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Three weeks had passed since Serizawa caught Sai and Juji. He noticed how she had become noticeably more distant. After a few days, Sai got the feeling she was purposefully avoiding him. He didn't blame her, but still. It was a lot to take in, especially if this was the first time she really got into trouble.
The firebending hadn't stopped, but Serizawa had also become far more distant. He stopped calling him Sai, and instead referred to him as Avatar. He took in two other firebenders, who were mostly just sharpening their skills, and let Sozu take over the training of Sai, since he wasn't getting anywhere fast. Not that Sai minded that much, it was mostly Juji's detachment that bothered him. Yang was of course with him, but it wasn't exactly like she was a shining example of how to succeed at life.
Sozu secretly agreed with Sai, and they had been spending more time together. Neither Mei not Suke Serizawa minded that, perhaps because they figured Sai wouldn't make the same mistake twice. Or maybe because they knew Sozu wasn't so easily tempted. Either way, this was the hand they had been dealt, and they just had to make it work.
Sai and Sozu were wrapping up their training, when Sozu asked a question that had been in his head for a while now. "Sai, could we try the whole "earth vs. fire" thing again?"
"I don't know, remember what I did to you last time around?"
-"Duh, I just got over that. But I want to have another go. I've been practicing and I want try again."
"Maybe it's safer if you go a few rounds against Yang first. Fighting an airbender is closer to a firebender, and noticeably less dangerous than earth."
-"You weren't so reluctant the first time around."
"Well, your parents didn't hate my guts back then. I get the distinct feeling your father is looking for an excuse to kick me out of the house."
-"Nonsense. It'll blow over, trust me."
"Oh yeah? Sozu, it's been three weeks, and he hasn't let up once. Neither has your sister, for that matter."
-"Well, what did you expect? You got her into this mess."
"Oh, so it's my fault?"
-"Well, kind of. You did get her smoking, and you two were making yourself *ahem* very comfortable."
"I didn't force her to do anything! She went with me, she accepted the cigarette, she..." He didn't finish, but instead sighed.
-"Look, kid, I know you think you did a good thing, but you need to put yourself in her mind. It's kind of a different world for us. You never faced the repercussions of your actions."
"No, all I did was risk the next ten years of my life in a box. It wasn't exactly "happy go lucky" for me, okay?"
-"But you never did get caught, and now you're living here. And now my father told me to try and beat "actions have consequences" into you. It's turning out to be surprisingly difficult."
-"Wasn't a compliment, city boy." It fell silent for a little while. "Let's go inside. Dinner will probably be ready soon."
They did just that, and it was just as stiff and uncomfortable as it had been for the past three weeks. Sai and Juji were seated strategically at far ends of the table, whereas previously only Serizawa had been slightly displeased that his daughter was getting this friendly with a street rat. The two new students, Rina and Noren, tried to stay out of this as much as they could. Sai watched them practice a few times. They were good, and from the looks of it, didn't really need Serizawa's tutelage.
After dinner, by the time it had gone dark, Sai noticed Juji and Yang wander out into the garden. He decided to go after them, this had to stop.
Juji turned away from him. "Go away."
"Are you really still that mad?"
-"Weren't you the one to say that I was locked in a golden cage? Well, guess what, the door had always been on a crack, but now they locked it and threw away the key."
Sai didn't know what to say. Yang did. "Sai, she's right. You did work the two of you into this position."
"Look, I wasn't trying to get you into trouble."
-"You even said that getting into trouble would be good for me!"
"I did, but this is not what I meant!"
She just turned away again. "Come on Yang, I don't want to get into any more trouble. Neither do you, Avatar Sai."
They hadn't walked three steps, when Sai suddenly heard something move on the wall. "Wait, did you hear that?"
-"Sai, I'm not falling for your lame pickup lines." Juji sounded really annoyed by now.
"No, I'm serious, there's someone on the wall. Get back to the house, now."
They started to do so, but were immediately caught. Cuffed remotely by some sort of earth, Sai could feel it move. They also got some sort of gag over their mouths to stop the girls from screaming, but Sai was left unharmed. A couple of men in black uniforms jumped over the wall, and one of them stepped forward. "Avatar Sai! Come with us quietly, and we won't have to harm your friends."
Sai looked around. Six of these guys in black. With a little help, it should be doable. "Fuck you!" He grabbed the cuffs of the girls, at least the rocks they were made from, and shot them all back as bullets to the men who attacked them. "Juji, get behind me! Yang, back up!"
Yang blasted one of the men back at the wall, and Sai threw up cover for the both of them, Juji sheltering behind him. Yang yelled for Sozu at the top of her lungs, whose room they were not far away from. He joined them in the fight, shooting a quick succession of blasts at the earthbenders. Sai tried to keep the upper hand by quickly breaking down the rock in front of him into more bullets, but it wasn't working. One of the men managed to grab Juji by the clothes again, but before he could reel her back in, a bolt of lightning struck right in between them. It was Serizawa and the other students. They all started fighting the earthbenders, who suddenly also got reinforcements.
Rina and Noren created a wall of fire in front of them, giving them some cover, but they couldn't keep it up forever. Serizawa used this moment. "Children, get out of here, we'll hold them off!"
Sai knew what to do. "Smuggler, now! I'll get the keys, you get to the cliffs!"
They ran off in two different directions, Sai towards the wing of the house with the guest bedrooms, as he left the keys in his room. Sozu, Yang and Juji went through the house, he saw how Yang blew down the terrace doors, so they would end up underneath the guest bedrooms. Sai saw his own balcony doors were closed, so he threw a rock at them and broke them down. With a pillar, he launched himself onto the balcony, and he spotted the keys on his nightstand. He launched the table into the air, but because the keys were smaller, they flew further and he perfectly caught them. He broke down both the doors of his and Yang's rooms, and heard Yang yelling from below. "Sai, jump!"
He jumped off the edge of the balcony, and Yang caught him with an air disk. Running further into the garden, they noticed they were being followed by the earthbenders, so when they were close enough to the stairs, Sai drilled a tunnel through the ground, ending on the middle of the stairs down to the jetty. All down, the girls took the lead. Sai and Sozu decided to buy them a little time. Sozu blasted a massive fireball down the tunnel, and Sai then collapsed it behind them.
When they also got down, Yang had already blown the cover off the Smuggler, and Sozu made quick work of the mooring lines: one quick fireblade, and they were free. Sai fired her up, and gunned it. "Looks like we're in the clear for now." Sai said, but the words hadn't left his mouth, or they were suddenly in the spotlight. Literally.
Two helicopters had caught up to them. More earthbenders were standing in the door opening, and started bending earth disks at the Smuggler. Yang blew one away and Sozu shot the other one out of mid-air, but they wouldn't be able to hold all of them, so Sai jumped up again. "Juji, take the wheel!"
-"What? I don't know how to drive this thing!"
"Just keep her steady!"
Sai jumped to the stern, and caught one of the disks, hurling it back at the helicopter it came from. He missed, but between the three of them and the immense speed of the Smuggler, they started to pull out somewhat of a lead over the helicopters, but then something none of them saw coming happened: they hit a small wave. Given that Sai, Yang and Sozu were standing, they all lost balance for a moment, and right at that time, Sai got hit by a disk, sending him flying overboard.
Yang stared in horror as she watched Sai skip over the water a few times. He made a violent smack, finally coming to a halt, and he began to sink. "Turn this fucking tub around!" She shouted at Juji, while unleashing a massive blast forward, slowing them down significantly. The helicopters overshot them, but they began their turn around. Juji maneuvered back with surprising dexterity. Yang didn't see him, but they had another problem. The helicopters had turned around, and were making their approach quickly. Both she and Sozu jumped onto the bow of the Smuggler, and got ready to fend off more disks, when something unexpected happened.
About twenty feet in behind them, the water started moving. Without any warning, the surface broke, revealing Sai riding a massive waterspout. He looked at Yang, Sozu and Juji, and they saw how his eyes were glowing a brilliant white. He turned around to the helicopters, and shot a huge stream of fire at one, which plummeted into the sea immediately. Even though of he was far away from it, he launched an air slice at the other one, effectively separating the tail from the body, causing it to spiral out of control, and it crashed not too far from the other helicopter. Sai pulled his arms in, gently lowering the waterspout, before creating a sheet of ice, on which he collapsed.
The three in the Smuggler looked at each other on bewildered silence. Sozu eventually remarked: "We need to get him."
He took the wheel from Juji, and put them right alongside the sheet of ice. Yang jumped onto it, and got Sai, who was still unconscious. She got him back aboard the Smuggler, and they quickly made a run for it.
Sai woke up again half an hour later, and Sozu cut the engines so they could talk in peace.
-"Sai! That was... Amazing! You were on a giant waterspout, at least thirty feet in the air!" Yang couldn't really contain her enthusiasm. "How did you suddenly do that?"
Sai gave her a faint smile. "It was the right incentive."
Sozu climbed to the back as well. "Can you still do it?"
Sai closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. He opened his fist, showing a small flame. He got a massive grin on his face.
Juji still had trouble taking it all in. "But how were you suddenly able to control water and air? You haven't practiced with those."
Sai shook his head. "I don't know. But it felt like I wasn't really in control of myself. I could see what I was doing, but I don't know how I did it."
The others looked surprised. They didn't really know what to say to that, so Yang pulled a box of cigarettes from he pocket, giving one to Sai. "Here. You earned it." She also gave one to Juji and took one herself, but Sozu still refused. He did light them for the others, even the one of his sister. Everyone stared out a little bit, before Sai threw the question out there that was going through everyone's head.
"So now what?"
-"We need a place to lay low. Just so we can figure out who these earthbenders are and what they want." Was Yang's theory.
Juji had her doubts. "But where could we go that's safe and close enough?"
Sozu was with the airbender. "Yang is right. We can't go back to Ember Island. Not just yet, anyway."
"Republic City. Sai and I know that place very well, we lived on the streets there for five years. Plus, we've been going mostly east when we were trying to get away from those earthbenders. We can blend in there."
Sai disagreed. "We can, but so can they. And there is one other thing that worries me. Nobody knew who I am."
Yang was surprised. "What do you mean?"
"Think about it. Outside of us, and your parents" as he gestured to Sozu and Juji, "the only people who know that I'm the Avatar and where I was, are just the Fire Sages in the temple I went to with Sozu, and a few people in the Republic City Police. That's probably where the leak is."
"He's right. On the street, we're vulnerable." Juji thought for a while. "We could go to Air Temple Island."
Yang rudely interrupted her. "No fucking way. I am not going there."
Sai tried to calm her down. "Yang, I know you have a grudge against that place, and I don't blame you, but let's just hear what Juji has to say."
She crossed her arms, not the least bit impressed by Sai's words, but she did look at Juji again.
"The matriarch of the Air Temple is a good person. Sozu, we met her at Fire Lord Kazuo's coronation."
-"Do you really think she'll still remember that? That she'll be all like "Oh yeah, I met you two five years ago, you can totally hide here, a continent away from your home and far away from killer earthbenders!" I don't think so."
"Maybe not, but we are with the Avatar. Most airbenders would be on our side when they hear that."
Sai thought for a moment. "You're probably right. They can also help us get a message back to Ember Island. We need to let your parents know we are safe."
Sozu took charge. "Do we agree on Air Temple Island?"
Sai and Juji nodded, and Yang reluctantly sighed before finally giving in. "Fine."
Sozu took the wheel of the Smuggler again, and set course for the United Republic.
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