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Several weeks had passed since Sai and Yang had arrived at Ember Island. After he told Juji his story, smoking a cigarette together on the cliff had become kind of their daily thing. He managed to persuade Yang to be a little less hostile towards the Serizawas. It took some considerable effort, but, can't argue with results. Sai's firebending training was going nowhere though. He was at the dojo, and even the extremely patient master was starting to get frustrated at the Avatar's completely non-existent progress.
"Just breathe, concentrate and..." Sai tried a regular blast, but there was nothing. "Ugh! Still nothing!"
-"Calm down, Sai." Master Serizawa rubbed his forehead. "Anger isn't going to fix this problem."
"Well, maybe it can. Did the firebenders fuel their bending with anger for nearly a century?"
-"Those were dark times. You will not resort to such desperate measures, do I make myself clear?"
"Crystal, master Serizawa." Though Sai was not the least bit convincing in his answer.
-"I have another idea. The winter solstice is approaching. During this, you will be more easily able to connect to your past lives."
-"Not with that attitude. There is a temple of the Fire Sages, not too far from Ember Island. You can go there and meditate. Get it right, and you can talk to the past Avatars."
"Do you really think that will work?"
Serizawa didn't answer. He thought for a while, when he hatched a plan. "Sozu knows the way there. He can guide you there. It's a small island, you can reach it with your boat."
"Sounds like a fun field trip. How do you know he'll want to go with me?"
-"Leave that to me. You start practicing your meditation, you're going to need it."
They finished their session soon after, and Sai went back to the house. He found Yang on the balcony of her room, reading. She must have torn through most of the bookcase, he thought. He let himself fall into the chair next to her, and she put down her book. "Still no fire?"
"Not even a spark. Serizawa says that I can ask my past lives for help on the winter solstice."
-"That sounds promising. Maybe they can help you figure this whole thing out."
"That's what he said. It does mean I'll be gone for a few days, as I have to go to a temple on another island."
-"Sounds like you don't want me there."
"Maybe it'll be good. You know, clear my head for a few days. Sozu will show me the way to the island, but from there, I'm on my own. You think you can manage?"
-"Sai, we made it five years together. Don't you think I can make a few days on my own?"
"Well, it's just... You barely leave your room, you reject everything Juji and Sozu are trying to do for you and ignore the other Serizawa's."
-"You're still trying to make me become friends with those stuck-up..."
He sighed. "I'm just asking you to give it a chance. You know, try out something else."
Yang rolled her eyes. "Look, I know you're getting cozy with Juji, and I'm fine with that. But are you really forcing me to become besties with her as well?"
"Dah! No, just... just stop ignoring her or shoot down every positive attitude she sends your way, just for a few hours, and you might find out that she is really nice."
-"Fine. But if it isn't working, you'll drop it. Deal?"
Sai went to his room and changed out of his uniform, when Sozu knocked on his door. "My father just talked to me. He wants me to take you to some island with a temple on it on the winter solstice."
"Yep, sounds about right. We're taking the Smuggler, should be fun."
Even though Sozu seemed to be a bit bitter when he first walked in, this seemed to cheer him up. "Sweet. But anyway, that's not why I'm here. I have something to ask you."
-"I've always practiced against other firebenders. Do you think... you could, you know, train me to fight against earthbending?"
Sai raised an eyebrow and got a grin on his face. "You're asking me to beat you up? Boy, this trip is going to be better than I thought."
-"I'm asking you to train me, not beat me up."
"Same thing, only way to learn. Trust me, it's how I learned."
-"Alright. What do you say, leave tomorrow morning? That will give us plenty of time before the winter solstice."
He quickly went out to buy some cigarettes, as he was nearly out. Otherwise, he would have to make at least three days without, and he wasn't sure if he could do that. Or Juji. He felt kind of bad about getting her addicted so soon, but he also loved spending time with her. Sai was pretty sure Mei suspected something, but she was too discrete to mention it, and Serizawa himself probably didn't notice.
Running back with two packs in his pocket, he suddenly had a bright idea. He went back to Yang's room, where she was still reading. "I have something for you," he said, and she looked up. He flashed one of the packs, and she got a twinkle in her eyes.
He held it out to her, but pulled it back away just before she could reach it. "One condition: You do this together with Juji or not at all. Deal?"
-"You evil man! You're blackmailing me, aren't you?"
She sighed. "Fine. You really know how to force me into a corner, don't you?"
"Come on. It'll only be for a few days. Sozu and I are leaving tomorrow morning. Something to do with him learning to fight earthbenders."
-"That should be good. How much of his body do you think will be covered in bruises when you get back?"
"At least a quarter. I'll try to shoot for half."
Yang smiled, as Sai threw her the box of cigarettes. "Yeah, alright, I'll smoke 'em with Juji."
"See you at dinner."
The morning came quick for Yang. She heard the engine of the Smuggler start, and she ran to the balcony and jumped off, catching herself with her airbending on the jetty. She waved as Sai and Sozu left, Serizawa turned to her. "That was... quite the entrance, I'll say."
"Meh, being an airbender does have its upsides. It's not the best trick I have up my sleeve, believe me. And I'm not even a master!"
-"I see humility is not one of your stronger suits. Neither is a proper sense of attire, I should add," he said, with a very distinct denigrating undertone.
"What do you mean? I'm wearing a bathrobe."
"Yes, and that is intended for use in the bathroom, and your nightclothes underneath for the bedroom. We are outside, and if you would be so kind to put on some decent clothes, you can join us for breakfast."
Serizawa didn't notice how she rolled her eyes, but Juji did, and both girls couldn't help but crack a smile. "Fine." With a quick blast, she launched herself a long way up the cliffside again, and a few more blasts landed her back on her balcony. She dressed herself and went down to the dining hall for breakfast, where the remaining Serizawa's were waiting for her. She sat down next to Juji, who decided to try again.
-"Alright Yang, I've been thinking: you're plowing through that bookcase at a considerable speed. It got me was curious: if you're so hell-bent on learning, why not come to school with me?"
Yang sighed, but the concept did appeal to her. It was just how she would end up in that school that isn't the least bit attractive. But she made Sai a promise not to shoot down her every suggestion, so she decided to do it. "Sure." It came out more hesitant than she wanted to. "When do we start?"
Juji was surprised. "Ehh, tomorrow. That's perfect, it gives us some time to get you the necessary equipment."
-"Oh, you know, uniform, writing gear, notebook, books, not to mention a little bit of school etiquette."
What did I just get myself into? Was the thought that shot through Yang's head. Still, she agreed and she wouldn't back down now.
Juji was still rambling on. "We need to go to that place on Temple Street, they'll have most of the stuff there. Uniform might be difficult, though."
"Juji, let me stop you there. Why don't we just go into town, and figure it out as we go along? It'll be like a girls' day out."
She looked at her parents, who nodded in unison. "Let's get ready then."
They quickly finished their breakfast and got themselves ready for day in town. That is, Yang brushed her teeth and Juji seemed to pack enough supplies to carry out a military invasion, but eventually, they were ready. As they walked out the gate, Juji broke the silence. "So... What did it cost Sai to get you to say "yes"?"
"You don't think I did this voluntarily?"
"Fair enough. Pack of cigarettes, on the condition that I share them with you."
-"What? He promised he wouldn't tell anyone!"
"He didn't, I see you two lovebirds sneak out every night to a corner of the garden. Trust me, I know how convincing he can be, and what a bad influence he can have on people."
Juji stumbled across her own words, but finally managed to get herself back together. "Just please don't tell my father, okay?"
Yang smiled. "So this is what position of power feels like..." She saw the worried look on Juji's face. "Don't worry, I'm only messing with you."
-"That's not funny. I would be in big trouble if he ever found out."
"Well, it is funny to me."
They had reached the town, and Juji knew the way. Yang quickly noticed how she was in her element, knowing all the shops, helping Yang get everything she would need. It turned out to be quite a lot. She was surprised when she realized just how much fun she was having, and even though she hated to admit it, Sai was right. Juji was a lot of fun to be around, genuinely trying to help her out. Once they had everything, they decided to get a drink on a terrace before heading back to Serizawa Manor.
Yang decided now was a good a time as any. "You know, I owe you an apology. I've been nothing but mean to you for weeks, and you didn't deserve it. My prejudices about you were just... wrong."
-"That's okay. It must have been quite a shock trying to adapt to this life, coming from the street."
"That wasn't it. It's just that... I don't know, it felt to me like you were only being nice to me because I came with Sai, and he's the Avatar."
-"To be fair, in the beginning, I did think so. Neither my brother or I looked forward very much to meeting you, or Sai, knowing our parents would force us to be friendly to you. Sai kept telling me that you are nice once I got to know you, and the more time went on, the more I felt like he was wrong. I'm glad you finally gave in. This was fun."
"Yeah. I never had a girl to really hang out with."
-"Neither did I."
This took Yang by surprise. "What? You don't have friends to do this kind of stuff with you?"
-"No, not really. My parents are always very strict about me coming home straight after school, and that doesn't make many friends. It's not that I don't have anybody I like, it's just that, I never had a real friend."
Yang let this sink in for a little while. "I... I don't know what to say. You seem to make friends so easily, seeing how well you and Sai, and even we it hit off today."
-"I should let you know, I am kind of jealous of you and Sai. Your friendship, that is."
Yang laughed. "Good thing too. The rest of our lives wouldn't exactly suit you, princess."
-"I know. Sai told me his story. It's harsh."
"If your fishing for mine, forget it, if I ever decide I want to tell you, I'll let you know."
Juji was startled by Yang harsh response. "I'm sorry. I was... I was just curious."
"Well, if Sai told you his story, chances are he also told I don't like mine, and I definitely don't like people finding out about it. So just drop it."
Yang didn't really want it to come out so rude, but she really didn't want to talk about it. She hated talking about her past, especially to someone she barely knew and who had it easy from day one.
They finished their drinks silently, and went back to the Manor directly after.
After dinner, Yang looked up Juji again, and they wandered out into the garden. Not to the cliffs, but to the dojo, knowing that was the last place Serizawa would be looking for them. They sat on the wall and looked out over the island. Yang gave Juji a cigarette, and they sat there silently. Yang finally broke it. "Look, I'm sorry about getting so angry this afternoon. It's just... My whole life, people have been telling me they can help me, and only one person ever did. Three guesses who."
-"Don't need them."
"I was counting on it."
They fell silent again for a while.
"Is this what you where hoping to achieve?"
-"More or less. I imagined it a little different in my head, but you know what they say, can't argue with results."
"Did it include the part of me yelling?"
-"Well, I did say "more or less" didn't I?"
"That you did."
-"Joking aside though, I was hoping you would trust me a little more."
"Well, I do. More than I did this morning, at least. Maybe not what you hoped for, but did you really expect me to turn on like 'that'?" Yang snapped her fingers to accompany her words.
-"Well, I guess not. But in the end, Sai was right, wasn't he? This was fun."
"Yes he was right. But if you ever tell him that, I will kill you," she said, unable to repress the sarcastic grin.
Juji smiled too. "Come on. We should be getting back. We wouldn't want my parents to find us here like this."
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