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|A Single Step|
A Single Step
-"Now remember, you bow as we enter, and you bow again when he says today's lesson is over. Got it?"
"I think so."
Even though Sozu still had his doubts, they entered the dojo anyway. It was located in the corner of the walled garden, itself consisting of an open and a covered part, presumably so the master didn't get wet when it rained. Both Sai and Sozu bowed respectfully when Serizawa walked out to greet them again. A slight smile broke across his face. "I see my son has a least taught you the basics of good manners. Let's get started."
They went out into the open part, where Sai was instructed to get into the lotus position.
"Firebending and earthbending are very different from each other. Earthbending relies on a steady stance and brute strength coming from the muscles. Firebending comes from the breath. You use your own inner fire to light it, your chi to fuel it, and your breath to fan it. That is how you create fire."
Sai was pretty taken in by it all. "Great. So what's step one?"
-"What do you think?"
"Well, given your description, I'd say it's to find my inner fire."
-"But you already know what that is, don't you?"
"I have to keep the world from falling into disorder again."
He spent most of the afternoon doing breathing exercises, and when they finished, he was properly tired. He did remember to bow as he left, and slumped back to the house. Sozu caught up to him before he could get to his room though.
-"Hey man. How was firebending?"
"I don't know. It's not like I can suddenly do it."
-"Don't be so down on yourself. You'll get it eventually. Now, dinner is served in ten minutes, so get cleaned up, and get to the dining hall. See you there!"
He ran off, presumably to his own room, while Sai cleaned up a little bit in the bathroom. Back in his room, he found his old clothes perfectly wrapped in a bag, and they were perfectly clean. Juji wasn't kidding, he never noticed how filthy they actually were. The only thing that seemed to be missing were his shoes, so he just decided to wear those he wore to the firebending training. At the dining table, Serizawa sat at the head of the table, while his wife and children sat on adjacent side. He sat down next to Juji, when he suddenly noticed that Yang wasn't there. "Hey, has anyone seen Yang?"
"No, I haven't seen her since we set you up in your rooms." Juji said.
Serizawa wasn't pleased by this. "She's probably still in her room. Sozu, go get her."
He let out an annoyed sigh. "Fine." He got up, but Sai stopped him. "I'll get her. She's my friend, I brought her here." Serizawa nodded approvingly, and Sai went to her room. She was sitting in one of the chairs, with a whole stack of books beside her. "Looks like you've been busy." He said, with a smirk on his face. "Come on, dinner is ready, we're all waiting for you."
-"What is the point? They're only this friendly because you are the Avatar."
"Well, that might have kickstarted it, but..."
-"Do you really think these people give a damn about a couple of kids from the street? Because I don't."
He sat down in the chair next to her. "Look, Yang, They might look down on us, but they are pretty nice people. You just need to open up to it, give them a chance."
"Come on, what's the worst that could happen? If you're not doing it for new friends, then at least do it for the free food."
She smiled. "Okay. Now could you give me a hand? You sink in this chair like crazy."
He helped her up and they walked down to the dining hall again. "Now try to be polite, these folks are a bit sensitive. Oh, and their food is extremely hot. Consider yourself warned."
They got back at the table, and their dinner soon arrived.
Mei Serizawa, Sozu and Juji's mother, was kindness itself. She insisted that Sai and Yang called her Mei, much to the annoyance of Suke Serizawa. Fortunately, the food was much less spicy than it had been in the afternoon. Sai was able to eat it without any real problems, and even Yang admitted that it tasted great. Sai did notice that Serizawa seemed to be in somewhat of a rush, but he soon got his answer as to why. After the dessert, he stood up the second Juji took the last bite, and finished as the last of them.
"If you would excuse me, I have to attend a meeting with the Governor. Mei, shall we get ready?"
-"Let's do that, darling. Good evening to you all."
They quickly got up and left the room, leabing Sai and Yang somewhat bewildered. Yang asked what was on the mind of both of them: "Do they do that often?"
"Yeah, kind of. Could be worse though, when Sozu and I were little, we always had to go with them and act like model children."
-"Yep, nothing like the good old days."
Sai wasn't impressed. "Sounds like you had a real tough childhood."
"Well, there is indeed a sizeable gap between us. You had all the freedom in the world, we were watched twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week." Sozu didn't seem too pleased with Sai's cynical response, but Yang wasn't with his.
"Yeah, going to parties, wearing expensive clothes, never having to worry about food, living on a tropical island that hasn't had a day of bad weather in a century, I can hardly believe you survived in such total fucking hardship!" After that, she stormed off, presumably back to her room.
Sai could only stare in horror as she slammed the door behind her. "I - I am really sorry about her. I'll try to talk some sense into her once she's cooled off a little bit."
"Yep, I'm sure you will." Sozu also wanted to walk out, but Juji stopped him before he reached the door. "Sozu, running away won't solve the issue."
"Since you don't seem to have better one, I'm going to try it. You know where to find me."
He too walked out, leaving a disgruntled Sai and a saddened Juji.
"What am I going to do about her, Juji?" He let his head rest on his hands.
-"Why? We're trying to let her in, but she doesn't seem to want to."
"She has more reason than most not to trust any parent figures, or almost anyone. I've known her for seven years, and I'm the only person she actually trusts. But she thinks you are only being nice to her because she came with me. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling that's true."
Juji didn't really know what to say to that, mostly because, well, it was true. She finally spoke after what seemed like an eternity. "Can I ask... Do you know what happened to her, that made her... like this?"
Sai sighed. "I know. But she really doesn't want people to find out. If she wants you to know, she'll tell you. Trust me."
"And what's your story? Will you tell me?"
He hesistated for a second. "Okay. But not here. This room makes me feel uncomfortable." He wandered out through the doors leading into the garden, and Juji followed him. The sun had set by now, but the paths were softly lit by lanterns shining down and a bright full moon. They walked side by side silently for a while, until they got to the cliff side, where he sat down on the ground. Reluctantly, Juji sat down next to him. Sai started talking.
"Right after I was born, my father, an earthbender, left me and my mother. I don't know where he went, and my mother never got to tell me, though I doubt she ever knew. She was a good, kind woman, working two jobs as a waitress in two different restaurants. We didn't have much, but we could get by. It kept at least some food on the table. A few days before my eigth birthday, we were walking through a neighborhood of the Water Tribes. The old "birds of a feather, they flock together" idea. We were stopped by a waterbender who picked me up with a tendril and put a spike to my head, threatening to kill me if she didn't hand over all the money she was carrying. She told him that she didn't have any, which was true, but he didn't believe her. He wanted to drive that spike right into my head, which was when I discovered my earthbending. On pure instinct, I threw up a wall, blocking his spike and freeing myself from his grip. I kicked in his direction, hoping the earth would move with that kick, and it did. It pushed him away a couple of feet, and he stumbled back and launched a volley of spikes our way. He made off, after he saw what he had done, and by the time I turned around to face my mother, she was dead. After that, I had nothing left. My father didn't come looking for me, and the police barely bothered to find him. I was moved into an orphanage, which wasn't too bad, considering I got food and education, and it was where I met Yang. We weren't best friends right away, but we didn't hate each other's guts or anything, we were just sort of... indifferent about each other. But it was over by the time I turned ten. The orphanage didn't have a lot of money, and they had to kick people out every once in a while. They would make up some bullshit file about being difficult to handle, breaking stuff, attacking other kids, you get the picture. They weren't entirely unfair, they typically kicked out the kids who could, in theory at least, handle themselves best on the street, so naturally, those were the benders. Yang and I were about the same age, so we were kicked out at the same time. We decided to stick together, and here we are."
Juji had her hand in front of her mouth in shock. It was silent for the longest time, as Sai just stared out over the ocean, and Juji let it all sink in. "You poor thing..." She finally managed, and she gave him a hug. He held her as well, realizing how vulnerable he made himself to her. He enjoyed the closeness, and let his head rest on hers, and felt how genuine her care was, as well as realizing how small she actually was compared to him. He relaxed, as he let her go.
-"Did they ever catch the man who did it?"
"No. Not that they will, he was just some random punk. Probably not even evil all the way through. Shit, if it hadn't been for the Chief sending me here, I would probably be him three years from now."
-"But that's totally unfair! I thought they always tried to solve crimes."
Sai let out a sarcastic sniff. "Yeah, it sucks, but with a case that won't make headlines, the police can't be bothered paying their people to try and solve it, when a dozen cases just like it happened that same day. Low profile, low priority. How do you think Yang and I got away with stealing our living together for five years straight?"
"Of course. On the streets, it's kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. You're either the hunter or the prey. And if I had to make that choice again, I would. Nothing wrong with good morals, but they don't put any food on the table."
She fell silent again for a while. "Thank you," she finally said.
"For what? Getting you worried that I might make off with the contents of your daddy's safe in his office?"
-"For opening up to me."
"You're welcome." He stood up and lit a cigarette, as Juji stared in amazement. "Yeah, I know it's a bad habit, but it keeps me sane. Gives me something to strive for, as well as relieve a bit of stress." He explained, as he held the cigarette out to her. She hesitated, but she did take it. She coughed heavily after she inhaled, just like Sai expected. "That's alright, nobody gets it on the first try." She inhaled a second time, and still coughed, albeit a lot less than the first time around, and she hand the stick back to him.
-"What am I doing? Father would kill me if he found out!"
"How would he find out? I'm not going to tell him and neither are you." He pulled her on her feet again and threw the butt off the cliff. "Come on. We should get back to the house. I need to have that talk with Yang."
She smiled as they started walking back. "You didn't really mean that about the safe, did you?"
"Oh, so it is in his office? Now I just have to figure out the combination... It's probably your birthday." He couldn't help the massive sarcastic grin on his face.
She looked at him, and laughed.
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