Many people have asked for a Sukka story, so here you go! A Sokka/Suki one shot, because this pairing is deprived of love and thus needs more of it.
As a note, when I sat down to my computer, I intended on having this be fluffy. I'll write a fluffy one, but this one is actually very heavy and emotional. (At least, in my two-cent opinion.)
So there you have it, and remember that I own nothing.
Sokka had always thought that he was the tough one: that he was resilient, and stronger than almost anybody else he would chance to come across.
(Of course, in the South Pole, there weren't really many "anybodies" to run into, as his sister pointed out to him with a shake of her head.)
But it proved to be true, on his adventures later in life: Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe really was tough, for all his casual complaining. He could take almost anything and dish it back without a flinch. A boomerang personality. I get it from my father, Sokka would always say.
His spirit was very powerful. The tragedies that befell him, which would have broken many others, were ones he learned from and pushed through relentlessly. (For he had been told once that his life would be full of suffering, but he had not been told that the spirits will never give you a struggle you are not strong enough to handle.)
However, Sokka knew that he would never have the guts that she had.
That woman had a nerve of iron, no kidding. It was the Kyoshi instinct, she told him with a smile, mixed in with a classic bit of Earth Kingdom stubbornness. It was a plain, flat-out refusal to back down, surrender, cave, or die, because you were not fighting just for yourself.
He was speaking, of course, of Suki.
Warriors such as they fought many battles in their lives, and the memories inevitably all swirled together into a mass of blades, blood and bittersweet victories. So the story goes, after all.
But there were several battles that stood out in Sokka's mind for the remainder of his life, perfectly preserved in his memory: One of them was the battle that helped him grasp the sheer magnitude of the Kyoshi woman's will and grit.
Though peace had been tentatively restored by the Avatar several years earlier, it did not automatically pacify one hundred years of hatred. The cluster of the Fire Nation army holding out in some gods- forsaken corner of the Earth Kingdom was testimony enough to that.
As was, for Sokka, the big waste of time he knew was coming, when the Fire Lord assigned the Water Tribe warrior and the Kyoshi woman a battalion….and told them to "take care of it."
(But after a long debate, a fight was just too tempting of a thing to resist.)
Sokka remembered it all so clearly: their battalion had been caught in the forest, autumn setting in around them. It was afternoon. Shafts of buttery sunlight poured through the golden- red canopy… and lit the violence going on under it, as their men were suddenly ambushed.
Sokka had cried out an order hoarsely, for five of the soldiers to move around to the southeast to better position themselves. On top of his own voice was the sound of weapons being drawn, an arrow thudding dully into a tree beside him, Suki's own commands to the men she was in charge of.
Then the fight had begun, and the Water Tribe warrior came alive along with it to greet the first onslaught.
It was a large brute, who charged through the brush to meet the edge of the machete Sokka wielded. They exchanged a few quick strokes, Sokka felling the man before moving on to the next conflict as a blur of gray-blue armor. And it went on.
He caught a fist here, a glancing blow there, and was barely able to whip around and parry a thrust from a spear as it came at him. Barely, however, is significantly far from 'did not.' The approaching death was caught between the edge of his boomerang and blade, held there as he pushed against the man trying to impale him.
The long weapon began to nose upward to catch him in the ribs, with Sokka leaning back from the gleaming iron head…
When the pole of the spear was splintered by a whirl of gold.
The fan flew on by, Sokka not even glancing over to who had thrown it as he lunged forward and finished off his opponent. Grimly satisfied, he retrieved the elegant weapon which had saved his life.
Well, he had best return it.
Chaos continued, raging voices in his ears as he fought his way over to Suki to give her back her fan (not as though she couldn't handle herself with only one, he considered.). A blaze had begun to scorch the dried leaves and spread through the shrub, the heat muddling his thoughts.
Someone shouted to him, he shouted back, and then Sokka caught sight of the infamous green armor and short hair.
She whirled about to face him and instantly plucked the gold fan from his grasp, flicking it around into a ready position with a quick twirl of her wrist.
"We're outnumbered," he called hoarsely. A beat. "Duck down."
Suki dropped gracefully and without question, clearing the way for the boomerang that whistled over her head and knocked out an enemy. She sprang into place again a moment later.
"Where can we fall back to?" came her breathless question.
He would have responded, but yet again, their conversation was cut short. She suddenly snatched Sokka by both shoulders and pivoted around his body, switching places in time to block a flying dagger with the edge of her tessenjutsu fan.
And their back-to-back conference continued.
"We can draw them out, have them chase us up the river," he thought, ideas racing through his brain. "There are reinforcements further down…."
Suddenly, the world came to a halt as he saw Suki's gray-blue eyes redirect their focus.
He followed her line of vision and saw it.
'It' was a younger solider, moving forward to their left...
Too preoccupied to notice a rebel's sword come slicing down behind him, intending to cleave him in two.
Sokka remembered the man: He had watched him (hardly a man, even, more of a boy...) kiss his new wife goodbye as they left the Fire Nation capitol, a little squirming baby between them, and it was that image which flashed through Sokka's mind now.
The breath caught in his throat as he tried to shout a warning….
But by the time the Water Tribe warrior had blinked, Suki was already moving, swearing over the tumult of the battle.
The golden fans flared like blazes in the light.
In those five seconds, Sokka had never seen someone run so fast….and then move so slowly, as he watched what happened next and his brain slowed it down movement by movement .
As he watched the crescents of gold cut the air, the metal fans smashing against the blade and diverting its path, creating sparks as they did.
As the steel caught the dappled light when the sword swerved up yet again, and opened a long streak of scarlet across Suki's front.
As blood misted the fallen autumn leaves like rain.
As she paid it no mind.
She only set her mouth in a grim line and threw her weight forward, all her power in one upward motion. The fan swung out.
It sliced the man's raised arm, and the sword fell to the ground.
A diagonal strike, shrik.
A horizontal cut, Suki blinking hard to keep the blood out of her eyes. Snikt.
Shrak as the precise golden edge cut finally him down neatly.
And a soft thud as both warriors fell to the ground.
Sokka's world sped up again to normal as he ran to her, one foot in front of the other. Looking back, he wasn't sure if his heart had stopped beating in those seconds it took to reach her, as he hit the earth on his knees and shouted her name.The storm-cloud blue eyes snapped open at the greeting, and with only a slight grimace, Suki pushed herself right back up.
"Hey! Stop, you'll make it worse!"
He tried to snatch her sleeve as he shouted, and she let him clutch it.
"Sokka, pull," Suki stated blandly, pointing towards the wide green sleeve of the Kyoshi armor she wore.
Both of them did, and there was an angry tearing sound as the fabric shredded. Without another word, Suki seized the soiled strip of cloth from him and bound it about her torso, which was now thoroughly covered in deep crimson.
"What are you thinking?! You can't fight like tha…"
"My men need me," she cut him off to say in a voice hinged with iron. "They have been placed in my care, and I can't let something so minor get in my way."
"But Suki…!" he pressed angrily.
What was wrong with that woman's mind sometimes? What was she thinking, trying to fight with a wound the size of his forearm in her?
Could it get any worse?
He thought it, before he realized the ramifications of saying such a thing.
Suki's voice suddenly went shrill.
And he paid dearly for his challenge to fate, as there was a soft 'thunk'.
He looked down to see that an arrow had ever-so-neatly pierced the armor at his side.
Well, wasn't that something?
And a second later, his brain exploded with agony.
Really, that was what happened. It was like having firecrackers going off in his head, it disabled his train of thought so. Sokka's whole world became the wooden shaft that was biting into the flesh in his side, thinking of the blood, all that red blood, the arrow, that's not supposed to be there, pull it out pull it out pull it out…
He reached down to obey the chanting pain, when a gloved hand grabbed at his and halted him. Through his spotted vision, he saw Suki there restraining him.
She was so calm it was almost alarming in itself, as she snapped part of the shaft off the arrow, ripped another strip of cloth from her sleeve. She wrapped it quickly about her hand and pressed it to the bleeding wound with an exact focus.
"Don't pull it out, for spirit's sake, Sokka," she called to him over the battle, while intermittently shouting orders over her shoulder. "Come on, now. You're going to be alright."
She swung his arm over her.
She did not accuse him of weakness; she did not panic or do any of those things. Just supported him as she walked forward, yanking the machete from his belt and hacking her way through the brush and the fighting. Sokka's vision faded into inky black for a few minutes, perhaps, but when daylight hit his eyes again, he was still in the chaos of the forest battle.Except that another face was over him. It was Kala, the Northern Water Tribe healer who had been assigned to go with them, and they blinked matching blue eyes at each other as she surveyed the damage.
"Take care of him, Kala!" he heard Suki's hoarse order called out. (An order, not a request.)
Sokka looked around to find its source….Yes; there she was, still standing over him from his position flat on the rocky ground.
The Kyoshi woman nodded and smiled.
"I love you, you big oaf."
Sokka coughed. "Love you too, you crazy woman."
Then Suki swooped down, snatched her fans up, and threw herself back into combat with renewed vigor.
Most others would have thought it uncaring, that she had not stayed by his side from then on in to see his wounds treated: and that was one of the reasons why Sokka loved her. Suki had done all in her power to take care of him….
But she could not abandon her men, no matter how justified the cause. Suki did not rank some lives as more important than others, because every last person under her command was a precious, valued human worth dying for. That was the Kyoshi way of thinking, of course.
And the tessenjustu master pushed on, fueled by her devotion to her comrades as she called out the next orders, moving stiffly but fighting all the same.
Loyal to her men and women, always, come anything at all.
Loyalty was what Sokka personally held in highest esteem, as one of the most valued of human traits. Loyalty meant that you stood by what you believed, (and who you believed in) rose above the blows that life handed you. When coupled with strength like she had, it transcended into something greater. She kept a cool head in chaos, and no physical adversity could faze her.
In essence, she inspired those around her, Sokka included, to shake off their blows and press on as well.
It left him almost in awe of her.
Gods, that girl was as tough as nails.
Yet she saw the situation so simply: She had a duty, and there was no room for fear in her. No room for pain.
(It wasn't until the healer gagged while removing Suki's armor that Sokka realized how incredible that pain must have been. Her wound had almost been worse than his, although the arrow made a large difference in what damage movement did to it. Yet the woman had smiled tiredly and muttered, "Just a scratch.")
He watched her rush away.
Her hair was framed about her face like reddish-gold filaments in the fall sunlight, her skin paled with war paint and streaked with sweat. Blood, mostly her own, covered her armor, the strong body underneath it moving reluctantly from the wound.
She was the most beautiful woman he had ever met.
And he grinned, looking rather dazed, up at Kala as she pressed cool healing water to his side. He made a decision right then and there.
"You see her? That's the girl I'm going to marry…"
"Are you, now?"
Plain and simple, that was his plan. In the end, they were victorious because of Suki, as she led everyone to follow the plan perfectly. Her will and tenacity won it for them, although Sokka was given major credit as well. (His reward had been Suki agreeing to his proposal.)
How funny it was, the Water Tribe warrior thought.
And I thought I was tough.
Suki always thought that she was the tough one: through her training with her Kyoshi companions, her travels and battles with Sokka. She could handle more physical pain than anyone else she had ever met, could take more blows than all others and still keep on fighting without a flinch.
Suki was a leader, after all. That was what she had to do. And she took that strength as a sort of immortality, that she would never know hurt because she had been given the power to fight it off.
Sokka was tough, of course. He had taken his share of scrapes, if not double (or triple...) his share. It was just, well… he had a tendency to complain. Not like there was anything terrible about it: that was his way of dealing with things. She would never be abrasive enough to point that out, though. Suki knew he was critical of himself. And although she did not treat it like glass, the Kyoshi warrior came to understand that Sokka's ego may have been a bit large but was easily bruised, and thus tried to preserve it.
No matter. He just couldn't push through pain as she did. That was fine. Suki had always thought that she would be the 'tough' one in her relationships, anyway.
But she knew, clearly, that she would never, ever posses the heart and spiritual endurance that he had.
Because it seemed that while life had protected her with physical and mental strength…
Life had left Suki unguarded, as well.
Unguarded, for when the midwife shook her head in sorrow, tears rolling down the leathery face as she tried to wipe them away with bloody hands.
It had been their second child, late spring.
The old woman, who had seen so many babies into the world, spoke then.
Her words were garbled with emotion and Suki's own state of being, but the word 'stillborn' managed to burn through the haze like a branding iron and mark a deep wound in the Kyoshi warrior's spirit.
The earth had stopped turning along with those words. It was as though a floor had been yanked out from beneath her, the pit dropping out of her heart.
Then more words came to fill the terrible abyss of silence. It was a long time afterwards when Suki realized the furious, maddened words had come from her: She had hoarsely denied it, demanded and shrieked like a woman whose mind had cracked.
"Give me my son, give me my son, no, no, I want to see him…."
And the question battered Suki like an ocean wave batters a rock:
Suki did not realize how often she wept in most of the days following, until her head would be placed against a dry shoulder and the tears would leave a wet stain there.
She would smell warm leather and know whose shoulder it was as he rushed over to her. Arms would wrap around Suki, hold her as she jerked with violent sobs.
She hurt, and there was no wound to patch up, no injuries to shrug off.
But the pain just didn't want to flow out along with the tears, no matter how many were spilled.
She refused to accept it: that she had carried her son inside her for so long, to only hold him in her arms for such a short time.
In all her life, Suki had never felt so helpless and despairing. Like she had failed somebody.
There was no one to blame: that was part of it. Nothing to dig her blade into, nothing to turn her anger upon, nothing to help her straighten her back and charge forward as she had always done.
And also, Suki was mourning.
Mourning the plans she had made for her second child, (her child, her baby, her flesh and blood which she had helped to create.)
The cradle Sokka had painstakingly carved, the names she had thought of, the excitement on Akira's face as she bragged to the other children that she was going to be a big sister.
Mourning the things that would never be.
And Suki realized that she was on the verge of unraveling completely from the grief and anger.
She would have unraveled: Would have gone completely mad. Looking back, she was sure of it….
If it was not for the person who held her together, never caving in to the sorrow for a moment, never being swept away by the tides that battered him, as well.
Sokka was not a man skilled at words of emotion, calming words to ease away grief. But what words he did speak, he chose carefully.
And at the time when any other man would have finally broken apart under everything pressing down on him, Sokka instead put her back together.
It had been late at night, after their daughter had gone to bed, two months after the little funeral.
(Suki still sang the song they had played, one about the sky and change and hope, to lull herself into a comatose sleep after her exhausting work for the day was done.)
Tonight, though, she chose not to sing it. Something was clawing at her, and Suki could only obey its demands.
Sokka was outside their home, just as restless as he had been every night. She knew he sat out there sometimes when he could not sleep, although before this incident he had not done it for a while. The moon was out, of course, hanging over the ocean, but he did'nt talk to it this time: her husband only sat there with his own thoughts.
A cricket continued its serenade in the dark, and far off Suki could hear the crashing of the waves against the shores of Kyoshi Island. All of it angered her, the peace and calm that the world offered: because it was a beautiful world that her son would never see, sounds her son would never hear.
And Sokka sat there.
She watched him pick up a handful of the sandy soil under his feet, and let it slide back through his brown fingers again. The fine rocks looked like black diamonds in the moonlight. An owl cooed somewhere to the north, and a board creaked as Sokka coughed slightly and shifted.
The human noise reminded Suki of her purpose. And then she tensed her whole body like a bowstring and moved.
That was when something else cut the air; a much more violent, whipping noise amidst the nighttime serenity, and Sokka barely had a chance to duck as a golden crescent bit into the post near his shoulder. His tired eyes looked over.
And Sokka saw her in the doorway, the other fan in hand.
Suki could only imagine what her face looked like, as she paused there in a fighting stance. She wore no armor, only a simple white night dress that swirled loosely in the night breeze about her thinned body. As she walked flat-footed across the porch through the patches of blue shadows, Suki thought she must have looked the part of a ghost, if anything.
May as well have been one.
The steps made only the softest of padding noises, and her gray-blue eyes never left his.
Instead, they watched him stand up precariously, pulling out of an instinctive crouch. And slowly, the Water Tribe warrior backed away, yanking the other fan from the gouge in the woodwork. He took careful steps down off the porch and out into the open moonlight as she advanced, he keeping a steady eye on the Kyoshi woman as well.
She took a ragged breath.
"Fight me," Suki heard herself say, voice cracking hoarsely.
"What?" Sokka asked simply.
"Fight me," she repeated, and gave him no more time to consider the offer.
She simply stepped forward and swung.
There was no precision or determination in her clumsy blows, Suki knew: only a tired obedience, a worn commitment to…to…something. She begged herself to stop, and found she was quite unable to, because she was no longer in control.
And so Suki continued to let all the anger flow out of her through the gold fan, trying to purge the evil pain boiled up in her chest.
She watched the iron edges of her weapon reflect the full moon's rays, and Sokka dodged her blows evenly as they sparred. The couple continued their dance through the shadows, the memory burning into Suki's memory as they did.
The sounds of battle.
Then, Sokka's eye begged the question which had been haunting her.
But a moment afterwards, it was replaced by understanding. Understading that she was not graced by.
She needed something, Suki decided then.
She needed it, and she knew instinctively that to fight was the only way she was going to get it. There was a terrible ache that refused to stop beating at her, chewing, eating her heart, and here, here was where she would bandage it. Bandage it with blood…
Suki brought the fan in a great arch.
There was the unmistakable sound of a blade being drawn. It all too familiar, but she foolishly lunged anyway.
The fan went flying from her hand then, hooked on the machete's edge and soaring away to land in a puddle of shadow, while her husband stood in the moonlight: looking at her and waiting.
And desperately, with heavy breaths coming through her clenched teeth, she shot her fist forward. Sokka easily caught it in his own, then grabbed her other arm and looked her dead set in the eyes, his firm grip holding her close to him.Suki then realized that her vision was blurry and it made the shadowy colors of his face run together, as her eyes were filled with the helpless, salty tears that she was fighting.
Several escaped, making paths down her dry, tired face.
Hitched sobs came along with them.
Fight, anything to fight, anything at all….
His voice reached her ears perfectly.
"No…" she pulled against him, but she was drained completely of all her physical strength, the strength she had always relied on.
And then she pounded against his chest weakly, stating the obvious:
"It's not fair! How could that happen? How could he be gone, my son, my baby? Just like that! Gone, all that future and life. It's not fair, Sokka!"
He only held onto her, and finally found the words to say.
"I know what you're doing," he continued, coaxing her to calm down.
His voice was raw with sadness, and that made her stop her struggling to listen. In all of her grief, she supposed she had selfishly forgotten about his, what he was feeling.
The anger shouted into her brain a moment later. He doesn't understand. He doesn't understand how that child was a part of you, how much you loved him and longed to see his face, how robbed you feel.
But she kept listening to him nonetheless.
"You want to transfer this pain, don't you? You want pain that you can handle, that you can fight."
Transfer it? Turn it into wounds; hope that the sorrow would disappear that way?
Because it was on the field of battle that she felt safest. There were few injuries she hadn't seen, few things she could not push through by simply being a classic Earth Kingdom girl. But here…here she was vulnerable, because she had never lost anyone she cared about like this, anyone so close to her.
She would have brought him into the world and cried with joy, held the tiny, wet, bawling child with the scrunched red face and thought that nothing more beautiful had ever existed. She would have read to him and watched him play with Akira and taught him to walk and speak, taught him to fight and love and live, poured her soul into him.
But now, she never would.
Suki only nodded.
Then, surrender came, from a woman who had never surrendered to anything in her whole life. She sank to the cool earth, under the invisible burden on her shoulders. But Sokka held onto her as she did, didn't let her go, and he sank along with her. He cradled her like a child, running his hands through her hair which he always told her he loved.
"You don't have to fight it, don't you understand that? You need to meet it head on like you meet everything else, Suki."
He held his wife closer, until she could feel his heartbeat pounding against her ear.
She was scared. She had never faced an opponent as strong as this one which she could not kill.
Face it head on?
"I'm not strong enough to do it," she stated simply.
There. I said it aloud.
"That's just the thing. You won't have to do it by yourself."
Suki looked up at him then, their eyes locking. She had once been told that love was when someone has seen you at your absolute worst, as well as your best.
It did not get much worse than this.
But Sokka….Sokka was still here with her.
He was flesh and blood to touch and hold, the man she loved and who understood her better than anybody else.
And suddenly she clung to him as though he were holding her back from being swept away by the tide. In a sense, he was. She mumbled his name sadly.
He kept speaking.
"I'm right here, Suki. I always will be. I can't change what's happened….But I can tell you that…that it'll get better. I can tell you that there'll be a time when the pain eases. Not because you've forgotten about who you're grieving for. You should never do that, ever…."
He wiped her face on his shirt.
"But you learn. You learn that death is…death is an illusion."
The tears clung to her eyelashes like crystals in the silver moonlight. The words did not sound to be his own, but rather ones that he had held on to from some lesson long ago, and that somehow made them mean more.
"How?" was all she could ask, her shaking sobs subsiding.
"Because the…the..." he blinked, and she thought she saw a few tears in his own eyes that he chased away. Sokka realized that he could not cry now. It was his turn to be strong.
"…The people we love are never really gone. They're still with us, and they want to remind us…"
"Of what?" she mumbled, realizing how utterly exhausted she was.
"That we need to keep living. In their memory, we have to live and wonder and change and rely on each other. I need you, and Akira needs you, and you need us. I swear to you: it will get better."
There was a way to fight this grief? Suki found it hard to believe, that the weapon was so simple.
Those that we love are never gone.
What sort of connection did love build, anyway? What sort of connection existed between her and Sokka, her and her daughter? She carried about pieces of them in her heart, certainly, if she ever had to journey away from them. Her life was incomplete without those two, and it was love that held her family together.
It was a thread that always pulled her back. It was a connection that death did not sever, because death, as Sokka had said, was an 'illusion.'
Was that thread still there, connecting her to her son? She didn't know.
But his words somehow reached her, that the life was not gone entirely.
But still…but still…
"And how do you know this? That things will get better?" she asked weakly, after a long silence.
"Because I'll be right here and make sure that they do," he responded firmly. "I've been down this road before. Don't worry. I know the way."
The people of the Water Tribe, Suki had been taught, were capable of adapting. They understood true endurance far better than any of the other nations, but she had never realized how strong that understanding was… until she looked at him now and knew he spoke the truth.
It didn't ease the pain, but it promised relief.
And the hope he had given her provided the first small repair, to the mark that had been left deep in her spirit. It healed a slight bit, enough to quell the angry clawing for the first time in two months. They were the words she had needed to hear, although they would not be the only words she needed to.
But the first signs of healing are always the most miraculous, the most celebrated, because it is a clear sign that the wounded will live.
Suki nodded, eyelids drooping and closing as she slumped against him. She was not awake to see him sigh, lift her up easily and carry her to bed where he lay awake and watched over her.
And Sokka was a man of his word.
Suki was left in awe of him, very often.
It was that loss that helped her realize the magnitude of his tenacity, of his toughness. He had another sort of strength that only a few are born with, an understanding of things which Suki would never have.
How could he be so strong, as to pull others through their sorrow like that, even grief that went that deep?
That was why she loved him so: for simply being Sokka that way and holding her together, holding everybody together and not realizing how much he did so.
And Suki learned, soon, that life had not left her unguarded from emotional, spiritual pain.
It had given Suki her husband.
Things did heal, and the pain did ease.
Although there would always be a reserved spot in both of their hearts, a little section of saved love for when they departed from the world and were finally able to sweep their son into their arms: The son who had been there, waiting, because you could never keep those that loved each other apart forever.
The connection was too strong.
But that was for later.
For now, though, one of Suki's worries had been if she would be able to love another child as much as she had been prepared to love that son: if there was room in her heart for one more.
But love is not like a physical object, with only so many parts it can be split into. There was always room for someone else.
Love is very accommodating, adaptive, as Suki learned: As Sokka showed her.
That was the Water Tribe way.
Three years after their duel under the eyes of the moon, Sokka and Suki sat on the porch and watched their daughter play with her little brother and sister, waterbending for them. The babies just loved that….it made them laugh hysterically, to see the magic water twisting between 'Big Sister's' fingers.
(Twins, to their great surprise. And they had both cried like babies themselves at their birth.)
Suki leaned her head on Sokka's shoulder.
They had come through their trials, in the end, to something beautiful.
How funny it was.
And I thought I was tough.
Love is not fluffy clouds, passionate kisses, sweet gifts and soft colors.
The warriors knew that, as does anybody who has ever really loved.
It is forged iron, forgiveness and healing, hope, and eternal life: it is mountains and belief and strength.
It is being tough.
And Suki and Sokka realized that it was only through each other that they were able to be so.
A/N: Yeesh. I was planning, as I said, on making this one fluffy. But something happened, and I got this end product instead. Huh. The fluffy one will come later.
Also, I was going to try my hand at, perhaps, a Kataang (although there will be Zutara/Taang one shots for balance) as requested by one of my awesome anonymous reviewers. I hope you liked this somewhat. (Sigh.)
Thank you all very much for reading.