the dark, and so agrees.
The play itself doesn't really make Ichiro any more comfortable: it is a tale of Avatar Kyoshi and her exploits against a rampaging Fire spirit. He can't help but feel admiration for the playwright, though — the spirit has many of the same characteristics of Firelord Ozai. Well done there, whoever you are.
Afterwards, Liu passes Ichiro a note. The boy glances around, then finds a shop that still has a light on. He moves over there and reads, 'There weren't any other shows in easy walking distance.'
Returning to Liu, he grins and says, "It's okay. I think I noticed some things a lot of folk wouldn't. I don't mind." He's lying, but he hopes Liu won't pick up on that. Liu nods, then leads Ichiro to his home.
On setting foot inside, the first thing Ichiro notices is that the entire place is made of stone. The hair on the back of his neck rises, and he almost, almost balks. Just because Liu has so far shown no signs of being an earthbender doesn't mean that he isn't. Ichiro, of all people, knows the truth of that statement.
Liu looks over his shoulder and tilts his head; Ichiro gives him a grin he hopes doesn't betray his nervousness and crosses the threshold. But he's on edge now, in a house that is potentially a trap. He probably is an earthbender, Ichiro realises. Every Dai Li whose gone after me has been, so to live in a stone house when you're living proof of the War and not be a bender is stupid.
This doesn't serve to comfort him any.
What does comfort him is the way Liu goes immediately to the cabinets, hovering in front of them in a way that can only be described as dithering. Ichiro half-smiles at that. "Need a hand with anything?" he asks. As long as he's mooching off the man's hospitality, he may as well be polite.
Liu scribbles quickly, 'I've hardly anything. I should have stopped at a market.'
"That's okay," Ichiro assures him. "I don't actually eat that much."
It's Kouji who eats the most.
He tries to hide the pain that thought brings him.
Fortunately, Liu is still focused on the cupboards, giving Ichiro time to compose himself. He then puts the young colonist to work, showing him where the dishes are and getting him to set the table for the two of them. For dinner he makes tea and eggdrop soup, and provides a special treat for their tea: cinnamon. Ichiro's mouth waters; even in New Sozin he only got cinnamon for special occasions. He could only imagine it was even more expensive in the Earth Kingdom proper than in a port colony.
The two of them enjoy a nice dinner, and then a chat afterwards. They don't speak of anything consequential or potentially damning; Ichiro is surprised to find that he doesn't even have to lie too often. When finally they tire, Liu shows the young man to a sleeping pallet; Ichiro is asleep almost as soon as he lies down.
Ichiro wakes the at dawn the next morning to find that Liu is already up and gone, but he's left a note. Curious, Ichiro reads to find that his host has gone to the early market in order to fetch some food for breakfast.
"You really didn't have to," he tells the air, and sets about cleaning up where he slept.
It isn't long before Liu is back; when the older man walks in, he smiles with his eyes at Ichiro's industry. Again he has the boy set the table while he makes the food; the two of them enjoy a hearty breakfast together.
Their conversation picked up where it had ended the night before, but now Ichiro was antsy, wanting to get back to the search for his siblings. Finally, Ichiro couldn't stand it anymore.
"Thanks for letting me stay the night, Liu," he says to the older man, starting to rise from the table. Liu nods, rising in turn; Ichiro bows politely (and in correct Earth Kingdom fashion) to his host.
Liu offers an abbreviated bow that makes Ichiro blink. Wait, is that one of apology?
Unnerved, Ichiro turns to go out the door, and finds the floor turned to mud under his feet. "What the—" he yelps, trying to pull free— too late, he's been stuck ankle-deep and the mud is stone.
Trap! You idiot!
He tries to reel around to see Liu, but the angle is awkward and if he unleashes a burst of fire he might not hit his target. Shit!
He sees stone fly from the wall to Liu's hand, but isn't sure what the older man — enemy enemy he's a trap he set you up — is doing until he feels a pair of strong impacts on his wrists. His arms are then dragged behind him and locked together while Ichiro yells a curse and wobbles dangerously, his balance offset. More rocks against his back, but this time steadying him. This isn't much of a kindness, though, since they immediately leap from his back to his head and cover his mouth, effectively covering his last avenue of firebending. He is well and truly caught, able only to call himself idiot and curse Liu silently.
And then things go from bad to worse.
Dai Li agents enter the house.
Golden eyes narrow, then go wide as one of the agents says, "Yes, sir," in response to some message from Liu Ichiro cannot see. The pair wait a moment, then the speaker reaches for Ichiro.
Ichiro closes his eyes and remembers the night his father attacked Kouji and is rewarded by a hiss from the Dai Li; he opens his eyes in time to see the agent retracting his hand and shaking it. The air around him is distorted with heat; Ichiro himself feels fine though he knows he can't keep up this kind of bending for long without severe damage to his body.
The other agent also tries, and snatches his hand back. "How is he doing that?" that one demands of his compatriot; Ichiro smirks behind his rock gag.
Then the pair of them snap to attention; Liu seems to have left and then return. Silence, then the two men look at each other. "He's hot," complains one of them, sounding surly; Ichiro, feeling contrary, bows as if to thank the agent for the compliment.
There's a sound of moving rock, then the agents both look chagrined. "Oh," says one, then both men move their hands to a bending position; Ichiro is given the dubious honour of watching how Dai Li make their ubiquitous rock gloves.
The men reach for him again, and Ichiro prepares to make their lives difficult—
Alas, alas! [...] Poor, foolish thing! at lastUp jumped the cunning spider, and fiercely held her fast;
He dragged her up his winding stair, into the dismal den -
Within his little parlor - but she ne'er came out again!
Ichiro isn't sure how long he's been in this dark stone room. He hasn't been fed since breakfast with that bastard Liu and has only been given minimal water. He's felt the tug of the sun at least four times, but he doesn't know how long he was unconscious after his initial capture.
His water is generally brought by a woman with a perky voice who always enquires how he is enjoying his stay. His responses vary from rude to vulgar and once to Old Fire, but no matter what he says, she always replies, "Wonderful! We're glad you are enjoying things," as if she hasn't heard him. It's… mildly creepy.
Now, he lies on his back on the floor, staring up at what he supposes is the ceiling. He paced often the first day, and a few times the subsequent days, but yesterday and today he hasn't moved at all; today he hasn't even bothered to firebend a light.
Ichiro is not stupid. The Dai Li are trying to weaken him, and it's working. He needs to escape before he's where they want them — and to do that, he needs to act as though he's weaker than he really is.
Finally, the door slides open again; Ichiro slowly turns his eyes to the light, as if he's craving it. A pair of Dai Li walk in and drag him to his feet; Ichiro struggles weakly, barely enough for reaction. Alas, these two are a bit brighter than the ones who came in to get him; their grip on him tightens in response. No daring escape down the hall.
He lets his head loll on his shoulders as the two men drag him out of the room, along some corridors, and into another dark room, where he is manhandled into a chair and locked down with rock before the pair leave him.
More time passes, maybe a few minutes, then the door opens again and two more people enter, one all but dragged by the other. The dragger releases the draggee and moves over to something Ichiro can't quite see in the dark; then he hears rock strike rock and a light flickers in the darkness.
Ichiro's eyes instantly snap over to it, a move only half-feigned. The one who had lit the flame stood to one side, presumably studying him. Ichiro pretended that his only interest was the flame.
"What should I make him?" the man asks of his companion. "Another brother might be pushing my twins a bit far."
Kouji and Yui.
Ichiro can't grab onto the sudden rage in time; the light flares and almost destroys its container.
Neither Dai Li seems to notice, and the other man shrugs as the fire returns to its normal level.
Then the speaker goes on, "Your report indicated the two of you got along. Perhaps a friend for you?"
Ichiro has heard rumours, though nothing substantial, about some of the things the Dai Li can do. His already-lit temper flares again with rage — not at Liu, who was actually pretty clever about the whole thing, but at this bastard who stole and changed his siblings and is now offering to turn him into— something— for the scarred man who first captured Ichiro.
The fire flares high and hot and the glass containing it shatters, sending shards around the room at high speed. Ichiro is only barely able to avoid losing an eye; as it is the glass shard buries itself in his temple. He keeps his hold on the flame, though, flooding the room with light so he can see and memorise the face of the man who stole Kouji and Yui.
His view is unfortunately obstructed by rock; Liu seems to have shielded the speaker with a wall of earth and has his own arm up over his eyes. Ichiro takes a deep breath and lowers the intensity of the flame as he lets the air out; other than that he doesn't move. Finally, Liu lowers arm and shield, giving Ichiro his first glimpse of the bastard who changed his twin sibs.
He is… disappointingly average. Typical earth kingdom skin, eyes, hair, Dai Li braid… but his smile sends a chill up Ichiro's spine.
Finally, Ichiro speaks. "Sorry. Did you need that?" Blood trickles down his cheek.
"We have others," the man replies.
Liu touches the man's arm to get his attention, then lays his hands on the wall. To Ichiro's surprise, words appear as though inked: 'We should not do this now.'
I've never seen earthbending like that.
Creepy Smile Man studies Ichiro again. "Too much fire in him still, do you think?"
Ichiro bares his teeth at him and encourages the flames a bit; they brighten in response, chasing almost all shadow from the room.
"Yes, I suppose you're right," Creepy Smile Man continues. "It'd be a waste of time to do this now. Put him back."
Ichiro knows that he can't fight them, and so slowly lowers the flame until there's just enough illumination to see. But he meets Creepy Smile Man's eyes. "What did you do to my siblings?" he demands, his voice low.
"There's really no point in telling you," Creepy Smile Man replies. "They won't be your siblings when I'm done making you."
The firebender snarls angrily, keeping the tone low in his throat and letting it reverberate in his chest. It's almost exactly the sound of an angry tigerwolf.
Creepy Smile Man's smile widens. "So that's where she learned it from."
The fire flares higher, and Ichiro says, "I am going to kill you."
Liu takes Creepy Smile Man's arm and hustles him out, leaving Ichiro alone with the fire.
Current Location: ARC Cafeteria
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: Human - the Killers
Tags: character: ichiro, character: liu, fandom: avatar, story: head games