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Chapter 7-Down TimeEdit
Two Days LaterEdit
Zuko sat at the bar fuming. It had been a week since the fight with the Avatar at the Fire Temple, and they had been just sitting here for a week in the meantime. Uncle Iroh didn't seem to mind. He had been enjoying nudging the builders to build an officers lounge. Zuko couldn't decide what was worse, that he had pestered them to do something so superfluous, that they had actually done it, or that he actually liked it.
The base had been coming along with incredible speed, the final team that Hei had called in for their Avatar Hunt had arrived the same day Hei and Toph had gotten back with their crazed brother and P'Li's father Baozha. One of them was the another earth bender, this one, Ghazan was his name, Toph actually treated like a brother rather than a boyfriend and they had massively expanded the earthen platform as more and more shiploads of workers were brought in. Zuko had long since lost track of his crew as they were put to work assisting in the construction.
Zuko guessed there had to be at least a hundred workers in addition to the ship's crews and Ye Gui Li agents already scurrying around with piles of documents. Most of the agents were usually in and out of what had been declared the central hub, a large earthen dome Toph and Ghazan had made in the center of the growing island. It had been quickly stuffed with desks and file cabinets and machines whose function Zuko couldn't even begin to fathom.
The girls Hei and his team had brought back from Kyoshi Island were now being instructed by three extremely attractive young women most all the time, being brought up to Ye Gui Li operative standards Hei had said. Hei had been delighted to see the three instructors, as well as the fourth who seemed to be a medic, and Zuko wasn't sure if he was actively involved with any or all of them, or if they were just former girlfriends of his. Zuko shook his head and drank as half of him wondered how Hei managed to have so many girlfriends, and the other half wished he did too.
Suddenly someone slid onto the barstool next to his, "Hiya cousin." Zuko nearly leapt from his skin as his cousin Anko grinned at him, "How's the eye?" Zuko stared, "ANKO?! Why are you here?!" Anko raised an eyebrow, "Pfft, my dad runs Ye Gui Li Internal Affairs ya big dummy. Hey Ghazan! Get me something to drink!" Ghazan, who worked the bar in his free time, one of his many disguises he claimed when asked, saluted, "Yes ma'am!" He quickly started mixing a drink.
Anko wore a long sleeved red and black top tied with a black belt over her black pants. She had her hair up and her ever present smirk beneath her mischievous golden eyes. She elbowed him gently, "Well? Don't just sit there and stare! How've you been? You look really pale for a guy who's been at sea so long. Have you been sick?" Zuko blinked and touched his cheek in confusion, "I am?" "Yeah," Anko replied dryly, "You look like you haven't seen the sun in weeks." Then a huge smile split her face, "Maybe that's why your bending's so puny!" She burst out laughing as Zuko immediately blushed, "My bending is not puny!"
His protest was completely lost on Anko as Ghazan chose that particular moment to present her with her drink, "One Dragon Sunset, just the way you like it Lady Anko." Anko smiled at him as she sipped, "You remembered?" Ghazan smiled bashfully and scratched his head, "Well of course Lady Anko! I always remember what makes beautiful girls smile!" "Aw," Anko laughed over her mug, "You're just a big old fluffy panda aren't you Ghazan?" Ghazan bobbed his head in a small bow, "If it makes you smile milady then a panda I am!"
Anko laughed, "Go on Ghazan, you've got people waiting." Ghazan saluted smartly with a cheerful smile, "Yes ma'am!" and hurried off. Anko turned back to Zuko, "And yes, you are. You're probably the weakest bender here." Zuko started coloring up again as Anko turned and looked out at the lounge, "Ya know if you asked we could probably teach you how to not be puny." Zuko's angry explosion died in his throat as the possibility occurred to him, "Me train with the Ye Gui Li?"
Anko grinned at him out the corner of her eye, "Ye-eah." Zuko blinked, "But who would train me?" There was a sudden whump next to him as a figure in black flopped into the barstool, "Probably me along with several others. Good evening Lady Anko, utterly delightful to see you again." Anko's face lit up, "HEI!" She set her drink down quickly and lunged across Zuko to grab Hei in a hug. Zuko blinked in surprise and then raised an eyebrow, "Um are you two...?"
Anko sat up, "No, I'm one of the only girls in the Ye Gui Li he hasn't kissed, but we've both thought about it a few times." She waggled her eyebrows at Zuko as Zuko stared and then looked at Hei. Hei shrugged innocently, "What can I say? Lady Anko's a heartbreaker!" "Oh like you're not?" Anko shot back playfully. Hei shrugged again a smile spreading across his face, "Well, we all have our goals in life."
Anko grinned at him knowingly, "Still got your sights set on Azula?" Zuko was so shocked that his drink shot out of his nose, burning horribly and he almost choked. Anko had to hold onto the bar to keep from falling off her barstool she was laughing so hard as Hei offered Zuko a napkin and tried to restrain his laughter. Zuko finally cleared his airways and looked at Hei with watering eyes, "You want to go out with Azula?!"
Hei raised an eyebrow, "Is there a problem with that?" Zuko stared at him, "Are you out of your mind?! Why would you want to go out with Azula?!" Anko slapped his shoulder, "Oh that's mean..." Hei thought about it for a moment, "Out of my mind? Mmm...yeah little bit. Why would I want to go out with her? Well love seems like the obvious answer." Zuko stared, utterly at a loss for words as Hei took a drink and hunched over it, looking slightly away from him, "Maybe just to prove to myself that I'm good enough..."
Anko reached across Zuko and caught Hei's shoulder, "Hey, don't talk like that. You're more than good enough! Look at how many hearts you've stolen just to get good enough at romance to make her smile. Look how strong you've gotten to impress her and how high you've pushed yourself through the ranks so that you could get her attention! You're the youngest Commodore in the history of the Ye Gui Li for crying out loud! If she can't see how hard you've worked for her then she's blind."
Hei looked at her, a faint smile creeping across his face, "Thanks Anko." Anko smiled at him, "That's what friends are for. Now cheer up," She shot Zuko a mischievous look, "You've gotta whip our future Fire Lord into shape!"
The Next DayEdit
When they bounced the idea off Iroh, he joyously approved. "Maybe you can get through to him in ways I haven't been able to," he told Hei cheerfully, "I don't think my old fashioned teaching style is having much effect." Hei smiled, "Well I'm sure at least part of it was Zuko being pig headed, he's bad about that you know." Iroh laughed, "True, very true! You are kind of pig headed some days Prince Zuko!"
Zuko raised an eyebrow, already wondering if this was a bad idea. That had been fifteen minutes ago, now he was sitting next to Hei, his legs crossed and his hands on his knees. Hei looked at the sea, "Alright Zuko, let's start with the basics, see how much power you've actually got in there." Zuko frowned, "Basics but I already know-" THWAP! "You obviously don't or your uncle would've been able to teach you more. Now breathe."
Zuko fumed and breathed shallowly. "With your lungs Zuko, not your stomach." Zuko shot a glance at him and then consciously made an effort to breathe with his lungs. "Now breathe deeper." Zuko breathed deeper. "Now breathe in as deeply as you can." Zuko breathed in as deeply as he could and held it. "Let it out as fire." Zuko exhaled a small stream of fire. Hei nodded, "You're not using anything like all your power Zuko."
Zuko looked at him in surprise, "I am too!" THWAP! "You're not or I wouldn't have told you that," Hei retorted, "Now try it again, and this time pay attention to what you're putting out." Zuko tried again and noticed that a great deal of what he was letting out was just air. "See?" Hei asked, "Only about ten percent of what you took in came out as fire. You're not using hardly any of your chi and you're not using even half of the natural energy you take in. You are the son of the Fire Lord, your bending should like this."
Zuko looked as Hei breathed in, his eyes closed. The temperature around him suddenly dropped a few degrees, and then Hei opened his eyes, tilted back his head and blew out a plume of fire nearly as tall as he was. Zuko stared as the fire dissipated, "Whoa." Hei nodded, "Yep. That's how much fire you should be able to make from a double lungful of air. We'll get to using the air around you after you learn how to breathe fire properly."
Hei suddenly stood up, pulled a toothpick out of his pocket, and stuck it in a crack in the stone about one long step from Zuko, "I want you to set this toothpick on fire from where you are sitting right now, no leaning forward. Fire breath only, no cheating or you go for a swim." Zuko looked at the toothpick and then at the water next to him and nodded, "Alright." Hei nodded, "Good, work on that, and while you do there's someone I need to go talk to. If you set it on fire before I get back," He pulled a handful of toothpicks from his pocket and handed them to Zuko, "Do it again." Zuko looked at the handful of toothpicks in his hand, "How many of these do you carry around with you?" Hei shrugged, "You ever see me without a toothpick?"
Zuko shook his head, "No." Hei nodded, "Well there's your answer." He turned to walk away, "If you run out of toothpicks, you're a swordsman, Kuina's always looking for a good match. Go try to give her one, and don't get all pouty when she kicks you around the ring like a ball." Zuko's eyes widened in surprise, he had thought himself a fairly good swordsman. Hei smiled as he turned and walked off, and Zuko didn't see his expression darken as he walked away.
A Few Minutes LaterEdit
The Ye Gui Li had already started setting up a lab on the island, and when Hei walked in, he immediately spotted the person he was searching for. The headful of blonde hair was the only one in the room. Hei ghosted up behind her, waiting until she had set down what she was carrying to say, "Hey Tsuna." Tsunade, one of the Ye Gui Li's brightest young alchemists, jumped in surprise as Hei seemed to appear out of nowhere.
She spun on him, "Dammit Hei, don't do that!" She softened slightly as she saw his face, "Yeah, I finished it." She raised a hand and a small plume of fire ignited in her hand. "The Dragon Fire Serum," Hei whispered, "It works?" Tsunade nodded, "We haven't tried it on a bender yet, but it worked on me." "Is that why your hair...?" Tsunade nodded and stroked her sunny golden hair, which had been coal black last time Hei had seen her, "Yes, I don't know if it happens to everybody though. I haven't been given any test subjects yet."
Hei nodded and pulled a stool over before shedding his long coat and rolling up one of his sleeves, "You've got one now." Tsuna blinked and then smiled, "Hei, you know we can't use it immediately, I need to test it!" Hei nodded, "Draw some blood and try it. You're good at math, you can get the ratio right. You do have it with you right?" Tsuna frowned, "Of course I do! You think I would leave something that valuable lying around?"
Hei smiled, "I know you wouldn't." Tsuna smiled smugly, "good." She quickly caught a needle from one of the tables and a bandage. She pulled Hei's arm straight and quickly tied the bandage tight around it with a slightly crazed grin, "Now hold still you big wonderful man you..." Hei made a face as she plunged the needle into his vein. A moment later she was fiddling away with a microscope and dropper loaded with glowing orange fluid as she mixed the serum with Hei's blood.
Hei smiled, it had been four years since he had met Tsuna, and three and a half since he had become her most frequent test subject. She had become a frequent lover of his, but even if she hadn't, Hei would've happily volunteered. She had sent him to the verge of death once, but she had brought him right back and he had become physically immune to pain after that. She had never put him in that much danger again, but from then on he would have let her if she had asked. Now he grinned, the Dragon Fire Serum, her most powerful potion yet, able to catalyze her blood and give her bending. The new look worked well for her too, Hei thought with a smile.
An Hour LaterEdit
Zuko had finally managed to set the toothpick alight when a massive roar exploded across the island. Zuko leapt to his feet in surprise, slipped on a wet patch and promptly fell into the water backwards.
Half An Hour Later, The InfirmaryEdit
Toph shook Tsunade, "DAMMIT TSUNADE! WHY DID YOU GIVE HIM THAT SERUM?!" Tears streamed down Tsunade's face, "I tried to tell him to wait! I didn't think it would be this bad!" Hei suddenly grew still and Tsunade leapt to check his pulse, "Not good not good not good!" She started pressing his chest, pressing her lips to his and pushing his chest again as she inhaled deeply.
Zuko burst in sopping wet, "What happened?" "Hei took an experimental potion to strengthen his bending," Iroh told him quietly, "The pain was so great it sent him into a coma. Tsunade, the young woman with the golden hair, is trying to save his life." If Tsunade had been paying him the slightest attention, she would've been thankful that he hadn't mentioned the potion being her doing.
The Next DayEdit
Tsunade and Toph hadn't left Hei's side. They barely nibbled at the food they were brought. Zuko pushed through the curtain, "How is he?" Tsunade shook her head, "No change. It's almost like he's sleeping." "SON OF A B****!" Hei suddenly bellowed from his bed, startling all present and shocking Toph so badly she fell off her stool backwards.
She scrambled back upright, "HEI!" Hei snored in response and rolled over. As Hei's snores continued to scramble the air, Tsunade sat back and started laughing with relief. Toph blinked and then she started laughing too. Zuko looked from one of them to the other, "What's so funny?" "He's going to be okay!" Tsunade laughed. "He always swears in his sleep when he sleeps really well," Toph added. Sure enough a steady stream of profanity was rambling out of Hei's mouth between snores, so faint it was almost impossible to hear.
"(unintelligible) f***in penguin!" he suddenly grumbled loudly enough to be clearly heard. Tsunade Toph and Zuko all looked at each other and then burst out laughing. Iroh suddenly cleared his throat, "I hate to break up the giggles, but I think something's on fire." They all looked at him and saw he was pointing to Hei. They looked and sure enough, there was smoke coiling up from the other side of Hei's head. Tsunade quickly leapt to look, and recoiled in surprise, "He's breathing fire in his sleep!"
Then she ran her fingers through his hair, "And what's up with his hair? It looks like it's turning red!"
The Next MorningEdit
Tsunade woke up in bed next to Hei with his arm wrapped around her, Toph was across from her. She blinked, when had that happened? "You're awake," Hei grumbled, a smile spreading across his face although his eyes remained closed. Tsunade threw her arms around him, "You're okay!" Hei chuckled with a smile, "I'm better than okay Tsuna, I've never been better. I like the new look by the way."
Tsuna sat up and looked at him. His sideburns had turned a deep blood crimson and his hair was sticking up in spikes on either side of his head, perfectly symmetrical. "Dragon horns?" Tsuna whispered, reaching out a hand to touch the side of Hei's head. He was physically hot to the touch and she laid a hand across his forehead, "You're burning up." Hei nodded, his eyes still closed, "Feel normal though. Your hands on the other hand are nice and cool." Tsunade withdrew her hand and laid it to her cheek. It was still warm from contact with Hei's skin.
Then she frowned, "Why haven't you opened your eyes?" Hei smiled, "Well, that's the other part of the new look. Brace yourself..." He opened his eyes and Tsunade recoiled slightly in shock, his eyes, previously a warm brown, were now an incandescent orange. Hei smiled at her as she stared, "Pretty cool huh?" Then he grinned at her, "By the way, I seem to have burned my tongue in my sleep, can I get a kiss to make it better?" Tsunade blinked and then burst out laughing. Toph reached up and smacked her shoulder lightly, "I'm trying to sleep!" Hei laughed and she smacked him too, still too groggy to realize he was awake.