A/N: Further Sokkla love! Well…the beginning of it anyway. Kind of. If you squint. The last one was more of a prologue, and this is where the real story starts.
Tales From B.S.S.U.
"People who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped." Author Unknown
"B24…B24…where on earth IS B24?" Sokka glanced up from his paper to the rows of doors he was passing, but none of them matched the set he was looking for. This was ridiculous! He'd been wandering the twisted hallways of Ba-Sing-Se University's on campus housing for nearly an hour now. Not only had he not found the room he was looking for, Sokka highly doubted he could find the place he had started either.
Wandering this labyrinth might have been easier if it weren't for the mass of students and luggage going both directions of the tiny hallway. There were decorative trunks on the back of worn out looking servants and loudly chatting students—all of them looking older than himself—clad in green, causing congestion as they paused to greet each other, check doors, or dig keys out of their flowing robes. The whole place reminded Sokka of the Bei Fong house, and he smiled a little as he imagined the letter he would write to his little Earthbending friend. He could almost hear Katara reading it in his head: 'Dear Toph, I think I found a place populated by miniature versions of your parents. Did they graduate from Ba Sing Se University, by chance?'
It wouldn't have surprised him at all if they had because he, dressed all in blue and nearly a full head taller than anyone there, and his little rucksack of stuff felt just as out of place here as he had at Toph's childhood home. Normally, Sokka was confident just about anywhere, and didn't mind the fact that he didn't come from the most stylish place in the world. Right now, though, he was sort of wishing he could disappear because the few students who acknowledged that he was standing there did so in an obviously less than friendly way.
They made Master Pakku look like a cuddly Sabertooth Moose Lion cub!
"Someone owes me a lot of meat for this," Sokka muttered to himself, nearly dropping to his knees to avoid one of the large trunks as a servant stumbled. He was going to take Aang for everything he could on this one, that much was certain. Maybe a trip to the Fire Nation so he could get some of those sea slugs Sokka liked so much would be in order as soon as they had a break from school.
Oh yeah, that sounded like good payback. Maybe he could even get Zuko to join him in one. He hadn't had a good sit down chat with his best buddy in almost two years. The Fire Lord—Sokka still couldn't even think that with a straight face—hadn't even been kind enough to answer his written inquiry as to who it was he was sending to represent the Fire Nation. Well, not directly, anyway. All he'd said was 'Aang trusts my judgement', which was enough to nearly scare Sokka in to backing out. Zuko, and Aang, weren't telling him something and it was putting him on edge.
Or maybe that was the frustration at the matching hallways with their matching suspicious-eyed green clad snooty students doing that. That was a distinct possibility.
The nearest door said A125, which told him nothing at all. Why hadn't the lady who'd given him the scroll with his room number and class schedule been more helpful? Seriously, would it have killed her to pause for five seconds in her busy work and give him directions? This brought to his attention a problem that made Sokka shudder involuntarily. If all these people were as helpful as her, how was he ever going to find his classes? Were they hoping that Aang's proposal would fail on the merit that their experimental students all disappeared in the unknown recesses of the campus?
Sokka groaned, rolling his scroll back up, and began preparing himself for the inevitable wound to his manly pride. There was no two ways about it; he would have to ask for directions if he was going to survive this. And he was going to survive, if only to show all these people who were pretending not to see him that he was worth something.
Pretending to be casually glancing around for someone, Sokka carefully selected who he would ask. As badly as he wanted to create an awkward situation for one of the snobs who were trying to pretend he wasn't there at all, he doubted that day one was a good day to pick a fight. Instead he settled on a girl that was hovering by the stairs that kept shooting him half-hidden glances. Sokka thought he recognized her from that poetry society, but that was so long ago now he couldn't be sure.
Shouldering his bag once more, and feeling more out of his element the longer he tried to navigate the crowd, the 18-year-old Water Tribesman wound his way towards her. He assumed his best charming grin, the one that had most girls his age swooning in minutes, but this seemed to reassure her very little as she now dropped all pretenses of masking her dislike for his very presence.
Faced with this, Sokka's expression dropped, and though he'd planned to open with one of his classic lines about her beauty he found nothing more intelligent to say then, "I'm a little lost, do you think you could help me?"
"You're one of the new foreign students." She said foreign in the same way Sokka might have called a spear through the stomach a foreign object—with the distinct sense that it didn't belong were it was and the best course of action was to have it removed. "They put all of you in the new hall, across the bridge upstairs. Go up, turn left, and across the hall with no doors. You can't possibly miss it."
He didn't bother to thank her for the help, if you could call it that, as he started his way up the stairs. Sokka wasn't so sure you could call the long doorless hallway that separated the main dorms from the ones labeled 'B' a bridge. The whole complex was underground—probably a part of the original ancient subterranean city that had been the beginning of the Earth Kingdom capital—so at best it was just a creepy dark tunnel.
'How nice of them,' Sokka thought, surprising even himself with the amount of bitter sarcasm, 'to build new dorms for those of us coming from outside. Wasn't it so polite of them to make sure that we'd have accommodations all to ourselves, so far from the other students?'
It occurred to him, of course, that most of these students had probably lived in the upper ring of Ba Sing Se their whole lives—whatever the reputation the University had for academics, the Dai Li had probably kept tight control over who was allowed in and what was taught—and most of them probably had never even seen a poorer member of the Earth Kingdom, never mind an outsider, except for the Fire Nation soldiers that had invaded after the walls had fallen. In another life he might have seen their suspicion as justifiable, but it had been two years since the war ended. That was time enough to realize the world expanded far beyond their walls and rules.
The new rooms were lit rather poorly by the glowing crystals so popular in the Earth Kingdom, although the hallways were a little wider and taller, to his immense relief. There weren't many students here, just a handful of rather lost looking kids a little older than himself in ragged Earth Kingdom clothing, and a few furious looking teens, these ones actually younger Sokka was happy to note, from the Northern Tribe who were huddled together in a group outside one of the doors.
Glad to see he wasn't the only one indignant about this whole affair. He'd have to write to Aang and inform him of this whole new level of demeaning sabotage in the Avatar's attempt for world peace.
The Northern kids waved to him in greeting as he passed them by, but he recognized none of them from their brief stay there. Probably they were Waterbenders that had studied with Aang, or else young boys who had been nominated by Chief Arnook. Pity there weren't any girls; he would have liked a pretty one to talk to. He hadn't seen much of Suki in almost two years, and there was a mutual understanding that while they still liked each other that didn't mean they couldn't get to know other people. Being trapped once again in Ba Sing Se probably wouldn't help his Suki-less existence one bit, either, so at least having someone to occupy himself with would have been nice.
It sounded awful when he thought of it like that, Sokka knew, but was no less true for it.
B24, as it turned out, was at the very end of the hall. The door on the other side of the hall stood open, but as he saw no one in there he could only assume the occupants were out somewhere or else deeper in the surprisingly big room. Sokka removed the key from pouch he'd attached to his leg, and quickly unlocked the door.
A boy with long brown hair looked up from where he was carefully arranging his sheets on the bed, and green eyes lit up as they landed on his face. "Sokka! It's good to see you!"
"Haru?" The Water Tribe warrior found that he couldn't quite process either what he was seeing or his unbelievable good luck. The boy standing in front of him had filled out a little and, thankfully had decided against that awful moustache. Sokka's own endless teasing while they were at the Western Air Temple might have had something to do with that. "What are you doing here?"
"Aang suggested me to the Earth King," the younger boy answered, looking a little sheepish. "He thought I might enjoy the chance to learn more about the history beyond my village, and since this was an opportunity I would usually have I thought I might as well."
Sokka felt a small stab of sadness for Haru. He was one of the heroes of the war, but an unknown one, and rather naive about the world much beyond his village. Ba Sing Se was going to eat him alive.
He moved over to the bed on the opposite wall from where Haru was now sitting, and dropped his Koalaotter skin bag onto the bed rather unceremoniously. "It's nice to see a friendly face down here, Haru. Even better, you can dig me out if this whole place decides to collapse."
The younger Earthbender snickered, lying down flat on his bed. "I don't know if I should, Sokka. It doesn't seem fair that you're allowed to have facial hair when I'm not. Such obvious hypocrisy makes me think I should leave you here in the event of a cave in."
Sokka ran his hand over the scruff that covered his chin with a grin. He knew that with the beginnings of a beard on his face and his longer hair—the back of which nearly reached his shoulders while the front fell easily in his eyes when it was out of it's wolf tail—he no longer looked like the little boy he had been when they first stumbled onto Haru practicing his Earthbending so long ago. "The difference between us, Haru, is that I make this look good."
This was met with a noncommittal grunt from the other boy, but if he was going to say anything else it was forgotten as the sound of high pitched giggling reached them through the open door from acrossed the hall.
"This place is perfect for you, Mai! You don't even have to speak to anyone if you don't want to."
"…I know that voice," Sokka whispered, not at all sure how he felt about this revelation. That giggle, the face attached to it, still held too many memories of watching his little sister in danger, powerless without her bending, and him unable to help her. "But that can't be right…"
Aang trusted his judgement indeed! Zuko just knew Sokka would be furious when he found out that the Fire Lord had sent his girlfriend and the weird happy girl as his representatives. Did he even WANT this plan to succeed?
Grumbling to himself, wishing desperately that Aang hadn't convinced him to leave behind the new arsenal of weapons he'd gathered Sokka went to go close the door and try to forget he'd ever seen those accursed dangerous ladies.
With his hand on the knob, however, he froze. He could see Mai and Ty Lee sitting on two of the beds, with Ty Lee looking considerably happier about all this than her companion, but they weren't the only two in the room. There was a third girl there, leaning on the door frame with her arms folded acrossed her chest and looking even more miserable than Zuko's gloomy girlfriend.
Her hair was cut shorter, about chin length like Suki's except for the shorter bangs in front, and she was dressed in the standard uniform of green for Ba Sing Se University students, but for Sokka there was no forgetting those gold eyes or the mostly hidden smug pull of her mouth. No amount of change in her appearance could hide Princess Azula from him.
Sokka stood there, mouth hanging slightly agape while his mind searched desperately for the words of fury he wanted to send Zuko's way, and the younger girl looked up. Sokka saw recognition flicker through her eyes after a moment of confusion, and she stepped back in to the room with a scowl of rage.
Both her door and Sokka's slammed in unison, echoing down the hall.