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|The Golden Cage|
The Golden Cage
Sai drove back, as Sozu was pretty beaten up, just as Sai promised. The firebender was limping, because he'd taken a hit to the leg. He had also some difficulty breathing, leading Sai to suspect he'd broken a couple of ribs.
"You might want to see a doctor when we get back. You don't look too good."
-"Oh, shut up. I know you're just doing this to gloat, so just let me be, okay?"
"No, I'm serious. I could have done some real damage, and you don't want to keep walking around with that. I've seen people who nearly died because they refused to seek help. Just... do it."
"Don't you dump all over me now. You were the one who asked me to train you, and I warned you it would be painful for you."
-"It would help if you weren't so pleased with yourself."
"That would help you, but unfortunately, I am pretty pleased with myself at the moment." Sai said, with a grin that caused Sozu to let out a tiresome "ugh". This only made Sai's grin broader, and the firebender turned away.
"Lighten up, we're nearly there."
It was true. The return journey seemed a lot shorter, as it usually does. Sai recognized a few of the islands the sailed past on the first leg. The water was a brighter shade of blue near Ember Island. So when the sea turned from a deep blue to azure again, he knew they couldn't far anymore. Soon, he docked the Smuggler at the Serizawa jetty again, where Yang and Juji were waiting for them. Juji was shocked to see the state her brother was in.
-"My Lord, what happened to you?! You look like you just fought a small war on your own, are you alright?"
Sai pulled him onto the dock. "He kind of did. And yes, with a bit patchwork, he'll be fine."
-"What are you talking about?
"I asked him to train me." Sozu grunted in pain. "He really did..."
Juji turned her head slowly to face Sai. He raised is shoulders and put up the most innocent smile he could muster up. She rolled her eyes and walked back to the house. Sai helped Sozu climb the stairs, as he had trouble on his own with his limp.
Yang carried Sozu's bag. "Didn't I ask you to go easy on him? Look at him!"
Sai protested. "I did! I stopped after every hit to give him some room to breathe. He wanted to go on after every run."
-"Well, at least we made some progress. Gah!" Sozu grunted in pain again as Sai accidentally pressed on his broken ribs.
"Sorry. But he is right, we both got what we came for. I did get to talk to Korra."
-"That's great, right? Was she able to help you? Can you shoot fire now?"
"No. She told me what I need is 'the right incentive', whatever that means."
-"Sounds absolutely useless."
"No, it means I have to wait for the right moment. I don't know when that will be, but she assured me it will come by.
-"Like I said."
"You know, a bit more optimism wouldn't hurt anyone."
-"The way I recall it, you always liked me this way."
"Times change, deal with it."
They had reached the gate, and Mei came running out. Juji must have warned her. Her reaction was very similar to her daughter's. She took him to the doctor straight away. Sai ditched his stuff in his room, which was impeccably clean again, and went to Juji's room. He knew which door it was, but he'd never actually been inside.
She let him in, and Sai saw that it was most definitely a girl's room, with a very cozy atmosphere. It was lower than the guest bedrooms Sai and Yang were staying in, but it wasn't cramped in any way. She had the bright idea to paint the wall pink instead of red, making appear bigger. Juji had a look on her face that told Sai he better had a good explanation.
"You're not really mad, are you?"
-"You beat up my brother! Badly, I should stress!"
"He asked for it!"
-"Bullshit. He would never push you so far."
Sai was a bit surprised that she had taken over his bad language. "No, I'm serious. He actually asked for it. He asked me to train him how to fight an earthbender, seeing how he only ever practiced against other firebenders, and yes, I hit him. Quite a few times, actually." Juji didn't appreciate the smile on his face that appeared with the last remark. "Look. I warned him that this would happen, and he accepted that."
-"But how far did you push him?"
"I already told Yang, I stopped after every hit, but he wanted to continue. We practiced for two days."
-"Don't you know yet? The division in our family is actually quite fair: I got the brains, he got the brawn."
"You can't really stay this mad. Do you really think I would go away for three days with him if I thought I would beat him up because we hate each other's guts?"
-"Hmm, I guess not."
"Come on, let's get a drink in town. I'm buying. Just the two of us. What do you say?"
-"I don't know, my parents are both gone, they would be worried if I left without telling them."
"So what? We're on an island where everyone knows who you are, what could possibly happen to you?"
She hesitated, clearly not entirely at ease with Sai's reasoning, but she reluctantly gave in. "I guess."
They walked down to the beach, where the view from the terrace was gorgeous. It was higher up than the beach, giving them a good view of whatever happened. It was the middle of winter in Republic City, causing the richer people there to flee to Ember Island. They enjoyed their drink, talking about nothing much, until Sai though of what he'd asked Yang.
"Did Yang *ahem* share with you?"
-"Yes, she did. Just like you asked."
"How did you know that? She's clever enough not to tell you that."
-"I told you, Sozu got the brawn, I got the brain. I didn't think she'd suddenly agree to go to school with me if you didn't have something to do with it. Call it "the right incentive" if you will."
Sai was so surprised choked on his drink. When he came back around, the surprise hadn't left his face yet. "School?!"
"Yeah, I invited her to come along. It was fun. You'd be surprised that she's a quick learner and remarkably sharp."
Sai was completely lost for words. It did seem like Yang, who he vaguely remembered as being a bit of a bookworm in the orphanage, but he assumed she did it here to kill time. Still, it had had the desired effect.
"I... I don't know what to say. I never thought she would give in like that."
-"Well, she wasn't too excited about it first, but we spent the day in town, shopping for the stuff she needed, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. So, between you leaving for the solstice and coming back again, we've been to school together."
"Well, if you both think that, great!"
-"Yes, I always say, you can't argue with results. Still, I have missed you. It wasn't the same, sitting on the roof of the dojo with her."
"What do you say? Cliffs again tonight?"
-"Sure, why not."
They spent the rest of the afternoon there, until they had to get back for dinner. Mei and Suke Serizawa weren't too pleased to see their daughter coming back like this, but they didn't make too much of a fuss about it, just like Sai had predicted. Sozu walked with a crutch, and he showed the bandage around his chest. Turns out he had a few fractures in his leg, but it wasn't fully broken. He did have three fractured ribs and two cracked ones.
After dinner, Sai retreated to his room and Juji came to find him there. He was lying in the deep couch on the balcony, when she walked in. Because it had its back to the door, she didn't see him at first.
-"Sai? Are you in here?"
He raised his arm over the backrest. "Over here, why don't you join me?"
She walked over to him, and made a questionning face. "Could you sit up? More than enough room on this thing for the two of us, but no like when you're lying like this."
He smiled, and with one smooth move, pulled her down to lie next to him.
-"Hey, what are you..."
Sai interrupted her. "Come on, we just spent an hour on a perfectly straight chair, I want to chill a little bit, just try it with me. Screw the cliffs, this is a way better seat."
She relaxed, and started to appreciate it more. Sai pulled the box of cigarettes out of his pocket, and lit one. He sucked on it once, and handed it to Juji. She calmly took it and he could feel how her stress flowed out, everytime she exhaled smoke. They were perfectly content, and that moment could have lasted forever.
He lit another one, and Juji smiled. "You know, my father would probably murder you if he found us like this."
"You worry too much. When are you finally gonna learn that "the future" is not the only thing that matters? You need to enjoy the moment more."
-"Yeah, right. And deal with my parents later, because that is just what would happen."
"Maybe that's the issue. You still look at your parents for everything. You doubted big time when we went into town this afternoon, and that's no more than ten minutes walking from her!"
-"I know. It's just... They've always been there for me, and they have always protected me. I've never had any reason not to trust them, or listen to them. I did what they told me to, and I never had to worry about anything."
"But you're fourteen years old, heck, nearly fifteen, and you still ask them for permission to go to in a town ten minutes away?"
Juji didn't answer. It seemed like Sai hit a sore spot with her, but she didn't seem to mind all that much. "I have a feeling part of you wants to get caught like this."
-"What? That's ridiculous! I told you, I would be in big trouble."
"Exactly. How many times has that happened in your life?
Juji sighed. "I get your point."
"You're living in a cage, Juji, and it doesn't matter that it's made out of gold. You're old and wise enough to make your own decisions."
-"So what are you saying? I should aspire to be more like you?"
"I wouldn't exactly take me as an example of how to get it right, but a bit more rebellion wouldn't harm anyone."
A brief silence fell.
-"I don't know. It seems like you do things and only then worry about the consequences."
"Maybe, but here we are, in exactly the same place."
-"That's not entirely fair. You have a lifetime worth of trouble behind you, and you're not even old enough to travel without a supervisor."
"Got here with Yang, and she's not a supervisor. But Juji, you're missing the point. You should get out there, see that the world is bigger than this island."
-"Yeah right. And where and how should I do that? I have left this island once, and that was when I had to go with my parents to a meeting with the Fire Lord."
"Go with me."
"Well, I'm not going to stick around here forever, I have two more elements to go after fire. Come with me. Should be fun."
-"Are you crazy? Do you think my father would ever allow me to do that?"
"No he would not," said a familiar voice behind them.
Juji quickly got up. "Father..."
Fuck. Of all the thoughts running through Sai's head, that was the most prevalent one. He got up as well.
"Master Serizawa, I..."
-"Silence! Avatar Sai, we have a lot to discuss. Jinzuri, get out."
She quietly obided him, and Sai was lost for words.
-"So, this is what you have been doing in your spare time. Getting my daughter addicted to smoking behind my back."
"Well... That was not how it started, but..."
-"Do you really believe that matters to me? How it started? The only thing that concerns me, is what you are doing to my daughter!"
"It's her own choice. The first one she's ever made."
-"So you are both poisoning my daughter and insulting my parenting. You need to think very carefully about your next move."
"All I wanted to do was help her. She desperately needed a friend, because her best friend was her brother. That ain't right."
-"Wrong answer. You are not to see my daughter again without the presence of either me or my wife. Ignore this, and you will no longer be welcome in this house. Do I make myself clear?"
Sai was torn. "Crystal."
Serizawa left without saying another word, and Sai let himself fall back onto his couch. Fuck. He lit up another cigarette, not caring about how quickly he was burning through them. Then, he heard more footsteps. When he looked over the backrest of the couch, he saw that it was Yang.
"You heard the whole thing, didn't you?"
-"Yes I did. Serizawa's voice carries quite a bit."
"I'm not really in the mood for this, if you don't mind."
-"No, I'm here to tell you that I agree with you."
"So what? Now I got to fix this situation."
-"Don't worry, it'll all work out."
Sai let himself fall back into the sofa, while smoking the last bit of cigarette.
-"When you were gone, Juji told me she never had any real friends. Hopefully, she'll finally tell her parents this now."
"I'm not counting on it. She's already neck-deep in shit because she was caught with a cigarette. I don't think she wants to dig herself in even deeper by saying Serizawa kept her a prisoner."
-"I was thinking, It was about time something like this happened."
"You heard that as well?"
-"No, but the thought passed through my head."
"You're probably right. Bit of suffering is good for the soul. I just wish she would see it that way."
Yang got a worried expression on her face, not at all convinced Juji would.
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