Disclaimer: I don't own Avatar: The Last Airbender and am making no money from this story.
It was an assignment like any other… Infiltrate and observe. Determine the threat and report back. She had been coming in the shop regularly for the past week and other than realizing this was the best tea she ever had, she thought this mission was a joke… She had been watching the old man and especially the scarred boy who had fought the young man. And so far she saw no evidence of anything other than two refugees trying to start over. There were no firebenders here, no matter what that crazy teen insisted on. But all rumors must be looked into, so here she would stay until she had proof to the absolute contrary.
Ying sipped her tea and narrowed her eyes on the boy who just turned from a nearby table. He glanced back once before speaking in low tones to the older man she suspected was the uncle the wild teen mentioned, grabbing his arm when he turned to look at her. Hrmm, he is acting strangely… Perhaps I should try a different tactic…
When he turned his back to put her payment away, she spoke, making sure that her voice had just the right amount of flirting perkiness and using her most charming smile. "What's your name?"
He turned to her in surprise before schooling his features. Interesting...
"My name's Li. My Uncle and I just moved here.". Is that your real name, Li?
"Hi Li. My name's Jin." First rule of the trade… never give your real name. "…thanks and, well I was wondering if you would like to go out sometime?"
He looked a bit stunned at her question, but she noticed he didn't blush like she was expecting. Maybe he is used to girls asking him out. He has a way about him that is quite attractive. The fluid way he moved caught her eye more than once over the last week. I bet he would be a great dancer. They did say that he handled the dual swords like a master… Hmmm…
His uncle volunteered him and she made the arrangements.
That night when she came to meet him, she realized he just must not be prone to blushing because he clearly had not been on many, if any, dates…
Li looked slightly ridiculous with his hair slicked down that way, and she just had to fix it before she could go on. It was softer than she expected and she reminded herself to not get distracted. Now that she was in "date mode", as her superior officer liked to call it, she had loosened her breast bindings. It always seemed to work well to divert the attention of her marks during questioning. Her fellow agents called them her "secret weapons". Silly girls. They were just a means to an end, like every other part of her carefully honed persona. A role she was growing increasingly weary of playing. She hid her tired sigh behind a beaming smile.
The restaurant was nice enough, average for the outer ring. Li gallantly told her to choose what she wanted; he would take care of dinner. The very first thing she noticed was how mannerly he was. He didn't shrug her arm off, although she could tell he was uncomfortable, and he even pulled out the bench for her to sit. He ate very precisely, almost elegantly, left hand politely folded in his lap. Odd… But after he had eaten his fill, the first real signs of nervousness appeared. The boy hadn't said anything for the last five minutes and was pushing his food around on his plate. This was a good a time as any to start her interrogation.
"So, how do you like the city so far?" She kept her voice light, engaging.
"It's ok." He didn't look up but continued to push that single meatball around with his chopsticks. All right, next question...
"What do you like to do for fun?"
Then the waiter interrupted with a perfectly innocuous question that got the most interesting reaction out of him yet.
To hide her surprise at his outburst, Ying stuffed a large quantity of noodles in her mouth. And of course Li had to look up at just that moment.
"You have… quite an appetite for a girl." Oh yes, he's a suave one. No wonder he's had so many dates…
"Umm, thanks?" Idiot. The cute ones usually are. Yiiiiing focus! He a mark and marks are NOT cute! Back to work!
He was twiddling his thumbs now, apparently embarrassed by his display.
"So Li, where were you and your uncle living before you came here?"
She knew evasion when she heard it. Traveling, huh?
"Oh! Why were you traveling so much?" Yes Li, why? She could see his gaze flit to her chest from time to time and leaned on the table to emphasize her cleavage.
When he haltingly gave his answer, it only reinforced her opinion of him. Li was a terrible liar. And he was lying, she was sure of it. Traveling circus? She nearly laughed but still, perhaps he was telling the truth and was simply embarrassed. A small test was in order.
Watching his disastrous attempt at juggling confirmed it for her. He was lying. That meant he really was hiding something. And she didn't want him to be.
Because she liked him.
But she had a job to do here and her feelings for this quiet, polite… and so sad… why so sad? …handsome, even with his scar, …firebending injury? boy were unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Order must be maintained. The city must run smoothly. All talk of the war and the Fire Nation must be obliterated.
There was no war in Ba Sing Se.
The rhetoric never sounded to hollow to her before.
With a regret that her happy countenance never revealed, she moved on to the final test.
The Fire Light Fountain.
Which, she knew, would not be lit tonight. The Dai Li would see to it.
She was supposed to make a huge deal out of that, even shed a few tears perhaps, to encourage him to use his bending. But in the end she could only stand there depressed that she had to do this. This feels wrong.
It felt even more wrong when he fell right into the trap.
Peeking from behind her fingers, at first she felt nothing but a terrible sadness when she saw him use his gift, …Oh, why Li? Why do you have to be Fire Nation? Eventually, though, that sorrow turned to awe. Whoever "Li" really was, he was an incredibly talented bender. He had all fifty lamps lit in record time, and with a precision that was amazing. Ying had never seen firebending up close before. The random attacks on the walls did not permit close perusal, so seeing him using his bending right in front of her, so close that she could feel the heat of it, …does he not realize that? was startling. She had little trouble feigning her surprise when he finally gave her permission to look.
She was going to have to turn him in.
By morning he and his kindly old uncle would be a fading memory. You don't have to turn them in… The thought flitted through her head before she could reject it. They aren't hurting anyone…. They just want a new life like everyone else… She was growing tired of sending poor unfortunate people to the lamp man. Tired of the guilt that ate away at her when she saw their blank smiling faces after. She didn't want to do that to this quiet boy with the veiled pain in his eyes or to the friendly old man whose gentle smile hinted at a hidden grief. But if she did this… what are you thinking? and it was discovered later that they were in fact firebenders, at the worst of it she would find herself on the wrong side of the "lamp", at best she would look incompetent... and she had worked so hard to get where she was without having to be brainwashed first… oops "re-educated" they were calling it now, that to backslide would be intolerable. Nevertheless, when she looked at his pleased smirk, she was torn yet again.
Duty, or something else she wasn't even sure was real or not? She still didn't know when she pressed her lips to his in a chaste kiss, hoping he didn't notice her slip in calling his uncle "teacher", or even when he in turn pressed his soft… and so warm lips to hers.
It was when he pulled away in shock that she made her decision.
She only hoped it was the right one.