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Heart of the Wounded - Chapter 11

It was a wet and bedraggled group that made it to Ba Sing Sei. The storm had threatened to pour all through the night and into the next day. A strong wind blew them slightly off course, so when they had finally made it to land, it was a farther walk to Ba Sing Sei.

To make matters worse, Wolf couldn’t walk. He sat about grumbling as the rest looked for wood. They eventually found some that would work to keep Wolf’s knee from moving, and set it up. Jin lashed it together with her dark green hair ribbon that she had been wearing.

“I am definitely changing that when we get there,” Wolf muttered.

They also found a long branch that was thin enough to work as a staff. Wolf tried it out and found that it worked. The four set off at a slow pace. It took the rest of the day to get Ba Sing Sei in sight. They set up a small camp for the night. Jin was too tired to cook, and the three men couldn’t, so they had a cold meal. They set out early the next day and got to the city walls by mid day.

Once inside, they went directly to Wolf’s hovel. They decided that it would be unwise for the men to leave. Ozai probably had issued a high bounty for the capture or death of them, so it would be best to lie low for a while. Jin left to get provisions and returned.

……………

A week passed. Except for Jin, they were all extremely bored.

“Can I take Zuko out tonight?” Jin asked. She had pulled Zuko into the room by his arm.

Wolf was lounging on the futon that was currently in the couch position, reading a book. Iroh was in the back room, looking for something to read.

“Sure, go ahead,” Wolf replied.

“Thank you!” Jin squealed.

“Not so loud,” Wolf muttered.

“Why are we celebrating?” Iroh asked, coming into the room with a book in hand.

“I’m taking Zuko out,” Jin replied.

“That’s not a good idea.”

“What? Why not? Wolf said I could!”

“Wolf wasn’t thinking. We are refugees. Who knows how much Ozai will give to have us killed.”

“But…it’s dark. The people won’t know, they don’t even know there’s a war. Zuko’s getting bored. He should see this place. Please,” Jin begged. She had a deceiving innocent look on her face.

“Come on, Iroh. Let the kids go out for a night.”

“All right. I still don’t think this is a good idea, but I can’t say no to all three of you. You two be careful.”

“Thank you!” Jin gave Iroh a hug before pulling Zuko towards the door.

“Be back in an hour,” Iroh called, but Jin was already out the door.

Wolf was chuckling. “That went well.”

……………

“Where should we go first?” Jin asked. She had grabbed Zuko’s hand and refused to let go. She was pulling him around, but he didn’t let go either.

“Maybe we could go…no that place is gone. I don’t know why. Not that way, I can shop by myself. I don’t have that much money any way. Are you hungry?” Jin stopped in mid ramble and step and turned to look at Zuko.

“Just a little,” Zuko admitted.

Jin wormed her way through the diminishing crowd. Just as she had thought, the darkness was driving people off the streets. She kept looking around, checking her position. They entered the middle ring of the city and still, Jin kept going.

“We’re close! I can smell it!” Jin muttered. She quickened her pace. Finally, they got to the restaurant. There were only a few other people at the place.

They got a table outside and set up their orders. “We have to get a big order, that way Uncle Iroh and Wolf can have some,” Jin whispered. She leaned forward a little, as if it was a secret, to say, “I don’t think they can make anything but tea.” Jin leaned back and giggled. Zuko smiled a little.

“So, how do you like Ba Sing Sei?” Jin asked.

“So far, it’s ok. I never thought I would be here.”

“I didn’t think I would be here again, either. I miss it.” Jin looked out at the dark streets.

“I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t do anything.”

They were quiet. The meals came after a while, and Jin eagerly immersed herself in eating. Zuko was cautious at first, wondering how the food would taste. It was bland, lacking any spice, and almost sweet. It was a big step away from the food of the Fire Nation, but Zuko found himself enjoying it.

“How do you like it?” Jin inquired quietly.

“It’s good.”

“I’m glad you like it.”

They fell silent again. They ate until they were satisfied. Jin asked for a box so that they could take the rest of it home and paid the tab. After the food was in the boxes, they left the restaurant.

“Can we go somewhere?” Jin asked.

“I don’t mind.”

Jin smiled slightly. Again, she grabbed Zuko’s hand and started off. No one was on the streets now, so Jin was able to go at her own pace. She walked a little way on the main road that the restaurant was on, then took a sudden turn and went down an alley. The alley opened back out into a small square. In the center, a fountain squirted water.

“Aw, the lights are out,” Jin murmured sadly. Crestfallen, her eyes fell to the ground. “I wanted you to see it.”

“All it needs are lights?”

“Yeah.”

“Hold these.” Zuko handed the boxes of food to Jin as he walked past. She looked up to watch what he was going to do.

Zuko walked up to the edge of the fountain. He looked around, pinpointing the wicks. There were some in the lanterns and some on candles floating in the water. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then, Zuko was moving. He sent little flicks of fire at each of the wicks, directing the flame with his fingers. As each wick caught, the square became slightly lighter. When he lit the last one, Zuko stood up straight and looked around.

“Wow, that was amazing!” Jin exclaimed. She hurried over to Zuko’s side and grabbed his hand. Curious, she leaned against his shoulder. “It’s so much more beautiful than I remember it!”

“It is pretty,” Zuko muttered in agreement.

“Zuko, do you like me?”

“Yes.”

“Like, more than a friend like?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh,” Jin felt a little saddened by that.

“What about me? Uncle said that you’ve liked me for a long time. Do you still like me after…” he trailed off, looking away, but his hand touched the bottom of the scar on his face.

“Yes, I do.”

“Why?”

“I was drawn to you. I thought that you weren’t at all like your father, like most fire benders, even. You actually looked me in the eye when I served you tea, and food. You said thank you. You seem so shy and quiet, but you always try your best to please people and to prove yourself. I think those are admirable qualities. You haven’t lost them, Zuko. You are still you. And, I like you for you.”

“I see.”

“My mom took me here once. She said that if I ever got a boy friend, then I should take him here, show him the lights, and we would be happy. I wanted to show you, Zuko.”

“That was very…nice of you.”

“Zuko…can we…you know…” Jin paused awkwardly.

“Can we what?” Zuko looked at her from the corner of his eyes.

“Kiss?”

Zuko glanced away with a slight blush.

Jin looked down, also embarrassed. “I’m sorry. That was so…”

Jin was unable to finish the sentence. Zuko had turned his head and given her a small kiss. He turned away immediately, let go of her hand, and stepped away. Jin smiled weakly. She felt a tear at the corner of her eye and brushed it away.

“Shouldn’t we head back now?” Zuko asked quietly.

“I…I guess.”

Zuko turned back around and took the couple of steps back to where Jin was standing. They both reached for the others hand. With hands clasped, the two left through the side alley.

What they didn’t see was one of the Dai Li watching them on the rooftops. When he saw the two leave, he disappeared.

……………

“Master, I have found one of them,” the Dai Li agent exclaimed as he bowed to the leader.

“One of who?” Wong Feng asked. He was a well-mannered man with sharp, cunning eyes and well managed black hair. He was dressed richly, a symbol of his high rank.

“One of the Fire Nation men, the ones on the posters we have! It was the young one.”

“Really? I wouldn’t think that any of them would be about in our city.”

“It was really him, sir. I saw him. He had a scar, like this,” the Dai Li agent covered one of his eyes with his hand.

“That would be him.”

“He was with some girl. It looked like they were a couple.”

“Excellent. Where do they live?”

“Uh…I don’t know sir.”

“You saw them, but you didn’t stick around long enough to find out where they live?”

“Uh…no sir.”

“Fool.”

“I can find her again, sir. I promise. I think I might have seen her in the market place once before.”

“That seems a little low. But what should I care. With the capture of the rouge Firebenders, the Fire Lord won’t dare touch Ba Sing Sei. Or, better yet, we could get rich. Find the girl.”

“Yes sir!” With that, the Dai Li agent disappeared.

……………

Jin was extremely energetic as she went through the market the next day. The sun was shinning, the air was cool, and there was still hope that she could get together with Zuko! The thought made her want to buy something nice, like a necklace, or a nice dressy out fit. Jin realized she had very little money left after her grocery shopping.

I’ll just borrow it for a little while. Maybe they’ll let me put a down payment on it…She searched around for a good idea.

A richly dressed lady walking by had a good idea. Hairpins. They jingled as the lady walked by, catching Jin’s attention. Jin smiled evilly. Hairpins, why didn’t I think of that? They’re sharp, pointy, deadly, pretty cheap, and hidden right out in the open. They’re perfect.

Now that she had found something to buy, she needed to find a small stand or store that would sell such items. She explored around the area for a little bit. A flash caught her eye. Jin turned quickly to see a small glass flower. It was small and a reddish color, with a well-represented green stem and little leaves. It was well sculpted.

“That was made in by a Firebender,” the shopkeeper explained, catching sight of a possible customer. “I usually don’t go for anything made by them, but this was just so beautiful I accepted it. It’s a perfect gift for a mother.”

“My mother has been dead for a time,” Jin commented.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“You said it was made by a Firebender?”

“Oh, yes. It’s authentic.”

Maybe Zuko would like it? Jin thought. It’s a flower, but it doesn’t look girly. “How much?”

“I am charging twenty coins. It’s a rare find.”

Jin brought out the small bag that had all of the money in it. She had eighteen. “I don’t know if it’s worth quite that much. I wanted to get it for my future husband…” Jin lied. “He’s been feeling so sick lately. I wanted to get him something special, to encourage him to get better. But even if it is only twenty coins…I don’t think so.”

“Medicine is so expensive. You know, I think I could part with it for fifteen. I traded it for an item worth ten, so I will still be making a profit.”

Jin smiled. “Thank you so much. I’m sure he’ll love it!” Jin handed over the fifteen coins. The sick puppy routine worked more often than it failed. Taking the flower gingerly and putting it in the fold of her cheongsam, Jin turned to go homeward and give Zuko the gift.

She was too excited and didn’t watch where she was going. Jin realized she was going the wrong way and stopped short. Her quick lack of motion caused someone to bump into her. Jin looked up quickly, catching only a quick glance of the person she had offended. He was tall, and wore a large hat that covered his face. She bowed respectively.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going. Please forgive my rudeness.” Jin straightened. From what she could tell, the man didn’t appear to be upset about it. Confident in that decision, she turned to go home.

Jin got several steps away before something wrapped around her mouth. Strange metal claws grabbed her wrists and pulled them behind her back. Through those bonds, she was pulled backwards into a gap between buildings. Hands caught her shoulders and twisted her around. It was the man she had accidentally bumped into.

“By order of the leader of the Dai Li, Wong Feng, I arrest you.”

Jin mumbled some words that were indiscernible. She kicked the guy in the shin and tried to run for it. The chains attached to the claws around her wrists pulled her back. Jin was slammed into the side of the building. The man pinned her legs to the wall and wrapped his hands around her neck. She struggled to break free. Slowly, the lack of oxygen took over and Jin blacked out.

The man picked her up and disappeared.

……………

……………

Chapter 11 – END

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