A/N: Apologies for the delay on this chapter. I tried to edit it but my head's not in the game so there's probably still some mistakes here and there. I wanted to cram a lot of stuff into one chunk of story to set things up since we're, ya know...right by the end here. Unfortunately, I have been severely stressed out due to money problems and work problems ever since the new year started, and as a result, my writing has been very scattered and not my best. But I'm still going to push through to the end here as best I can and revise the story after that. I'm just incredibly stressed out lately over the seemingly simple task of paying my bills. =_=


What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 127 - The Great Divide


- Monday, June 13th -

{Local Wonder Woman Helps Bust Big Apple Drug Ring}

The newspaper headline practically called out to Korra from the wall, pinned front and center on the cork board. Korra didn't need to get up and read it to know exactly what it was about. In fact, she didn't want to read it. She didn't want to rehash all of the mess she'd made, even if she'd helped clean it up - a little. Korra had tried her best to pay her dues, gone through the police interviews, given her statements, argh. She was so sick of that stuff.

And yet, there she was, sitting at the police station of her own accord. That was probably a first, eh? Well, a first in a long time, anyway.

"Miss Kesuk?"

"Eh?" Korra refocused her attention on the voice calling to her. A familiar officer loomed over her. She was a portly hispanic woman with suspenders draped over her collared shirt, holding up her khaki pants. She nodded her head behind her shoulder, signifying Korra to follow.

"The Chief'll see you now," the woman affirmed.

Korra pushed herself up from the dinky plastic chair she'd been occupying and followed the officer through the police station. The shifting of papers rattled Korra's left ear - the clacking of a keyboard hit her right. A phone was ringing in the background all the while. Two men were having a discussion over a cubicle, one of them casually leaning over with his mug of steaming coffee.

As they passed through, the man with the coffee noticed her. His ears practically perked up as he nudged his seated neighbor, and the two gave her an acknowledging nod.

"The Shark is back, I see!" called out the man with the mug, scratching at his bushy mustache. "Out for blood again already? Still hungry?"

"Pss. Yea, I wish," Korra jokingly called back, trying to keep her cool amidst these middle-aged folk. She could still remember that exact same man interrogating her months back when she'd hand-delivered a goddamn pyromaniac. People had hated her back then. Now it was all chummy-chummy and shit, eh? Not that she could complain, anyway.

The pudgy officer Korra was following opened the back office door and led Korra in.

"Thanks, Bautista," came Chief Jia's dry, dull tone from within the office.

Korra took a deep breath as she entered, sighing out slowly through her nose as she stared Jia down. She planted her hands on her hips as Officer Bautista closed the door upon exiting.

Jia raised her brow at Korra, and Korra reciprocated the motion.

After a tense couple of seconds, Jia shook her head and took a swig of coffee.

"What mess have you gotten into now?" Jia asked. She took another sip and smacked her lips bitterly at the lukewarm temperature.

"Wh-? Nuh-!...Nothing," Korra spat out defensively, shrugging up her shoulders.

Jia set her mug back down and laughed through her nostrils.

"At ease," the Chief said irritably, her head lulling to one side a bit. "I'm giving you shit, Kesuk. Calm down."

Korra let her arms relax and dropped them to her sides.

"Sit down," Jia commanded flatly. Korra obliged. "I know why you're here."

"...And?" Korra asked, leaning forward in the seat, her elbows hitched on her knees.

"...Aaaand," Jia began slowly. "I don't know what to tell you. There's nothing more you can do here."

"Nothing's come up?" Korra checked. "Nothing at all?"

Chief Jia gave Korra a long, hard look.

"Last I heard, they did have a lead they were looking into - intel they got from that Triple Threat bust. So, yes. You helped. Happy?"

"Th-! Great! That's...awesome. Are they...going to find him?"

"I don't know, Kesuk. It's not in our hands at this point. Another state, another jurisdiction."

"If they need me to go again, I mean...I'll do it, I'll-"
"What do you care about this MIA agent?"

"He's...-" Korra blinked at Jia's suspicious glare. "-...important," Korra shrugged.

"To your friend," Jia specified.

"Yea."

"So why are you here instead of Fitz?"

"Because," Korra blurted. "I...don't want her to worry about it. I'll do whatever you need me to do, just...say the word, and...-"

"You can't do anything at this point," the Chief sighed out, leaning back in her seat and checking her computer screen. Two e-mails had arrived in the time since Korra had entered. When Jia looked back at the eager young woman in front of her, Korra's eyes practically bled with an uncharacteristic desperation.

"There has to be something," Korra stated.

Chief Jia rubbed at her steadily irate sinuses. She took another bitter gulp of coffee and shook her head.

"Kesuk. I can appreciate how gung-ho you suddenly are about straightening up. But for god's sake, pace yourself. You're not a cop. It was already pretty damn dicey, what happened this week, but we all lucked out. Don't push it."

"Wh-...? I'm not pushing it, I just...want...-"

"You want your friend to be happy."

"Yes, and so I'll...do what...-"

"You want those kids to be happy."

"Of course. Damn straight I do, why do you think-"
"Spent any time with them?"

Korra was slack-jawed at Jia's question.

"Since you brought them back home," the Chief clarified. "Have you spent time with them?"

"Erm...-" Korra cleared her throat, readjusting her posture in her seat as she loosened her hair. "I've...been giving them some space. Eh? After everything I put them through...-"

"Be with them," Jia insisted firmly and calmly, straightening a stack of papers and sliding them into their proper manilla folder. "And Fitz - be with her, too. You care about these people? Then give them your attention. Leave police work to the police."

"But...-!" Korra grunted out with contained frustration. "I'm looking out for them. I'd...do police work for them if I could, but...-"

"But you're a drop-out, so it's out of the question. Is that it?"

Korra's heart skipped a beat at the nonchalant way that the Chief had put it.

"You...know about that?" Korra muttered with unease.

"You think I didn't look into you?" Jia retorted. "Back when I thought you'd be a problem, I did my diligence. I know about your uncle up north. About your aunt. My condolences, by the way..." Jia popped open her filing cabinet and dropped the case file she'd just been inspecting into its alphabetic place. "But you know what really threw me for a loop?"

Korra, chewing a bit at her upper lip, shrugged indecisively. Jia continued.

"You gave up."

Korra's stomach burned at that remark.

"With how stubborn you are," Jia went on, "I'm surprised you never gave police academy another try. I mean, look at you - arms like a fucking gorilla, knocking at my door, ready to bust in heads to save a friend of a friend when you just barely got out alive from a drug dealer's hideout no more than a week ago by the skin of your teeth."

"What...are you saying?" Korra mumbled, eyes narrowed with perplexation.

"I'm saying, Kesuk, that while I admire your ability to deal with low-lives, it'd be a hell of a lot more efficient if you were operating with law enforcement."

"Are you...saying I should...try to be a cop? Again?"

"Should you?" Jia rhetorically wondered. "That's a question you should be asking yourself. You've made it clear that you have the desire and the capability of bringing hoodlums to justice. What you lack is restraint - discipline. But that's what the training is there for."

"Buhh...-!" Korra was startled. The Chief was...complimenting her? Was she hearing this right? "Errr, Miss Jia, Sir - uh, Ma'am, um...Chief. If you know what happened, then...you know how...putting a gun in my hand is about the dumbest thing to-"
"I think I know some relieved parents of three children who might disagree."

Korra sighed at this notion, overwhelmed by the very idea of trying to go back through that whole rigamarole of law enforcement.

"Have you ever killed anyone?" Jia posed, folding her hands together.

"Wh-?! No! No, of course not!" Korra spat out in defense.

"Yet by my count, you've shot...-" The Chief lifted her eyes up thoughtfully and nodded to herself. "-...at least two or three people."

"I...didn't want to shoot anyof them. I don't want to use a fucking gun! Ever. On anyone."

Lin nodded complacently, leaning forward across her desk. Her eyes glinted as she raised her brows.

"Exactly."

Korra blinked, dumbfounded. Her eyes shifted left and right a bit, wary of the officer's pressing gaze.

"Uh...-?" Korra shrugged, confused.

Jia sighed in good humor.

"Aghhh, you might need a 'brain' to go along with that 'brawn,' but...this is why cops have partners, I suppose..." Lin rubbed her thumb across her sweaty forehead as she leaned back in her chair, opening the thin drawer at the top of her desk. She paused to observe a photo that rested within. It was a tattered, coffee-stained picture of a raven-haired woman with sunken eyes, gloomily standing beside a younger Lin with the Statue of Liberty in the distance. Lin was stoutly displaying a badge, while June, the girl beside her, looked actively disinterested.

Jia slid a handful of letters from the top of her desk into the drawer, then closed it. Jia cleared her throat and absent-mindedly raised up her coffee cup to take a sip, though there wasn't anything left but a tiny puddle with grains of coffee grounds.

"Being a police officer-" Jia recanted, swishing the bit of coffee around in her mug. "-it's about protecting and serving. Not taking down criminals, not shooting people, not pushing around folks just because they rub you the wrong way."

"...Right," Korra quietly mumbled, being at least aware enough to know that she had done all of these things since arriving in Wayward.

"Protect. And. Serve. Now, then. Tell me, Kesuk: what did you just do for those kids back in New York?"

"I...erm...got them out of...a shitty situation? That I put them in...?"

"Echhh...Yes. True. You're sort of breaking the flow I'm going for here. Protect. And. Serve. Those kids? You protected them. And what about Fitz? That delinquent needs your help cleaning her dirty laundry, and what do you do?"

"I...protected...-?"
"Serve. You have been serving her - helping her catch that pyromanic. And now the whole reason your miserable mug is in my business right this second? It's because you're serving her interests."

"Sooo...I'm supposed to help people 'clean their dirty laundry?'"

"Ugh. Listen. Kid. Just-...Ech, don't think too hard - your circuits get all scrambled. Clearly."

Korra frowned, and Jia could tell that her words were being taken a bit personally.

"Sorry, Kesuk. I'm trying to level with you. The point I'm making here is that you are capable of protecting and serving - and, hell, you seem to want to go out of your way to do so. Even if it means going outside of the law."

"Yea? Maybe the law...isn't always doing its job of protecting and serving."

"Now. See that? Right there? That's what I'm talking about - you didn't think too hard on that one. You just spoke your mind. And sometimes, in this line of work, we have to break the rules in order to get the job done. It happens. There's processes to go through, but sometimes rough stuff is necessary."

"Yea, but...-" Korra stared at her hands, which she clamped down on her knees. "I sorta have a habit of going overboard."

"You're a goddamn noire cliche in the works," Jia drolled. "A loose cannon with a chip on your shoulder, lost a loved one, grappling with insecurities over your fucking idiotic mistakes, bla-blah-blahh...It writes itself." She wriggled her wrists dismissively. "Yes, you can be a moron. But now you can see when you are, and actually try doing something about it. That's a big step - one most people don't bother with, even when you reach my age. All I'm saying, Kesuk, is that...-" Lin set her mug down and studied the brown-skinned woman right in the eyes. "We all make mistakes, but not all of us have the willpower to get back on the horse. You think I have no regrets?"

Korra gulped, hanging on the Chief's words.

"I have regrets," Lin stated. "But as long as people are kept safe, that's what matters to me. That's what I'm doing here. If you care that much, you should consider dropping this vigilante nonsense and going legit - like your uncle steered you the first time. Attend police academy. Discipline yourself. Iron out the wrinkles."

"So...I...-" Korra nodded, but still looked lost.

"If you need a recommendation, I can arrange that for you," Jia advised. "I can look into options that are close to home, put in a good word for you."

"You'd...do that?"

"Only if you're serious about this."

"I-...Puh-!" Korra's eyes were practically popping out her head with a mixture of excitement, relief, and enthusiasm. "I don't even know what to...think. Yea! Yea, I'd be serious. If you think I should. What do you...-? I thought you hated me."

"Yes, well, I thought you were a mindless brute who could never put anyone else before her own interests - but you've proven me wrong. So...-"

"Uhhh...Thank you, erm, Ma'am. Sir?"

"Chief."

"Chief. Thank you! I'll-..." Korra dug her hands into her hair, slicking it back in a dumbstruck manner as she stared at her knees. Her eyes darted this way and that as she rambled. "This means...a lot to me, I...really respect the way you-...Erm, so, let me-...I should probably...-"

"Think on it," the Chief insisted. "No need to go rushing into anything just as you're getting on my half-decent side, here."

"Right. Yea." Korra nodded vigorously.

"So, for now...you leave this situation with Agent 'Longshot' to us. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime? Maybe try looking out for the people who are nearby."

"Go see the kids," Korra confirmed.

Chief Jia dryly nodded, noting that Korra was still seated in the chair.

Jia asked with an upturned hand, "Was there anything else I needed to know about?"

"N-no, Ma'am." Korra shook her head - just as vigorously as she'd recently nodded it.

"There's a weight off my back," Jia deadpanned. "Now, if we're done with the chit-chats and back-scratches, get your ass out of my office. Get back to your job so I can get back to mine."

"I will! Thank you, Chief!"

"Yea, yea..."

Jia waved off the young woman and gave pause. She picked up her flip phone sent out a quick message before attending her e-mails.

[To: June Hale]
[I suppose I see what you meant about Kesuk. Reminds me of myself at her age.]
[Sent: 2:21pm]

[From: June Hale]
[i know the feeling]
[Sent: 2:23pm]


"...sumnafff..."

"What's that?" Korra asked in a quiet, taunting tone.

"...rrmnnllaa..." Jane was sleep-talking, muttering incoherent words.

"Ya don't say," Korra sarcastically gasped, staring at Aang with facetiously widened eyes.

He glared up at her grouchily, and her playful tone withered.

"What's wrong?" Korra grumbled, leaning back up and crossing her arms. "Did you put her to sleep with your boringness?"

"Leave us alone," Aang sighed, rolling his head slightly as his drawing stopped. He flipped his pencil around, scrubbed his eraser at the spot he'd just messed up, and blew a sharp puff, sending the residue off his sketchpad and onto the restaurant table.

"Oh, alone, eh?" Korra taunted, squinting her eyes at Aang with mocking suspicion.

He twisted his head up toward her, his bloodshot eyes sizzling out their frustration. Korra's expression soured with confusion at the sight, and she backed off.

"Damn, Little Man," Korra muttered. "Rough night?"

"You said you'd stop calling me that," Aang bitterly cited.

"Rrrright," said Korra, one hand on her hip. She tapped at pelvis bone with her thumb awkwardly, watching Aang shrug Jane off his shoulder. The ginger's head flopped forward, nearly bumping right into the table before she snorted awake.

Korra chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand to not draw too much attention to just how amused the sight had made her. She pounded Jane's back brusquely as the red-head wrinkled her nose, frowning as she re-examined her surroundings.

"How was your nap?" Korra teased, going to sit into the booth across the her friends. She noticed it was full of crumbs, accented by a damp napkin.

"Yea, that's why we're both on this side," Aang dryly explained, nudging Jane's body away from his own now that she was up.

Jane yawned wide, rolling her neck around and letting it pop itself back into place. Korra continued to linger above them, not interested in dirtying her bare legs with someone else's scraps. She was still in shorts and a tanktop, having just completed a jog around campus. It was a lot friendlier and cheerful than trying to jog down town, anyway.

"...Whhhat...?" croaked Jane, rubbing at her eyes.

"I don't get it," Korra cited, still fixated on the messy table. She glanced across Appa's, noting the table that they'd been at the night before. Some hipster-looking guys were gorging themselves around a styrofoam container. "How come you're not at that booth? I thought it was, like, your guys's booth."

"No, That Booth is over there," Aang sternly cited, pointing his pencil in the other direction at a seemingly random booth. "The Booth is...occupied right now."

Korra rubbed her neck with her palm, a bit puzzled.

"Well...C'mon." She rapped the back of her wrist against a sleepy Jane's shoulder, then Aang's. "Let's go move over there, eh?"

"Err...-" Aang glared at her, his sleep deprivation showing much more hostility than Jane's was. "It's occupied."

"So let's ask them to unoccupy it," Korra insisted with a shrug.

"N-no, let's...not do that," sighed Aang, shaking his head as he refocused on his drawing. As if he could drown out the activity around him by getting lost in his graphite. "It's-...No, it's just a booth," he muttered as Korra tugged Jane up from the seat.

"Whuhzz this 'bout?" Jane wondered, wobbling on her feet under Korra's arm.

Korra, her beefy arm slung over Jane's back, slapped her friend heartily.

"It's not 'just a booth," Korra corrected. "It's The Booth. Right?"

Aang and Korra exchanged opposing glances in a moment of awkwardness until Aang rolled back his eyes and let irate air slide from his nostrils.

"It also doesn't have crap in it," Korra pointed out, directing one hand to the filthy portion of the booth.

"I don't care," Aang declared.

"You don't seem to care about much lately," Korra cited, dropping some of her pleasantry. "Eh?" She checked with Jane. "And what's with you two being all buddy-buddy, anyway? I thought you both were pissed at each other."

"We are," Aang grumbled, setting his pad down and dropping his pencil beside it.

"Hashin' shit out," Jane murmured, letting loose another yawn as she nudged herself off of Korra. "N' then I...kinda...-" She shrugged, readjusting her shoulderless shirt as she plunked herself back down beside Aang.

"You fell asleep on me," said Aang with some bitterness. "Literally. I mean, you actually fell asleep on me, when I was trying to talk with you."

"You're fucking doodling," Jane callously dismissed.

"I'm working," Aang stiffly corrected, moving a smidgen away from his neighbor. "There's a term for it: 'multitasking.'"

Jane bobbed her head expectantly.

"Ah. Well. The fuck d'ya think I was up all night doing? Goddamn experiments don't run themselves."

"Guys," Korra interjected, hands on her hips. "Chill out a little."

Both Jane and Aang begrudgingly quieted themselves, but Korra got the feeling it was more out of exhaustion than genuine interest in letting bygones be bygones.

Korra leaned over the table and swiped a couple of brown napkins from the dispenser, then went about brushing off the seat opposite her friends. She left the napkins on the vinyl cushion and cautiously sat her rump down. Chief Jia's 'Protect. And. Serve.' rang through Korra's head as she took to heart the 'serve' part in that instance.

"What's the problem?" she asked as calmly as she could.

Aang shrugged, staring down at his unfinished drawing of what looked to Korra like an upside down...fish-man? Like a mermaid, but a dude?

"Problem is-" Jane puffed out. "-after all the fuckin' work Kat put into the Harmony March, after all the faith n' attention she put into this guy showing up-" She tipped her head toward Aang. "-being a symbol o' peace n' fuck-all, he's too much of a coward to show up. And-" She pointed up her bony finger. "And he doesn't even let us know. So then either I have to go up there and speak in front of people - which I hate, by the way, fucking embarrassing - or else Kat looks like a tool."

"I never said for sure if I was going to come," Aang meekly reminded.

"She seemed pretty damned sure you were," Jane sniped right back.

"Whoa, hey," Korra eased. "No reason to...-" Korra was off-put by Jane's grouchy olive eyes, but...meh. Shamrocks needed some rest, was the real problem, Kor decided. "Look, what happened happened. Like you've never let Katara down before?"

Jane swallowed, her head seeming to sink a little into her freckled shoulders. Korra thought that the black-and-yellow straps of her undershirt worked really well with the black...shoulder-less thing...she wore over it.

"We've all disappointed her before. Hell, we've disappointed each other. Eh?" Korra shrugged at both of them, and there was a ho-hum sense of agreeableness present. "So get over it. Move on. Freckles." Korra stared at Jane. "Get off the kid's back. And you. Little Man." She gave Aang her sharp glance. "If you're gonna be a part of this movement you helped start? I dunno, maybe...be a part of it. OK?"

Korra was a bit let down that neither of them nodded or affirmed that they understood her blunt reasoning, but...they weren't arguing. So, that was something.

"You're tired, you're busy, school, this shit with the triad, it's a cluster-fuck." Korra tossed up her hands, gesturing an explosion with her fingers. She paused for effect, then let her palms smack gently into the table in front of her. It was kind of sticky, and she could feel odd crumbs attaching to her skin. "But we'll get through it," she cited, brushing her hands on her shorts. "So stop being jerks to each other and just...mind your own business if you can't get along. Eh? Sound good?"

Jane nodded her head complacently, but with distinct aggravation, and lifted herself up from the table. She didn't so much as say 'good-bye' before trudging off, leaving Korra baffled. As Korra observed her friend's manner of walking, she couldn't help but notice that Jane's motions were stiff, like she'd slept wrong or strained herself or something. Aang, meanwhile, went right back to his drawing.

"You-..." Korra went to say something to Aang, but he was ignoring her. "Stay here," she 'commanded,' getting up and chasing after Jane.

As Korra wandered past, she couldn't help but notice that 'The Booth' was currently playing host to a game of poker. Those hipster-looking twerps were using these really big-ass cards, too. Like, twice normal size. What the hell was up w-? Jane. Right. The whole reason she was moving.

Korra swiftly found her way up the stairwell Jane had headed through, and within a few seconds she was out on campus. The familiar orange blob of hair stuck out in the sparse campus. Jane was heading straight for her dorm, it looked like.

"Hey!" Korra shouted out, waving up her arms. "Jane!"

Jane rolled her head grumpily and slowed her steps, lingering on the mowed grass between sidewalks.

"Hey," Korra said again, this time with some relief as she jogged up and came around her friend. "What's up?"

Jane rubbed sand from her bleary eyes and sighed, glaring at Korra for a moment.

"Got class in a few minutes, lost track of time," Jane replied with a dull tone.

"Why'd you up and leave like that, eh?"

Jane could tell from Korra's stubborn concern that she needed to supply the bulky girl with a better answer. The problem was that there sort of wasn't one.

Jane shrugged and shook her head slightly.

"Not in the mood to deal with shit," Jane grumbled.

"Is this about your boyfriend?" Korra quietly inquired. Jane's face wrinkled with some disdain at the reminder. Korra hastily tried to appease. "I was just down at the station, they told me they're still looking for him, and...-"

"Yea, fucking awesome," Jane blew off her friend's hope with a sigh. "Look. Just trying to move past that. OK?"

"Wh-? You're...just gonna give up?" Korra was a bit flabbergasted. She snapped her finger. "Just like that?"

"Yea," Jane flatly stated. "I am. How many times have I told you? I'm done. I'm out."

Jane's drab eyes of olive cut through Korra's heart.

"Sure, but...-" Korra's eyebrows twisted with confusion as she struggled to figure out what words would help.

"I dunno what the shit I'm doing," Jane stated plainly. "What I wanna do? After school? No fucking clue. Can barely write an essay about my own major without frying brain cells. Can't even fill in a goddamn report without scribbling chicken scratch everywhere. N' I'm supposed to be a scientist? Biology, chemistry, n' shit? Only practical use I ever get outta that stuff is...-" Jane's fierce expression of self-loathing caught up with her, and she shut her eyes, trying to clear her mental palette. "-...crap I ain't proud of," she finished, eyes still squinted closed as she rubbed at her nose.

Jane was pulled forward, and swept up off her feet. Korra hugged her tight, lifting her light-weight frame off the ground. Held up in the air, Jane could barely breathe, but planted the side of her head on the side of Korra's and endured the bear-hug. Korra dropped Jane back on her feet and gave a brisk pair of back pats.

"You've come a long way, Freckles," Korra encouraged.

"Psh." Jane could feel her tear ducts getting damp. "Yea...You, too, LadyBro."

They offered each other small smiles of mutual respect.

"I get what you mean," Korra empathized. "Being done, moving on. Sorry if I'm stirring shit up."

"No, it's...not you," Jane tried to explain. "I just-...Urrgh."

Jane stared at the grass beneath their shoes. She scratched at her forehead a bit, eventually sifting dandruff out of her eyebrow.

Korra grabbed Jane's wrist, stopping her nervous habit.

"Hey," Korra said. She squeezed Jane's hand in her own, then let the girl's arm go. "One thing at a time, eh? For now...just focus on helping Kat with this...erm...Harmony...Resistance?"

"Tss. Harmony Restoration," Jane corrected.

"Yea. That one."

"Harmony Resistance would be...bad."

"Right. No, I know. That's what I meant, Restoration."

"Uh-huh." Jane gave Korra smug smirk.

"Anyway," Korra gave Jane a light shove on the shoulder. "Go to class. I'll catch you later. I just wanted to make sure you're doing all right."

"Gettin' by," Jane responded with an uncertain nod. She gave Korra an earnest, abashed smile. "Thanks for checkin' on me."

"Any time." Korra two lingered in front of each other, and Korra realized she was standing directly in Jane's path.

"So, err, I'll let ya go now." Korra stepped over to one side, and Jane walked past her, nodding her head up to bid farewell.

"See ya later," said Jane.

"Yup!" Korra watched her melancholic friend sink her hands into her pockets and slouch off.

Oh, yea. Aang was still inside. She needed to have words with him, too, eh?

By the time Korra had found her way back downstairs in Appa's, she could confirm that Aang still sat where she'd left him. She stayed by the entrance for a moment, collecting her thoughts.

"Hey, there," came the ever-sultry, ever-sarcastic voice of June from behind the counter at the restaurant's front.

Korra twisted her abdomen around to see the raven-haired woman. She looked a bit more ragged and run down than usual.

"How're you holdin' up?" June asked.

"Pretty good," Korra replied with a slow nod and heightened brows, reflecting on how at-peace she'd been feeling.

"How're the kids?" June wondered.

"Oh. They're...fine," Korra guessed.

"That's good," June stated.

"Mm." Korra nodded some more, approaching the counter. She flopped her elbows onto the faux-marble surface and leaned forward. "And you?"

"And me?" June posed, peeling a frozen burger out of its packaging and dropping it onto her grill. It sizzled and popped alongside a batch of fries in the nearby oil.

"Are you good?" Korra checked.

"As good as I ever am," June obliged.

Korra nodded a bit more.

"Ya know, I was...thinking," Korra started.

"So that's where the smoke is coming from," June remarked dryly, still attentive to her grill as she dropped down another burger.

Korra laughed through her nose and continued.

"Maybe, uh, you, me, and Shamrocks, we could go grab some drinks some time?"

"Heh. Taking pity on this old lady? Ya know, just 'cause I have a cat doesn't make me a 'Cat Lady' just yet."

"Shut up," Korra chuckled. "I was just figuring, the least I could do after all this shit is...take you out for a drink. Jane could probably use an evening off campus, too."

"Sure, sure," Jane agreed. She pulled up the frying cage that had been cooking. "I'll give you a ring when I know my schedule for next week, we'll figure it out."

"Sounds good."

"I gotta say, though," said June, scooping fresh curly fries into a small container. "I don't see the point in me being a wing-woman for both of ya at the same time. Seems sorta unnecessary. And repetitious."

"Wh-?" Korra was a bit thrown off by June's remark and let it roll off her back. "Yea, yea," she scoffed. "Anyway, just let me know when you're up for it."

"You got it," said June. "Have a good 'un."

"You, too."

Korra slid through Appa's, which was just a bit less crowded than it had been.

She noticed that one student at a table she passed by was reading the school paper over lunch. Copies of the paper were strewn all about. Curious, Korra glanced over one at an empty table. The front page was covered in stuff about the protests and violence happening in town. There was a little list of daily events on a side panel. Korra sighed through fluttering lips as she set the paper back down. She gently knocked her knuckles on the table thoughtlessly, then looked up to where Aang was still sitting.

Korra approached Aang, who she noticed now had some food in front of him. His order must've come in while Korra had been outside, but he had yet to touch it, from the looks of things. It was some kind of wrap in a green-colored tortilla. A half-eaten dill pickle spear sat beside it. Well, all right - at least the shrimp had eaten something.

Korra copped a squat beside Aang, rather than across from him. She looked over at his drawing. Little merman dude was coming along pretty well, and stuff. Had a bit of a happy trail going on, too. Did mer-dudes get happy trails, even? Huh. Well, they did have hair on their heads, so...-

"Is she OK?" Aang spoke, continuing his work.

"Huh? Ah, Jane. Yea, she's fine."

"Is she...mad at me still?"

"I...dunno, Little Man, I didn't...really ask about that."

Aang sighed stiffly.

"Well, what did you want me for?" he probed, reaching for his pickle and taking another bite.

"Nothing," Korra said plainly. "I'm just checking on you. Ya know, because...friends? That's how that one works, right?"

"Yea," Aang muttered with a shrug. "Thanks, but...I'm fine." He finished off his pickle, wiping his hands and mouth on a napkin before going back to his sketch.

"OK," Korra complied. "Uh, so...-" She drummed her thumbs against her lap. "If you're doing fine, you'd probably be up for hanging out some time?"

Aang's eyes slide sideways, his posture still slumped and his expression still lacking enthusiasm.

"I guess," he said, carefully sketching in scales on the merman's bottom half. "What did you have in mind?"

"Ah, well...that'll be a surprise. Eh?"

Aang frowned with dissatisfaction.

"Hey, hey," Korra eased. "C'mon, I let you take me up through the woods in the middle of the night. It's my turn to surprise you with something I like to do."

"As long as it's not at a bar, or something..."

"Nah, wh-? Nooo, nothing like that."

"OK. So...When?"

"Uhh, well, whenever you like. When are you going to be freed up?"

"Korra, I'm pretty busy. Pick a day, or something, and I'll see if I can make it work."

Man. He was really cranky today. Nothing a little loosening-up couldn't help with. Korra had just the idea.

"Tomorrow," she decided. "Tomorrow night?"

"All right."

"...That's fine? You're sure?"

"Yea. That's fine."

"Oh...kay. Err, so we'll aim for, like...eight o'clock?"

"Sure."

"I'll pick you up in front of the ACC."

"Yea."

"Awesome. Cool."

Korra nodded to herself, feeling pretty good about this 'trying-to-serve-others' stuff. Yea. This was...good. Returning the, uh, good-vibes of the universe, or something...?

"Oh, so you probably know," Korra spat out after their few seconds of silence. "What's that word for, like, the world giving back what you give it?"

"...Huh?" Aang's brows furrowed at her a little.

"You know." Korra flicked up her wrist. "Like, you have good luck, so you do good luck...things...for others? So it's like this...sick-lick-...Cycle? Back-and-forth kinda thing...-?"

"Cyclical," Aang recalled the word she was trying to phrase. "And it's 'karma,' what you're thinking of."

Korra knocked her knuckles down on the table beside Aang's food.

"Yea, that's the word! Karma. Right on." Korra nodded, watching Aang go back to his work.

It was in this particular instant that Korra found herself feeling...weird. Without the distractions of her friends talking, all that was left for her to observe was the steady stream of students all around here. Textbooks, laptops, fried foods, backpacks...There probably wasn't a single person there that wasn't a student - besides her. It was kind of strange for that feeling to sink in. Like some weird reminder that Korra was still not really a "grown-up" or something. Whatever being a "grown-up" even meant.

Korra pulled out her phone and sent a text message.

[To: Jinora]
[Hey. Sorry for the late reply. I've been busy. You guys want me to swing by tonight during dinner? 5:00?]
[Sent: 1:24pm]

After closing her phone, Korra took a deep breath. She glanced over at Aang, who was still playing the stoic card.

"You...maybe wanna go outside when you're done with lunch?" she asked. "Go meditate? It's been a little bit since we've done that, I thought we were gonna...try to make that like a regular thing."

Aang dropped a stifled sigh, and shook his head.

"I have class in a bit."

"Right. Yea, yea." Yet another reminder of how out-of-place Korra was, sitting here and hanging out with a college student. Her gaze shifted to Aang's food, which he...supposedly would eat before this class he had to be at 'in a bit.' She asked him, "So, whatcha eatin' here?"

"It's a veggie wrap," Aang replied.

His lack of eye contact was not assuring. He continued to draw, not touching his food, and not giving Korra his eyesight.

Korra stared at his profile for a second. His eyes had that same 'bleh' to them that Jane's had just earlier outside.

Korra made a spur-of-the-moment decision once again, and reached her arm up over his back, pulling him in for a side-ways hug.

"Urgh, you just messed...-!" Aang started, dropping his pencil down. Korra ignored this and squeezed him in her arm.

"It's OK, ya know," she said to him, letting her heavy arm hang across his shoulders. "Kat's not pissed you or anything."

"I know."

"So what's eating you? Eh?"

"I...guess I just...don't know what to do," Aang confessed quietly. "I feel like a failure. Like I'm letting people down somehow. I'm letting myself down because I'll say I care about something, but then...not have the guts to go through with it. I'm not sure what I should do, or even if I can do anything."

Korra took in Aang's words. They reminded her of a night not too long ago, when he had been the one comforting her after her first standoff with Shin at the park.

'I-I've...never felt like this before, so...so fucking stupid, and...and-...Aang, I don't fucking know what to do!'

Korra squeezed Aang a second time, briskly rubbed his skinny little arm, and released him. She remembered their night out in the field, meditating beneath the stars.

"Bit by bit," she recanted his own words to him. "That's all it takes to get where you need to go. Eh? Remember?" She bumped him lightly with her elbow, leaning over to try and elicit a response.

"Right," Aang mumbled, the smallest of smiles emerging.

"I don't care if I'm Fearless or if I'm a Plus One or whatever - I'm gonna stick up for you guys and try and be a better cousin. And stuff."

"Thanks." Aang finally looked her way and nodded.

"Yea, no problem," said Korra, getting up from their booth. "So, hey, I'll see you tomorrow. You go, like, cuddle with Katara or something tonight. Feel better."

Aang laughed once through his nose.

"OK. I'll...look into that."

"Hey, I'm serious," Korra encouraged. She leaned back over the chair and said quietly into Aang's ear. "Go getcha some, it'll make you both feel a little better, eh?"

Aang rolled his eyes, but she could his cheeks starting to burn up a little as his smile widened slightly.

"Maybe try something a little different than usual this time, ya never know-"
"OK, OK," Aang hissed at her playfully, shooing her away in a fluster of bashful thought.

Korra leaned back up from the table and pointed at him with a wink.

"That's my advice for you today, Little Man. Cut loose a bit."

"I'll...think about it," Aang replied, his voice a little more warm than it had been. "Thanks."

"Just looking out for my future cousin-in-law."

"Ha. Yea, well..." Aang shrugged, a little endeared by her forward thinking. "We're a little ways from that yet."

"Hey! Bit by bit, right?"


- Tuesday, June 14th -

Toph's bitter whispers echoed through the cramped practice room, its soundproof walls lending their conversation privacy. She was sitting at her piano seat, but had rotating her body to sit sideways on it. Sokka was on the floor, leaned up against one wall as he crossed his legs, expecting the bad reaction he was about to receive.

"What the hell do you mean you didn't bring a condom? You always bring a condom."

"Uh, yea? When I actually think I'm gonna have sex, maybe?"

"Uhhh...-" Toph picked wax out of her ear with her pinky. "Yeeeah, so-..." She brushed it off on her pant leg, her face bristling with impatience. "I woulda figured what I said on the phone made it clear."

"Well, it wasn't," Sokka huffed out.

"Well, it's what I meant."

"Well, I'm not going to hoof it all the back to Aero, n' all the way back here, just for some quickie that neither of us is even in the mood for now."

"Fine," Toph spat. "I'd've been the one doin' all the work anyway, so...-"

"Fine."

Toph blew air at her bangs, putting on a grumpy scowl she hoped Sokka saw. When she got no reaction from this, she irritably shoved her disheveled bangs aside and spoke.

"So...What? You don't wanna have sex with me now? At all?"

"Nn-I do, but not enough to go through all th-"
"Did you forget a condom on purpose?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Did you?"
"...No, and I don't-"
"You're lying," Toph instantly accused. Stupid stack of meat-for-brains was fibbing through his teeth, she could tell.

Sokka didn't elaborate or explain, his silence confirming Toph's suspicion.

"Why would you do that?" Toph demanded. "You know I'm not on the pill right now. That shit messes up my mood."

"Ya don't say..."

"Excuse me?"

"Toph, it's just not a good time to be doing this."

"Having sex? With my boyfriend? Before he disappears for who-knows-how-long?"

"It's just-...After what we discussed, don't you think that it would make our good-byes harder?"

"...What?"

"It would for me, anyway. I guess I'm not you, but...ya know...sexing it up is kind of a big deal to me."

"You did not just imply what you just did."

"Uhh...?"

"It's a big deal to me, too, Sokka. Fuck! Urghh."

"Rrrrright. Soooo...That's why you did it with that one guy you met - the night you met him. And then you never talked to him again. Or like with Douglas, where you just...do that, and then casually pass him off to your cousin - ya know, no big deal."

"Ohhh, ho-ho, wow. You're...-" Toph clicked her tongue testily. "You fucking block-head."

"Yep. Well, that's me. A block-head. Pointing out your hypocrisy."

"Rrgh. Sokka, I'm not-...OK, like, I won't try to defend myself, but you're missing the entire point."

"Obviously. Which you probably could've just, well, said. Plainly. By now."

"OK! God damnit. Having sex with you is a big deal to me. Maybe it hasn't been with other people this winter, but with you it has been, it's been awesome. And so...-"

"Ohhh, so that's what you meant this whole time," Sokka blathered sarcastically.

"And you refuse to take me seriously when I need you to the most."

"Did it occur to you that doing anything sexual with you - at all, in general - is 'a big deal' to me?" Sokka paused, and Toph heard frustration seep out through his nostrils. "And...that continuing to do so, when we know we're just going to go our separate ways any day now, will make it more difficult to go back to just being friends?"

"Well, my fucking bad. Sorry for being backward because when I like something, I actually want-to-do-it."

"Your breakup with Aang was easier because you do didn't get quite so involved. Wasn't it?"

"What? Ff-! What does that mean? That...was...really fucking hard for me, OK?"

"Oh. Ah. Yuh-huh. Right, yea."

"Oh-my-god, I can't talk to you right now."

"You never can talk to the truth."

"Ughhh, I hate you right now. Really?"

"You hate me even though we're arguing because you wanted to have sex with me."

"Yea? Well...I'd hate you even if I didn't hate you."

"And...I'd...hate you even if that made sense."

"I'd...hate you even if you were me."

There was a bizarre pause, both of them fuming, frowning, with a hint of confusion.

Sokka asked, "...Why did we just quote SpongeBob Squarepants in the middle of an argument?"

Toph replied, "Because we're...weird? I don't...-! Mmph! I'm still pissed at you. Don't change the subject."

"No, it's because we're weird together. In sync."

"Like...MMMBop."

"...What?"

"Ya know." Toph scratched her nose. "That...boy-band song? 'Cause you said 'N Sync?"

"I don't think 'N Sync did that song."

"Whatever. I'm trying to...-"

"Yea," Sokka acknowledged. "I know."

The two paused. Sokka gloomily stared at the hint of desperation in Toph's expression, her head bobbed. Her eyes were glazed over, blankly directed at the floor.

"I'm tired of this," Sokka said with empathy, his tone directing their conversation to a different topic. "I'm sick of arguing with you."

"...You like arguing with me," Toph muttered, trying to lather some playfulness into things.

"Nn-! Sure, but, I mean...You know-"
"I know what you mean."
"-what I mean."

Sokka sighed. Then Toph sighed.

"What is with us?" Toph wondered aloud, her voice melancholic.

"I dunno," Sokka replied sullenly. "Maybe we just...burnt out our spark?"

"What, like...overdid things? Uhh, 'cuz, yea, I don't think-"
"No, I mean, more like...maybe we just got together too impulsively?"

"You...-?" Toph's stomach was churning. "You think that?"

"I-...Well, this is-...I don't know."

"You said it. So it means you must've thought it."

"Toph. C'mon, I...say all kinds of crap I don't really think."

"Whatever."

"Fine, so, what do you think the problem is?"

"Maybe it's because you keep jumping back and forth between two different fucking personalities."

"And you don't?"

"Of...course I don't."

"Oh, yea. Yea. You definitely didn't put on a show for your folks. All polite and proper."

"That-! It's not what I mean, that's different."

"Or when you go up on stage, you act all cocky, but when it's at the coffee shop, it's suddenly all sensitive and touchy-feely. And it's totally not like you and Katara have your on days and your off days."

"Wow, way to just...try muting my point with irrelevant examples."

"I'm just saying."

"And I'm just telling you that none of things have to do with us. But when you keep going back and forth between all logical and shit, and then all immature and silly, it...-"

"...It what?"

"Well, I really like that about you. I mean, I never know what to expect, and that can be...fun, but...-"

"..."

"It's attractive, Snoozles."

"More attractive than my hairiness?"

"Even more than that."

"More attractive than your boobs?"

"Ehhh, let's not push it, you're not that great."

"Heh."

Both of them had a light swell of relief in that safe security of facetiousness. But it was ultimately just a cardboard wall against a flood of hormones and frustrations and insecurities. It did not hold.

"Whoa, hey..." Sokka's murmured suddenly. Toph realized that her face had found itself in a contorted position, burning at the cheeks, eyes damp.

"Blech, sorry," Toph grunted, keeping Sokka's presence at a distance with one hand as she brushed her forming tears with the other. She sniffed up mucus and groaned with a bit of misery. "It gets hard when I don't know how you're going to act when we're pissed off. That's the part I hate."

"...Huh?"

"Your two different sides, and stuff. Like you're a coin, flipping all the time? It's rough when I'm having a day where I just wanna plant my feet in the ground and...have things be steady."

"Yea, well, sometimes you need a little tug."

Toph snorted a laugh through her nose at Sokka's remark.

"No, that's you, Meat-Head."

"Ugh. And now I'm trying to be serious and you make a penis joke."

"Yea, yea..."

"See? You do it, too."

"I guess."

"So you don't like my charming unpredictability?"

"Sometimes, Sokka. Sure. But...other times, it ain't so charming. Like when we've got issues."

"Well, nei-"
"And don't keep throwing this back at me, that's what I usually do, and it's stupid. And not charming when I do it, either. And we shouldn't do it."

"Sooo, we...what? Should never act childish?"

"I didn't...-"

"'Cuz, erh, I dunno, Toph, that, uhh...seems like it might be a stretch for you."

"Some consistency would be nice, though. Right?"

"I'm about to move out on my own to the opposite side of the continent, leaving all of you behind, because...I have to 'be an adult.' I don't really think 'consistency' is gonna be a luxury for me any time soon. And you're still going to be in college? So, uh, yea. Not really something you're gonna get much of, either."

"So the solution is to just give up?"

"It's not giving up, it's cutting your losses."

"Now I'm a loss that needs to be cut?"

"Wow, Toph, you're...really hyper-sensitive about what I say, for how much you make yourself out to be all...tough, and...-"

"Look, if this is your way of breaking us up, then...you suck."

"I know, that's exactly why I...-"

Toph was a bit befuddled by the earnesty with which Sokka had agreed. He'd said it on instinct, and she gathered that he'd taken her remark to mean more than just the context she'd presented.

She could hear him scratching his nails across his scruffy neck, and he dropped a sigh.

"Let's be real here," Sokka stated flatly. "We both suck. We don't know what we're doing. We just dropped a Spongebob quote and a dick joke in the middle of an argument."

"Pinnacle of maturity."

"Right? But...Toph, the real world is out there. And it's about to bite me in the ass. And I know I'm not man enough to deal with that. No offense, but...-"

"What? You think I'm, like...holding you back, or some shit?"

"N-no, but...more like...tempting me to hold myself back?"

"I, uh, I don't really think it matters what the 'real' world thinks, as long as you-...Ya know? Fuck that noise, anyway. 'Real' world? My ass. We are in the real world, right fucking now."

"Toph, I mean, like, the adult world. It's not the same thing."

"Man, whatever! I get what you're saying, but it's still bullshit. People can change, grow, stuff like that. Look at me, look at how much I've changed."

"You're right, I know, but...it's not about you, Toph, it's about me not being enough to keep this...us, this we, thing? Keeping it together. I don't think I'm able to do that right now."

"So-!" Toph spat out, instantaneously not pleased with his logic. No, lack of logic. He was the Idea Man! What was with this? "So don't try to keep it together by yourself, you...dumb-shit!"

Sokka chuckled weakly at the way Toph's voice had cracked a little.

"Yeaaaaa," he sighed. "You don't get it. It's about knowing that I could, if I needed to. And right now? I know that I couldn't."

"If this is your reason for trying to split with me...-"

"Toph. There is no single reason. There's...a lot of reasons. But the biggest one is that, frankly? We don't do long distance. Neither of us have before. And I just don't know that we could. I don't want to put you through bullcrap - and I don't want to be put through the ringer again, myself."

"What, like...we'd cheat on each other?"

"It's not even that, it's more like-...It'd be really shitty if I felt like I was holding you back from something better than being stuck with phone calls for months at a time. And honestly? I'd probably get pretty damn frustrated if I was in that kinda situation myself - if I met someone where things just...worked, but I couldn't...-"

Toph sighed loudly, allowing herself to ruminate on her night with Ohev at the Golden Dragon Ball. She'd broken things off before they'd even started because she had felt emotionally cornered, yet was completely uncertain of whether things could even work with Sokka back then.

Her thinking was very different at this point, though. She knew things could work. She was willing to fight for that - but she had made too many slip-ups in the past, given in to temptations and frustrations enough times to know she couldn't fully trust her own choices 100% of the time. The prospect of hurting Sokka in that way - in the way she'd hurt Aang? That was...a horrifying thought. And she knew she couldn't trust herself entirely. Maybe she was already hurting him by continuing to cling to what they had found in each other, when he seemed increasingly desperate to let it go.

"Toph, our friendship needs to come first. That's the bottom line here. And the way things look like they're gonna go? Man...I just don't see things not getting complicated. I don't want to put you through that. Got it?"

"...Sort of."

"So you understand where I'm going with this?"

"You mean where you've been going for, like...weeks now?"

"Uhh, well, yea. We did already agree to this, didn't we?"

"..."

"The longer we put this off, the more difficult it's going to be to get back to how things were."

"How things were?"

"Yea, when...everything was simple, and we had fun, and goofed off, and just...enjoyed being...-" Sokka trailed off when he noticed that Toph was getting up from her seat.

She groped the wall in front of her, retrieved her walking cane, and approached the door.

"We still do have that, you moron," she grumbled, her hand clamped on the door's handle as her face burned with emotional instability. "Even I can see that..."

"Toph..."

"That was a blind joke. By the way."

"You don't have to make this so hard. If you could stop being stubborn for a minute...-"

"If you could stop over-thinking, or dismissing, and just...fucking...let yourself feel whatever you feel...-"

"C'mon, sit back down. Let's talk this out."

"I'm done talking. You've already made up your mind. You wanna go? Clean slate? Bam. Slate cleaned. I declare you freed from the servitude of the Queen of the Cunts."

"Look, I don't have a lotta choice here, Toph. I want to be with you, but I've gotta put my responsibilities first."

"Well, great. Go...fucking sail off to whatever other kingdom is so important to you now...Go be a man, whatever the hell that even means to you anymore..."

"That's how it is, eh? You just gotta get the last word in. You can't-"
"Are we done?"

"Psh. Yea. Yea, we're done, then."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

Toph offered Sokka a mocking salute from the side as she shoved off through the door, leaving him alone in her practice room.

Sokka groaned to himself as he bumped his head against the wall. He pressed his ear up against said wall, observing the light tapping vibrations her cane made as she disappeared.

Now all alone in the soundproof room, Sokka got up on his feet, slipped on his tattered loafers, and ruminated with bitterness on how that conversation had not gone at all as he'd planned it. He took out some frustration on the room's piano, rattling out an unpleasant chord, then smacked Toph's sheet music binder off of the piano's sheet stand. After glaring at the tiny mess he'd made, he begrudgingly bent down to pick it up. He held it in his hands for a moment, his mind lost. As he flipped the binder around to set it back with Toph's tiny shelf of in-room materials, he caught sight of the braille labels that were stuck firmly to the back of the book. He ran his thumbs across the two black, bumpy labels. He remembered that he'd put them there at Toph's request a few weeks back.

He couldn't read braille, but he didn't need to in order to remember what the labels said.

{a man chooses}
{a slave obeys}


Korra tugged at the green training helmet on Aang's head, ensuring it was secure.

"That better?" she checked, tapping it with her knuckle lightly.

Aang nodded, bouncing up and down a bit on his toes. Korra stepped over to where her bright red gloves rested on the ring's floor. She scooped them up and fastened them onto her hands. The gentle squeaking of Aang's shoes echoed across the empty gym as he bobbed a bit, evidently brimming with energy today.

As Korra strung her practice gloves up, she studied Aang's lightweight frame. Aang was shorter than she was, but he was also much more skinny. The only person she knew that was maybe scrawnier than him was Jane, but even then, Aang seemed much more fit than Jane did. That was probably the careful diet, all that yoga and meditation, the running exercise he did...Old Shamrocks had supposedly been in ROTC training before Korra had known her, but she must've shed what little muscles she'd developed on a schoolyear's worth of lounging and cafeteria food. Aang was the only of Katara's little group - this Fearless Five - who actually seemed in shape. It was for this reason that Korra had figured that a little training would suffice in her returning the favor for his meditation lessons.

The small gym was a bit musty, the brick walls worn with faded posters. They were the only two present - the elderly, cranky old goat that owned the gym was taking a break. The curmudgeon and Korra didn't get along, but he had apparently been the man who'd gotten Mako into covering sports in the first place, landing him a real job and helping he and his brother quit their ties with shady dealings. So Korra could at least respect the man.

"I think I'm ready," said Aang with some seriousness, hopping on his toes.

His tall, black gym sneakers squeaked on the stained boxing ring floor. He fanned air into his black tanktop and adjusted the elastic waistband on his bright green shorts. He padded together the green boxing gloves he'd picked out to rent - he'd even borrowed a colored training helmet to match, rejecting the blue one Korra had randomly grabbed for him. All this green - Korra thought Aang was more into that light blue color. But then again, his demeanor today was a little off from the normal mild-manners.

Seeing Aang dressed like this, with his frowning, serious face, all trying to look tough...it was a little funny. Kind of adorable. Korra was reminded of a photo Kat had shared on Facebook the night prior - a kitten with a pirate hat and eyepatch photoshopped over its face.

"Damn, Aang," Korra said with a smug smirk. "I forgot how...well, little you are."

"Yea well...-" Aang grumbled, patting his gloves together. "Size doesn't matter."
The guy definitely had a chip on his shoulder today, eh?

Korra's brows lifted in amusement and she let loose a chuckle.

"Ahaha! Oh, yea? That's what I'm talkin' 'bout," she encouraged as she slapped his shoulder with her gloved hand. "That's what I wanna see today, Little Man. Some attitude, some bite to ya, eh? I like it."

Aang's body relaxed to a pause, and he let his arms sag to his sides. He glared at Korra expectantly, and she shrugged back.

"Well?" she probed. "Show me your ready stance."

Aang huffed air through his nose and stuck up his dukes, stiff and stern, looking up at Korra's face. Korra nodded, studying his pose. She reached out one glove and lightly tapped his chin from below.

"Chin down. Always keep your chin down," she calmly explained. He nodded, his arms still raised. Korra took a couple of steps back, raising up her gloves and shuffling a little on her toes. She could already see a number of holes in his defense, but figured it might be better to teach him one step at a time - bit by bit, and all that.

"Come at me," she advised, still flitting her body around.

Aang obliged her command quite abruptly, but she was ready for it. She noticed his elbows were flared out at a forty-five degree angle. His left-handed hook was swiftly countered by a jab to his exposed rib. He flinched, tugging his elbows down, and she dodged a step back.

"See?" she cautioned. "Your popping out your elbows. Don't do that. Keep your elbows tucked in. Like this." She demonstrated, her own arms pressed against her ribs. "You've gotta always be ready to protect yourself."

Aang nodded, trying to mimic Korra's stance. She helped him adjust, then gave him a pat on the back when she was satisfied.

"Gimme a hook," she commanded.

Aang tossed a wild swing with his left arm, thumb upturned, and Korra absorbed his weak smack with the back of her right glove.

"OK," she grunted. "Don't slap," she advised. She mimicked what he had just done. "If you swing like that, you're gonna have your hand get messed up. You're gonna lose power. You wanna make sure that any punch you're landing, it's with your top knuckles. Not your palm, not your nails, not your bottom knuckles, not your wrist - top knuckles." She flung a few swift air punches of differing angles, each one demonstrating what she'd advised.

Korra resumed a defensive position.

"You try," she said. "Aim for my gloves."

Aang hesitated for a second or two, then took a swing - Korra's eyes caught the angle, and it was a little off. His punch was weak against her gloves' defense.

"No," Korra criticized, her tone neutral. "Keep your thumb under your fingers, not on the side. Hit with the flat sides of your fingers, not the joints. Again."

Another weak tap.

"Again."

Yet another - slightly better.

"OK. All right. More like that one. C'mon."

After about thirty seconds of this, Korra took a playful jab when she noticed that he was focusing so much on punching, he was dropping his defense. Her glove bopped him on the forehead, his padded helmet absorbing the hit.

"Ow," he growled with indignity.

"Well," Korra countered. "You can't drop your 'D' like that. Keep your elbows tucked in. Keep your gloves near your face."

"I know, I know."

"Then do it."

"I'm trying."

"That's not the same thing-"
"-as doing, I get it."

Korra smirked at Aang's impatience. She had a feeling that getting him a bit riled up might encourage his efforts.

"Gimme a few more jabs," she commanded.

He obeyed, and she gave the slightest bit of tell with the same fist she'd just swung. He leaned his body just in time for his glove to take the hit instead of his helmet.

"Good," Korra encouraged. "Remember to keep that chin down." She watched his head tilt forward a bit. "I'm gonna throw some jabs toward your face. You ready?"

Aang took a step back, glaring at her.

"Ready?" Korra double-checked. He frowned adamantly and nodded, and she waited a moment until his chin was lowered, elbows tucked in, gloves by his face.

Korra swung her fists in a predictable jab-jab-hook combo. She'd nick his helmet or his arm a bit, but he seemed to be starting to get the hang of protecting his face. Korra gave him a curveball - she landed a hook against his arm. Then a jab toward his waist. Then another jab toward his face. In the brief moment of unpredictability, he flinched his eyes closed and pulled up his gloves over his line of sight.

Korra assaulted him with a few more quick but comparatively gentle blows to demonstrate his weak spots, then backed up, letting him recover.

"You closed your eyes," she observed allowed. "Never close your eyes. Never look away from your opponent."

Aang's sight stared at her with some intensity as he considered this advice.

"But...when they're attacking-" he began to protest.
"That's the most important time to keep your eyes on them!" Korra sternly informed. "You can't block what you can't see."

"Mm," Aang grumpily hummed his acknowledgement.

Korra practiced her run of jabs at Aang again - then again - and was pleased at how just by keeping his eyes on her, he saw an increase in the effectiveness of his reactions. He seemed much more adept to dodging her blows than straight-up blocking them, and that was probably all the better for the particular sport they were engaged in. She had him switch back to offense, which was much more lacking.

"Your blows are too easy to see coming," Korra scolded him after she'd shrugged off five strikes in a row. "You've gotta keep moving," she advised, backing off and showing him what she meant. She bobbed and weaved on her toes, her gloves swiveling to and fro in a seemingly random pattern. "See?" she huffed. "Could be - this." She flung a right jab toward Aang's face. "Or - this." A left hook toward his abdomen.

Korra took a deep breath and rubbed her arm across her eyes, removing the sweat that was starting to drip down from loosened bangs. She stood staunch, like a statue, and raised up her gloves, imitating the position Aang had been holding.

"When you're like this? Like a rock, just sitting there?" She threw the same two punches she just had, but Aang could recognize them coming from the way her body gave off a split-second tell. "It's easier to see the shots coming. That's why you keep moving. Gotta move like air, strike like water. If you're gonna be rock-like, it's gotta be when you dig in to make a swing." She planted one foot in, and thrust the other leg forward, using her legs to add power to her slow-mo punch, which she directed toward Aang's face. "Put your legs into it. Gives you more power, more distance. And ya wanna break your own patterns - add some chaos, keep their ass on fire trying to guess what you'll do next."

Korra showed off a bit, mixing together all kinds of motions and moves, and Aang was increasingly intimidated.

"This is...a bit much," he sighed, rubbing sweat off of his own face.

Korra paused her exhibitionist habit and relaxed her body, gawking at him as he removed his helmet. He took deep breaths, wiping his green boxing glove over his disheveled, sweat-ridden hair.

Aang noted, "I thought this would...be all about...just punching."

"Say what?"

Aang shrugged, then elaborated. "It sounds like there's...a lot of thought you need to put into this. Like...you're supposed to thinking two steps ahead, analyzing stuff while you act...It's just more complicated than I thought it'd be."

Korra grinned, approached Aang, and wrapped her arm over his shoulder.

"Ha! Well, whaddya know?" Korra snidely remarked. "That's how I felt when you were teaching me how to meditate, eh?"

"Huh? O-oh, like...you were over-thinking it, when it was just...-"

"You got it."

Aang shrugged, Korra's weight bearing down on him, carrying with it her expectation of him to put more effort into this.

"A-anyway, I'll...try harder," he mumbled, strapping his helmet back on.

"Yea, you will," Korra encouraged, hopping jauntily back in front of him, her fists whizzing about in a playfully excitable manner. She lightly danced to and fro, whisking her fists around. In turn, Aang assumed a lower stance than he had, attempting to shuffle around on his toes. He began to rotate his gloves in circles - round and round. "'Atta boy," Korra encouraged. "Yea, keep it low, low's good. Now try to-"

Aang cut off Korra's advice by charging in with a pair of swift left jabs. He'd stepped forward with his right leg as he'd made the motion, giving him the extra reach and momentum to land his blows. Korra was caught off guard by his assertive strikes, barely blocking his jabs, and swerving to her left to avoid his follow-up right hook. She weaved her dodge forward, swinging with her right and gunning for his abdomen, but his left glove shoved her blow down as he swung around her, popping the side of her helmet with a jab. She countered with a body shot in his abs.

A solid few minutes of sparring went by, each second an exchange of mind and body versus mind and body.

Aang felt his body burst with energy, fueled by determination. Korra certainly landed more hits on him, but by the end of their makeshift round, Korra could tell that he was already acclimating to how this sport worked, diving right in and experimenting with what she'd advised. She offered advice on the fly through forced breaths, allowing him a second or two each time to tweak his approach. He was showing the signs that she liked to see.

He moved like wind, he struck like water, he planted his feet rock-like, and his eyes burned with a rival's fire.

There were moments when Aang's hands became stinging blurs of green. Korra loved the sight - loved seeing a more tenacious, determined side to her friend. It was the side of Aang that had protected her - that had protected her cousin. Helped her protect the kids back at the park when she'd been lost in her bloodlust. Speaking of, Aang was really letting it rip with his swings. Korra had to do a bit of double-time to keep herself un-touched by his burst of adrenaline.

Aang was in a bit of a rage, taking this opportunity to pound out the angry thoughts and energies that had been bottled up so much recently.

Each punch he swung was accompanied by a huff, a growl, a snarl...a sour thought.

I'm sick of you treating me like a kid.

I'm sick of you flaunting yourself around.

I'm sick of seeing you caught up in this mess.

I'm sick of seeing my friends caught up in this mess.

I'm sick of seeing you all hurt..."ng?"

I'm sick of feeling hurt.

I'm sick of "Aay...!" feeling useless.

I'm sick of running away.

I'm sick of disappointing "Aang!" you all.

I'm sick of "Dude!" disappointing myself. "Stop!"

"Fucking stop, already!"

Aang was jarred to his senses when Korra shoved him off of her. His ass slammed hard onto the boxing ring floor. Dazed and achy, he stared up at Korra, who was wincing a little, rotating her shoulders around and pacing away from him.

"I dunno what your deal is today," Korra growled, "but I'm not a damned punching bag. Shit." She pointed one glove off away from the ring, toward the old punching bag that was hung off by the ring's side. "If you just wanna pound something - christ - have at it..."

Aang paused, glancing over to the bag, then up at Korra, who was still pacing around a bit. Now that he could see her front side, she looked fine, but incredibly irritated. He figured that even with all of his energy, he could still barely faze her. Even when he let all his anger out, he was apparently still a weakling. Big surprise.

"Did I hurt you?" he wondered. His neutral tone had Korra a little confused.

She sniffed, wrinkling her big nose a bit, and unclipped her helmet, letting it hang against her hip.

"I don't know," Korra grunted with a shrug. "Hit me in the fuckin' tit, though," she grumbled. "Damn," she groaned, the residual pain seeping into her chest. "Fuckin' fast hit. I can't tell if I'm pissed or proud..."

Aang finally crawled back up to his feet, using the nearby elastic ropes as support.

"Why didn't you stop when I told you?" Korra demanded.

Aang, his lips agape, shrugged.

"I...I'm not sure, I was-...I didn't mean...-"

"Eh, I asked for it," Korra sighed, quelling the tensions down. "Maybe that was a little rough for a first lesson."

"W-well..." Aang breathed out, giving her a sheepish smile as he took off his own helmet in kind. "If it's any consolation, I do feel better."

"Tch! All right, then," she smirked his way. "Punching stuff does feel good, doesn't it?"

"Especially when it's...-"

"What?" Korra pressed with a humored face. "When it's what?" She bobbed beneath the ropes, exiting the ring.

Aang finished his thought as he slid out of the ring behind her. "I do feel better when I punch your...fat, arrogant face."

"Ha! See, Little Man...Now you've gotta get your insults to be as swift as those punches you just threw."

"Mm..."

"Oh, erm...-" Korra paused, turning back to face him. "Sorry," she spewed out tiredly. "The, uhh...'Little Man.' I keep forgetting...you're not a fan of that, eh?"

Aang took in a deep breath of the musty, sweat-tinted gym air, the dim light soothing his exhausted body as he trudged up to Korra's side. They both set down their helmets on a run-down wooden bench, sitting themselves cautiously down.

"Little Man," Aang grunted to himself as he let his lean hind quarters take a rest beside his friend. "Little Man..." He stared absent-mindedly at his bright green gloves as he popped them against each other. "I guess it's starting to grow on me," he mused with a small smile.


- Wednesday, June 15th -

"Um..." Katara's eyes drifted to one side as she fiddled with the hem on her denim skirt under the table. "It's...going well," she replied. There was the briefest of pauses, her eyes glazed over, unfocused. She was staring at a display of hand-made crafts on a desk to the side of the room. "All things considered," she added in a mumble, shrugging up one shoulder as her eyes continued to gaze off into space.

Her wandering eyes were brought to attention as the potbelly of Professor Kurosawa appeared in her line of sight. The man poured green tea into the wooden tea cup that sat before Katara.

"Gosh, what can ya do to stop this sorta thing?" Chong posed from across the table, stirring natural honey from a mason jar into his drink.

"The police here could be doing their jobs," said Azula stoically, staring down into her cup as if to intimidate it into cooling down.

"They're doing their best," Zuko defended. "That congressman's kids were rescued - and they've arrested a number of triad members just this week."

"Yea," Katara agreed. "I, um-...My cousin actually helped...with that. If you'd believe it."

"Your cousin?" Azula raised one brow. "Oh, right. The thuggish vigilante that riled up the triad's attention in the first place..."

"Ohhh, the one who captured that nasty man," Lily recalled. "The one who burned your house?" She glanced up to Iroh as the man at last poured his own drink.

"Yes, that would be the one," Iroh confirmed, stating it so airily, like it wasn't a big deal. He set the teapot down in the center of the table before taking his seat.

"If it wasn't for Korra and Jane, you might not still be here," Zuko pointed out.

"This...is true," Iroh agreed with a slow nod, taking a satisfying sniff of his brew.

Everyone took a quiet pause to sip their steaming beverages.

"So, what's the next step?" Katara asked, arousing some puzzled looks.

"Step?" said Zuko.

"For the school," Katara elaborated. "You guys - the Kurosawa family. What's the next move? For the Harmony Restoration Movement?" She grew a bit wary when the three Kurosawa members offered no response, instead sharing awkward glances. "I mean, you're all here in Wayward now - surely that means you'll do something about all of this."

"We're...still weighing our options," Zuko passively explained.

"Wh-?" Katara sighed through her nostrils with some impatience. "With...all due respect, this entire mess is a direct result of your family, isn't it?"

That left the room in a tense, frozen moment of consideration. Iroh stroked at his beard in a most melancholic fashion, staring at his own reflection. Azula, her eyes closed, primly drank her drink, its piping hot temperature evidently endurable. Zuko took the brunt of Katara's desperate expression, and he shrugged warily.

Katara pointed out, "Mai gave me the impression that you guys are planning on holding a press conference about all of this, but...-" She flipped through the sheets in her manilla folder until she tracked down the schedule. "-...I'm not seeing a date or any indication of that in the schedule drawn up for the Restoration Movement." She sighed, letting her elbows drop below the table into her lap. She shrugged up her shoulders expectantly. "Well?" she probed.

"A week from Friday," stated Zuko with firm resolve. Azula shot him an indignant glare, and Iroh, still stroking his wispy beard, smiled a little. "We'll arrange a meeting between Wayward and SRU officials, prepare a press conference, and...go from there."

"Um...S-so, Friday?" Katara excitedly mumbled, fumbling into her blouse pocket for a pen.

Zuko nodded in reply, and Katara jotted a note on the appropriate date.

"They should be approaching us," Azula expressed with some disdain. "That insufferable pastor has no idea what he's talking about, accusing us of-"
"Azula." Iroh's interruption went acknowledged, silencing his niece. "The young lady is correct. It is our family's wrongdoings which have brought these storm clouds to this community."

"You're always talking about upholding our family's legacy," Zuko reminded her. Azula drank her tea as she endured her brief lecture. "But it's time to admit Ozai's mistakes. Admit our mistakes. Come clean, seek forgiveness, make amends..."

"Yes, yes, yes," Azula hastily spat, flicking her wrist up at her brother. "I see your point, it is acknowledged, it is taken into account." She sighed through her nose, shaking her head slowly as she ran her lengthy fingernail across the teacup's edge.

Katara's observant gaze caught Zuko's concerned sympathy for his sister's frustration. There seemed to be a lot of history between these two, and of the opposite variety that Katara had with her own sibling.

"Why don't we get some biscuits going?" Chong blurted out, nudging his wife. "They'd sing n' dance real sweet with this tea."

"Ahhh, yeaaa," Lily's meandering voice agree, the couple both rising from their seats.

"Does that sound swell, or what?" Chong posed to his guests.

Katara blurted out, "Th-that sounds...lovely, yes. Please. Thank you."

As Chong bopped Lily on the behind - she tittered in that dazed, dreamy way she had multiple times that evening - the two slipped off into their kitchen to prepare some biscuits.

"Hmm...It will take some time for this tea to cool down," Iroh murmured to himself.

"I don't even know how you're drinking it, Azula," said Zuko quietly, watching the steam ride from his cup.

Azula's brow twitched with some defiance.

"I suppose I've developed a taste for Uncle's brew," she grumbled in her proper, passive-aggressive manner. "Though I still believe that organic honey would elevate it to a level of quality worthy of the Kuro-"
"Ma'am?" Katara intruded.

Azula's eyes widened as she gawked at the college student addressing her.

"We have more pressing things to be discussing than personal tea preferences, don't we?"

Azula's face contorted at the corners, at the edges, threatening to growl out 'Insolence' or some such at a moment's notice.

"For example," Katara went on, "Do we know that you all are even safe here? I mean, if it's true that this gang violence is connected to your family, isn't there reason for us to be contacting the authorities? Shouldn't you...have protection? Or...-?"

"We're trying to lay low for a bit," Zuko explained. "We don't want to draw unnecessary attention to ourselves."

"OK, well, I can...appreciate that," Katara muttered, rubbing her chin nervously. "But...-" Her attention seemed to skip elsewhere instantaneously, and she began digging through her carrybag, which dangled from one post of the antique chair she was sitting in. "It's just...-" She pulled out her laptop, adorned with various stickers. "With everything...going on...-" She was fidgeting with her device, opening it up from its slumber to the webpage she'd pulled up earlier. She rotated her laptop around and carefully slid it across the table, letting it rest between where Zuko and Azula sat.

The Kurosawa siblings both leaned in to read the headline of the news article Katara had presented.

[A Town Divided]
[Tensions flare in college town; college administration accused of ties to drug cartel]

Zuko and Azula cast hesitant glances each other's way just from the headline alone.

"Maybe you haven't been following the news," Katara cited, "but things here in Wayward aren't going so well. People have died, or been hospitalized. Property has been destroyed. The community has been split apart. Between the gang violence, the accusations, the...-" She sighed, shaking her head. "There's even rumors going around that there's some...kind of political, racial, social-...I don't know..." She was getting fairly flustered.

Azula observed, "And you feel our inactivity is worsening the situation."

"Yes," Katara burst out with some desperation at the edge of her voice. "And I'm worried that something might happen to your family."

Zuko was about to speak, but Azula beat him to the punch.

"Our safety is our own concern. There is still some business that needs to be taken care of before all cards are laid on the table."

"Wh...-?" Katara did not like this response. "What does that mean?"

"It means," Zuko tried to reply with some delicacy, "that this is a personal, family matter - and we're working toward a resolution as quickly as we can."

"Young lady," Iroh said to her, attempting to calm her down. "Please. Drink some tea. Relax. This storm shall pass."

Katara struggled between a frown and a complacent stance, her arms crossed over her waist. She crossed her ankles and bounced an impatient foot as she studied the Kurosawas.

"Can you at least read the article?" Katara requested.

Zuko nodded, while Azula seemed to ignore her. As Zuko began to read Katara's laptop screen, Kat went about drinking her tea. A few minutes of tension passed by. Kat finished her tea quickly, then Zuko let Azula read. Kat took a bathroom break, passing by the hippy couple baking biscuits in the kitchen. While in the fragrant, artsy bathroom that Chong and Lily owned, Kat checked her phone, venting her frustrations to some of her friends.

By the time Katara had finished up in the restroom, her laptop had been handed to Iroh, who had taken out his glasses to study the text. Katara noticed her teacup was steaming, having been refilled while she'd been gone. The tea was pretty good, she could admit, even if it didn't seem to be easing her mood. She decided to try and gaze about the antiquated house, taking in the smell of fresh biscuits baking and the sights of the trinkets that this couple had amassed. The table of crafted objects seemed to be calling to her. A leather-bound dreamcatcher with seagull feathers kept catching Katara's eyes - it made her think of Korra for some reason. Perhaps due to the nightmares she knew her cousin had been dealing with.

"Mm." Iroh's hum stirred Katara from her thoughts. He closed the laptop, removed his eyewear, and his sturdy, wrinkled hands passed it back to her. "We are thankful for your awareness," Iroh said to her as she accepted her device. "And, as planned, we will be transparent with our family's history in a matter of days."

"...All right," Katara mumbled, shoving her laptop back into her bag. "Thanks for hearing me out, anyway."

Chong and Lily re-entered the dining room, a wave of warm biscuit fumes alongside them. Lily placed small plates at each seat, and Chong administered the flaky treats onto each plate. Lily set down a mason jar of what looked like home-made strawberry jam, twisted it open, and dropped a butter knife into it. She handed it to Katara first, and Katara graciously accepted the sweet-smelling stuff.

After some murmurings of 'thanks' and 'smells good,' the lot of them concluded their discussion as the biscuits were chowed down.

"So...-" said Katara, slathering jam on her snack. "What should...I...be doing, then?"

This time, Zuko was the one to interrupt before Azula could speak.

"Just keep with the schedule. You're not alone - Mai and Aang are helping, and so is the student council."

Katara nodded her understanding as she passed the jam over to Iroh.

"Sorry I'm so worked up about this," Katara apologized. "I know this...isn't really quite my business..."

Zuko and Iroh exchanged hesitant glances at her remark as she sunk her teeth into her delicious treat.

"It is fine," Iroh assured.

"Gosh, no reason to apologize," Chong insisted. "Bein' active about this sorta stuff? It's good for ya."

Lily nodded, sending a wry smile Chong's way.

"Peaceful protests are how we first met," she noted.

"Simpler times, simpler times," mused Chong in a sigh.

Katara was warmed by the smiles the two offered each other. Knowing, intimate smiles born from years - decades - of proximity.

As everyone ate and drank, Katara was drawn back to the table of crafts.

"You can take a closer look," Lily encouraged her. With a bashful grin, Katara finished off her biscuit, wiped her lips and hands on her napkin, and eagerly pursued the collection of crafts. "We sell those at craft shows," Lily noted.

"Oh. Neat," said Katara. Her sight combed over the crocheted baby booties, wooden magnets, doilies, earrings, and that charming dreamcatcher.

"How much would this one cost?" Katara lightly ran her finger along the seagull feathers that dangled from the intricate ornament.

"The dreamcatcher?" Chong seemed surprised. "Doncha have one already?"

Katara raised her brow at the airy-headed man.

"...Why would I...have one?" she questioned.

"Er, uh..." Chong shrugged, scratching his scalp. "'Cuz you and yer family, you're...Indian people."

"We're not Indian people," Katara defensively retorted, trying to give the man the benefit of the doubt.

"You're not?" Chong seemed thrown for a loop. He scratched his ear. "Well, then...what kinda people are ya?"

"Just...people," Katara stated simply and with a tight shrug.

"Ah." Chong nodded with exaggerated contemplation. "Aren't we all, sister?"

Katara's irritation gave way to a bemused smirk. The guy was a little too light-headed for her to get too angry at. Katara decided she'd let it slide in the face of their hosting with tea and biscuits.

"We are," she agreed to his sentiment. "So, umm...-" She pointed at the craft again. "How much...?"

Chong laughed. "Aren't you an eager little beaver? We can go over that before you leave - but first, tea. Biscuits! Relax!"

"Ahh, ha," Katara laughed meekly, embarrassed by her own eagerness. "That, um, that sounds good."

Iroh quietly ate his snack, admiring the young lady's presence - Katara was surely her mother's daughter.

The elderly Kurosawa offered some makeshift words of wisdom for the Kesuk woman.

"True peace is not unlike a bed of flowers - it takes cautious care to grow a beautiful flowerbed, but it can only grow as fast as its seeds allow."

Katara hummed in compliance, sipping her tea.

She murmured with some doubt, "I'm just...worried about someone trampling through our progress..."

"Ah, yes." Iroh nodded slowly. "A garden takes weeks to grow, but can be destroyed in an instant."

"Right," Katara agreed. "That's why I'm trying to make sure I'm doing...everything I can so that people will see that they shouldn't just stomp over it..."


-10 years ago; Spring -

"Kya?"

Hakoda's voice echoed from the kitchen floor up to the cramped staircase.

"Kya!" he repeated, upping the volume. "Are you up there?" He kept shuffling through the cabinet beneath the sink.

"Yea?" Kya's faint voice came from above. Hakoda could hear the creaking of floor boards from above.

"Dear, where's the Windex?" Hakoda asked with a grunt. He shoved the various bottles and containers aside, but the bright blue liquid was definitely not there. There wasn't a response for a few seconds, so he tried again when the squeaking from upstairs stopped. "Dear?"

"I don't know, Hun," Kya called back. "Are you sure we still have some?"

"I thought we did," Hakoda loudly cited.

"We ran out a couple of weeks ago," Kya stated, her already raised voice carrying some irritation. "I asked you to pick some up."

"Well," Hakoda began in a mumble. He groaned to himself as he pulled his head out of the cabinet and got his poor knees up off the hard kitchen tile floor. They cracked a bit as he straightened his legs upright. "I don't see any," he said across the house.

Kya responded with a poisonous irritability as she made her way down the stairs.

"That might be because you forgot to get some when I asked you to."

"I'm sorry," Hakoda sighed, rinsing his hands at the kitchen sink.

"It's OK," Kya eased him tiredly, walking into the living room. Their voices were finally at a standard volume now that no walls separated them. "Just add it to the list, and we'll make a run tonight. I had a feeling we wouldn't be able to knock this all out in one day, so...-"

"Ky. Sweetie." Hakoda huffed a rattling breath. "I'm not sure I've got another day of this spring cleaning in me." He extended one arm out as he considered alternate options. "Can't we...space it out? One day a week, pick one thing, and...-"

"I don't think so," Kya dismissed the idea primly. She was studying the living room with a critical eye. "We have Katara's birthday coming right up in less than a week. I want this house spin and span for her party - and we put things off over the holidays, so now there's build up, and...-" Kya sighed, shaking her head with displeasure at the thought.

"Ah, so...-" Hakoda fidgeted his thumbs on the edges of his back pockets as he entered the living room space. There was a small stack of boxes lined up against the wall near the doorway that led to the staircase. "Speaking of which, her present should be on the-...Yea. There you go." Hakoda nodded as he watched his wife note the item in question.

"Why is this here?" Kya growled. "In the living room? Katara's going to be home any minute. Why would you just leave it here?"

"I'm sorry," said Hakoda. "It was a long trip, and I left everything there when I came in. I was tired - I still am."

Kya's face grimaced with some empathy but her firm attitude was retained. She pored through the plastic bags on the coffee table, glancing at their contents. Some cleaning supplies, some groceries, toilet paper, a light bulb to replace the one that had just burnt out in the bathroom...

Kya asked, "You already checked these for the Wind-?"
"I didn't get any Windex today, I forgot."

"Well, I guess the glass will have to wait until tomorrow." Kya rubbed at one eye tiredly, the sight in her opposite eye getting hazy as she lost herself in thought for a moment.

Hakoda took a couple of the bags - the ones with groceries - and brought them to the kitchen.

"You didn't leave anything cold out here all afternoon, did you?" Kya whimpered, watching her husband haul the bags over.

"No, Sweetie. I didn't. I came in, I set the bags down right there, I put what needed to be refrigerated away, and then I took a shower."

Kya shrugged at Hakoda's back, her tension built up by his defensiveness. As Kya observed the goods he'd brought home, she caught sight of the shopping bag with the name {COLES} printed on it. She poked her head inside. A hardcover book looked back up at her, portraying a young boy riding a griffin-like creature.

The title {Harry Potter} was printed in green reflective foil that glistened in the parlor's overhead light.
The subtitle read {and the Prisoner of Azkaban}.

Kya's head lulled back with disappointment as she sighed - rather audibly.

"What?" Hakoda asked, reaching up to a cabinet to stuff some boxes of snacks within. "What is it?"

"You got the third one," Kya stated with frozen syllable, giving Hakoda a frustrated glare. "She already has the third one," Kya stated with an angry flick of her hand. "We got her that one for Christmas." Kya let go of the bag's plastic, staring at her dumbfounded husband. "Remember? She needs the fourth one."

"My God, how many of these books are there?" Hakoda grumbled. He moved on to canned goods. "I just-...I saw the name, and...figured it was the one."

"Did you check to make sure it was the most recent?"

"Ihh...It was the furthest one on the right, there were...-" Hakoda stacked a trio of tuna fish cans on a shelf in the lower cabinet. "-I don't know, two beside it. On the left?"

"There wasn't a fourth?"

"N-no, I didn't...see one, just the three. They must've not had it in stock or...-"

"Did you ask anyone? A clerk?"

"Sweetie." Hakoda, having been bent on one knee to put cans away, got back up with another crackling of his joints. "I did-not-know...that I was getting the wrong one. It's not that big a deal, we can just go get the-"
"This is your daughter's birthday we're talking about. 'Not a big deal?'"

"You know what I meant."

"I wrote a list," Kya pointed out, her arms folded over her stomach. "Where is it?" She paced into the kitchen, fidgeting with her brown blouse. "Hm? Where did you put it?"

"It's...-" Hakoda shrugged, his concern escalating. "I think I left it in the glove box, I don't...-" He trailed off when he watched Kya's temper flare up as the woman's nostrils widened. She was right in from of him now, and had that impatient spark in her eye that she been wearing more and more in recent weeks.

"The reason we make lists - my dear - is to prevent these mistakes from hap-pen-ing."

"It is okay," Hakoda slowly stated, reaching his arm out to comfort her. "I will go, tomorrow, and...-"

She lashed her hand out with a quick, "Don't touch me," and he let off his advance.

"What's wrong?" Hakoda asked sympathetically. "What's got you so wound up today?"

Kya, her teeth clenched, twisted her head away from Hakoda. Her shoulders were tight, and her arms were crossed. She lifted up one hand and chewed on her thumbnail as she shook her head. Hakoda could feel a familiar sting, like a needle poking at his brain.

"I'm not sure," Kya confessed through a trembling breath. "I...want this to be perfect." She continued to nibble at the edge of her nail, tossing up the other hand in a gesture. "Something, anything...to be perfect right now."

"Kya..." Hakoda sighed, doing his best to project his affection and support her way.

Kya could sense that he was holding back, given her snap-judgment remark. She adjusted her eyeglasses and leaned herself into him. She took in the scent of his cologne, mixed together with the comforting smell of his sweat with traces of that particular deodorant he wore. She rubbed her palms around his hips as he scratched his thumb along the strands of hair poking out from the base of her neck.

Kya felt like crying. There was no reason to, other than just...being tired. Weeks of every little thing being marred with imperfections, of so many things not working the way they were supposed to, all piled up on top of hormones and sleep deprivation and stresses at the workplace.

"I don't know what to do," Kya whispered. "There's...nothing wrong, it's-...I'm just tired. I need a break. I...-" She trailed off.

"I know," Hakoda comforted. He worked his hands up along her head, and carefully undid the messy bun her hair had been tied in. She smiled a little, though her brows were still arced upward with fret. He kissed her on the forehead as he let her frizzy hair roll down her back. "I'm sorry I haven't been here much."

"The station needs you," Kya eased, rubbing her nose over his collar bone, sniffing in a deep whiff of those smells that lingered on his polyester polo shirt. "But I do, too," she added quietly, her words muffled by his shirt.

Hakoda ran his fingers over her hair, taking caution not to catch in any tangles.

"I know," he reaffirmed solemnly. "I'm not going to miss her birthday this time. I promise."

"OK." Kya nodded, pulling her head up from his chest. "I want her to be happy. After last year, it...-"

"It'll be better this time," Hakoda tried to relieve her doubts.

"Her own cousin told me she's going to be 'too busy,' and I'm sorry, but I can't help but feel like she's not being taught the value of-"
"Let me talk to Korra. She's rough around the edges, and I know she may not seem like she appreciates things the same way you do. But she does. I know my brother - and she is certainly her father's daughter, which means I know that she cares about this family more than you give her credit for."

"It would...be more reassuring if our niece treated Katara with a little more respect."

"Kya, she's almost a senior. Kids will be kids."

"You know I don't like that mentality," Kya grumbled.

"Ehm, right," Hakoda quickly tried to correct course. "All I'm saying is that I'm sure she and Kat get along better than they come across to us. And it's not like our girl has been doing much to make friends in general. You can't blame that on Korra."

Kya nodded complacently, and with dissatisfaction.

"It just concerns me," Kya muttered. They were now holding each other close, conversing in private murmurings. "I worry that our baby's isolating herself from the world, or...or something, and I-...I know the books help, but...I just worry if I'm somehow...enabling her to just...keep...-"

"You shouldn't think like that," Hakoda insisted.

"But Sokka's always off with his friends - and so is Korra - while Katara just stays home all of the time."

"They're two different people - you can't expect them to act the same."

"You're right, I just...-"

"You see some of yourself in her. I get that."

"...Yea. I don't like the thought of her going through school the way I did."

"Katara will go through school however she feels she should. And she will turn out fine, just like you did."

"...Mm." Kya nodded her doubts away, letting them roll off her back.

Hakoda gently tugged her to lean back into him, and he whispered into her ear.

"And you are...fine." His lips hugged her jawline as he kissed her neck. After a few of these, Kya craned her head over and ensured that her mouth found his.

Tongues and hands found their ways into comfortable places for a minute or so, but clumsily retreated as the front door swung open. The golden bell that was nailed to the interior of the top of the door jingled a second time as Katara closed the door behind her, its chime jarring to the pair of pent-up parents.

"Hiii, Hunny," Kya called out, putting some distance between her and her husband.

Katara was kicking off her shoes as her mother swooped toward the cofee table, snapping up the {COLES} bag along with some groceries.

"How was school today?" Kya asked, trying to be casual as she toted bags to her husband.

"It was good," their almost-twelve-year-old replied, placing her mary-jane shoes on the shoe rack quaintly. She adjusted her backpack's shoulder straps and sighed, trudging toward the sofa in the living room. "I need help on my homework. Oh, hey, Dad." She slung off her pack onto one cushion and plopped herself down into one next to it.

"Heya," Hakoda greeted with a smile and a nod from behind the kitchen's open counter top. "You don't...need help right this minute with that, do ya, Sport?"

Kya gave him a raised brow, and he knew why - Katara didn't like being called 'Sport' and it was a force of habit he was still working his way out of.

"Uh, kinda," Katara replied, rubbing her dry nose with her sleeve as she unpacked materials onto the coffee table.

Kya set down the bags at Hakoda's feet and went to grab the last of them.

She said to her child, "Let me get this out of the way for you, mm?"

Katara didn't react, instead being intent on pulling out her supplies.

"Where's your brother?" Hakoda asked.

"He has soccer practice on Fridays," Katara reminded with a sigh, unzipping her pack of pens and pencils. She pulled out a sheet from a labelled folder and immediately went to work on her math homework.

"Ah, right." Hakoda nodded from the next room. Kya entered the kitchen with the rest of the bags and gave him a look that indicated that his lack of presence in the home was recognized by their daughter. He shrugged sheepishly at this and went to finishing up the restocking of groceries and cleaning supplies.

"Um, so, Katara." Kya called out as she came back to her daughter's side. She brushed her dusty hands against her jeans as she observed the girl's efficient doodling. "Have you decided on what you'd like to do for the party?"

Katara paused, shrugged sullenly, and went back to her math.

"No ideas yet?" Kya probed. "Your birthday's coming up real soon, so I'm going to need some heads up if you want something."

"Muffins?" Kat offered an idea complacently. "Chocolate."

"Ah. Muffins. And chocolate. Good, good. But...was there, say, a theme you wanted?"

Katara shrugged again, silently and swiftly progressing her assignment.

"This is birthday, Hunny," Kya reminded sweetly. "It's your special day of the year."

Katara's head tipped impatiently to one side as she lost focus. She flipped her pencil and erased her mistake.

"Who cares what we do?" Katara grumbled. "Nobody's going to be there, anyway..."

"Ohh, Sweetie." Kya knelt down beside the couch and rubbed Katara's shoulder. "Of course people will be there. Me, your brother, your cousin...your dad will be there, too. Your Gran-Gran..."

"Fff, that doesn't count," Katara whined, dropping her pencil down.

"Ah, I see," Kya played sympathy. She didn't take the remark personally - she had been a child once. And she knew that the girl just wanted affirmation from people who didn't carry a familial obligation. Kya continued to scratch Katara's back slowly as they spoke. "Well...What about your friends from the book club?"

"I don't know," Kat stated plainly, hammering out her arithmetic.

Kya paused, wary at the child's apparent apathy. The sounds of pencil scratching, bags wrinkling, and cans shuffling filled the domestic space.

"We'll figure something out," Kya concluded after a few moments of quiet. She briskly rubbed Kat's shoulder and kissed the girl on the temple as she rose up. "You want to help your mother with something when you're done with that?"

Katara puffed air through her nose.

"Can I do all my homework first?" she asked. "I need your help with a diorama."

"Sweetie, you've got...all weekend to do that. I'll help you with it tomorrow. OK?" Kya watched her child tense up in mild protest. "Don't worry about it just this minute. Finish your math there, and then come help me finish cleaning. Please?"

"...Oh-kay."

"Thank you, Hun." Kya scratched Kat behind one ear, eliciting a small giggle. As Kya made her way to the kitchen, where Hakoda was finishing up, she asked, "Are you hungry? Your dad and I are trying to get some cleaning done, so dinner's going to be late tonight."

"I'm fine," Katara assured from the next room.

Kya stole a moment of peace with her husband, and the two quietly kissed each other on the lips.

"Could you finish cleaning the kitchen?" Kya quietly requested. "We'll...uh...pick up where we left off later?"

"Sure," Hakoda obliged, clasping Kya's hand and rubbing his dry, calloused thumb across her dusty palm.

They sneaked in another kiss behind Katara's back as their daughter finished up her math assignment.

"I'm sorry I'm a mess lately," Kya whispered.

"You're not," Hakoda insisted. "But this house is, and I promise I'll help clean it up this weekend."

"Thank you." Kya sent him an optimistic smile.

"You should wash your hands," he teased. "They're a little dirty."

"That's what happens when you clean," she retorted with a smirk. "Anyway. I love you."

"I love you, too."

They separated their bodies, and Hakoda went to grab some paper towels and multi-surface cleaner to get to work. Kya went back to the living room, lingering above the stack of boxes she'd left there.

"All right, Hun," she said to Katara, who was tucking her school materials back into her backpack. "Mind helping me take this stuff upstairs?"

"Mm-hm," Katara obediently replied. She strapped her backpack on and went over to the boxes.

Kya bent down, grabbing the two larger ones, and pushed up with her legs.

"Can you get the last one for me?" Kya grunted, carefully making her way to the staircase.

Katara nodded, letting her mother by before grabbing the final box. It was a bit heavier than it looked, but Katara could handle it fine. The box tops were folded in a cycle to keep one another pressed down. The two made their way upstairs, and by the time they'd reached the top, Katara's arms were aching. She dropped the box down onto the carpeted floor at the top as Kya made her way to the small study they had.

"You all right?" Kya checked from the room as she set the boxes down.

"Uh-huh." Katara panted with some exaggeration, conveying that she was working hard. She pulled her backpack off and set it down, rotating her shoulders. She stared at the box now laying at her feet, and took note of the large letters written in permanent marker on the box's side.

{S.R.U.}

"Do you need me to get that last one?" Kya asked from the study.

"Umm, n-no, I've got it," Katara offered. She slid the box across the carpet, entering the room. "Hey, Mom, what's in this one? What's 'S.R.U' mean?"

"Hm?" Kya, who was attentive to the boxes she was stacking into the closet, turned to her daughter, who was nudging a familiar box her way. "Oh, those are some things from my school."

"Huh?" Katara wiped some sweat from her head with her shirt sleeve as she pushed the box against the wall by her mother's feet. "I thought you went to the same school as Dad."

"That's right," Kya acknowledged. "The same high school. But SRU is the college I went to."

"Ah. Right. College. Like, grown-up school."

"Heh, umm...-" Kya squinted as she smiled, glancing sideways while some stray memories slid by. "Well, it's something like that."

"That sounds really neat to me," Katara expressed. She crossed her arms. "Middle-school is so immature. Everyone's...childish!"

"Oh, is that so?" said Kya, amused by the ironic demeanor her daughter was carrying. She had brought up college in the past, but neither Sokka nor Katara had ever taken an interest. "Well...-" Kya glanced down at the box. "College is...definitely better than middle-school. Want to see what college was like for me?"

"Huh? How can I see that?"

"That's what this is for," Kya chuckled, tapping the box with her toes. "There's photos, and all kinds of stuff from when I was a student."

Katara's eyes practically glowed at the prospect of learning about 'grown-up school.' Kya was endeared by her child's excitement - she knew full well that her son would be harder to sell on higher education, but with some convincing, she figured Hakoda could make that work. Planting the seed of inspiration in their children was probably going to be key in regards to encouraging them to look into college.

"Go ahead, open the box," Kya offered, bobbing her head as she sat down in the squeaky rotating desk chair in their study. It had wheels, but they were fairly useless in the thick carpet of the room. Kya rubbed her socked feet against the carpet methodically, the sensation oddly hypnotic as she tried to relax from her earlier tension. Just seeing Katara's small smiles and sense of wonder over a shared interest - learning - was enough to help brighten Kya's mood.

Katara's lips hung open slightly as she sat cross legged on the floor, prying open the box.

"What's with the sudden interest, anyway?" Kya wondered. "The last time we talked about college, you didn't even pay attention."

Katara shrugged, gazing into the contents of the box. Kya couldn't complain - it was a bit of a pleasant surprise to see her child suddenly intrigued by something that was important to her. Maybe the timing was just right. Kya recalled that Sokka had been utterly disinterested in Star Wars for the longest time, but one day - poof! - something had clicked and he all into it.

Kya watched as Katara lifted up a thick, hardcover book. It was black, with a checkered pattern near the top. The squares in the checkerboard were colored white, blue, green, and red.

{S.R.U.}
{'82}
{As The Dragon Flies}

"That's one of my yearbooks," Kya noted, soaking in Katara's silent awe. "You know, I helped make that," she added as Katara opened the hardcore, its spine eliciting a delicate and satisfying cracking sound.

"You did?" Katara said, her eyes glues to the pages, which may as well have been an ancient tome from a distant civilization.

"I did. I used to write for the newspaper, and my friend would take photos...A lot of what's in there? I helped put it together."

"...Whoa," Katara murmured, the idea somewhat mind-blowing. "You made a book."

"Heehee, umm, well, kind of," Kya humbled the idea. "It's a yearbook, not like the kinds you read. It's not like this is in stores or anything."

"Yea," Katara conceded. "But...it's still neat."

Kya's lips bent up a little as a gut reaction to her daughter's whispers of admiration. Kya twiddled her hands together on her pants, continuing to rub her socks against the floor in slow movements. She watched Katara pore over the pages. The girl didn't spend too long on any given page, as if she was looking for something. Kya decided she'd wait for it, and got up from the chair. She poked Katara's shoulder, and a small static shock hopped between them.

"Mom," Katara scolded playfully, shooing away her mother's hand.

"I'll be back in a minute," Kya said, and headed to the bathroom across the hall to wash up her dried, grimy hands. She proceeded to clean her eyeglasses - then it happened.

Katara gasped from the study room, and Kya knew exactly what had been discovered.

After drying off her glasses, she put them back on and went back to her daughter's side.

"What did you find, Hun?"

Katara proudly displayed the book up to her mother, and Kya sat down cross-legged beside her.

It was a black and white photo of Kya in her college years, wearing a dress with her hair tied up in a braid over one shoulder. She was laughing alongside her two best friends from that seemingly distant past.

"That's you, oh, my God," Katara was giggling, suppressing her laughter with her hand. "Mom, you looked so dorky!"

Kya grinned and flicked Katara in the back of the head with her finger.

"I guess that means you look so dorky, too," she teased.

"Hee, but...you also look cute."

"Aw, thanks."

"I like your hair."

"Ah. Like that? The braid?"

"Mm-hm. You also look...happy," Katara observed.

The tone in their conversation lulled to a solemn moment of quiet.

"I was," Kya stated. "I am," she hastily added.

"No, you're not," Katara observed, letting the yearbook rest in her lap. Katara and Kya exchanged looks, both grasping the other's insecurities in a quiet understanding. "You and Dad keep...arguing, and you seem...sad a lot, and...-"

"I'm happy," Kya insisted, running her hand over her daughter's bushy ponytail. "It's just been a difficult month. You can't be happy all the time. You know?"

Katara nodded thoughtfully, still staring at her mother's tired face.

"But you're right," said Kya, looking down at the photo. "I was happy back then, too. I think it was the first time in my life when I was...actually happy. For long periods of time."

"Mm..." Katara let her glance fall back to the photograph as she contemplated that idea. The people in that picture were practically grown-ups to her, but all the same, she found herself longing for that...feeling. The looks on their faces, the smiles, they were...real. It was something Katara didn't feel at school. It was something she was certain she wouldn't feel much of during her impending birthday party, either. It must've been because they were grown-ups. Yea, that made sense. Grown-ups knew what was going on, so they knew to smile when they were happy for real, right? Mm. Well, not all grown-ups. But smart ones, who went to college, they probably did.

"College is a lot different from middle-school," Kya elaborated. "You get to pick your own classes, you get to live in your own room, in a building with your friends. You get to take care of yourself and make your own schedule. Think of it kind of like...Hogwarts. But real-life instead of, well...magic."

"Hm." Katara nodded with sincere consideration.

Kya savored the way her daughter's eyes lit up at that comparison.

"Come to think of it, SRU even has four different houses - like Hogwarts, right?"

"Oh, is that what the colors are for?" Katara's brows popped right up in recognition. She closed the book, eagerly pointing at the colored checkerboard on the cover.

"Heyyy, that's right, Smarty," Kya complimented her girl's intuition. "But it's kind of even better than Hogwarts, because you can visit any of the other houses whenever you want, so you can see your friends. You're not just stuck in your own house. Oh, and you know how Hogwarts has the woods around the school? Well, SRU has woods, too, right within walking distance. It's very pretty there. Oh, and you know how there's that town the students go to?"

"Hogsmeade."

"Right. Well, SRU has a town nearby, too. And you don't even need a permission slip! You can just go there whenever you want. But even if you don't feel like it, there's a restaurant and a coffee shop, right near where the houses are."

"Wow. So you can kind of do whatever you want? Even pick your classes? That all sounds...neato."

"It is. It is way neato. I think you'll love it. You could take a whole bunch of classes just about books and writing, I bet."

"You can?"

"If you want to, yes. You could even go to the same school I did, see the same things, live in the same room I lived in."

"Like following foot prints on the beach," Katara muttered, running her finger over the photo of her mother's face.

"Ah, heh, well, don't you worry too much about college just yet, Katara."

"Yea...I still have a lot of school left before college. Huh?" Katara at last set the yearbook aside, digging through the box some more.

"Heh. That's true, Hunny. That is true..." Kya was running her hands over her child's ponytail, smoothing it out between pinched fingers as her daughter tinkered with odds and ends. A fabric flag, a manilla folder of old essays, a couple more yearbooks, old issues of the White Lotus...

It was a rather enjoyable moment for Kya, sharing this intimate moment with her baby girl - sharing these intimate objects from her history.

"Hey, Mom," Katara said as she rifled through the box. She coughed a little from some dust, wrinkling her nose.

"Yes?"

"When we're done cleaning, and I take a shower, can you...make my hair in a braid? Like in that picture?"

A gentle, grateful laugh slipped through Kya's nose.

"All right. But are you sure you want to look 'dorky' like me?"

"Hey! I...said you looked pretty, too."

"You said I looked 'cute,' actually."

"Right. You can be cute and dorky and smart, all at the same time," Katara stated matter-of-factly.

"Just like Hermione?" Kya offered a comparison.

"Exactly," Katara said. "I want to be like her - so just like you."

"Ff, well. Thank you, Sweetie. Oh, what do you have there?"

Kya finished playing with Katara's hair, noting the bright yellow loose leaf binder that Kat had unearthed. It had an inelegant doodle of a bird with a top hat on the cover, drawn in blue marker.

{Class of '83}

"What's this?" Katara asked quizzically. "Is that a-...? Mom, did you draw that?" she asked with a raised brow.

"It's a penguin," Kya informed.

Katara rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue.

"You like penguins too much," the girl stated plainly. "They're goofy. And they don't wear hats."

"This one does," Kya insisted. "And maybe I'm goofy. You ever think of that? Huh?" She tickled Katara's armpit, and the girl squealed and snorted, breaking free.

"I'm too big for tickle fights," Katara sighed out her laughter, laying sideways on the carpet.

"It's not my problem if you don't fight back," Kya taunted, reciprocating her girl's raspberry gesture.

Katara pushed herself back up, and wrinkled her nose in an exaggerated frown at her mother. This gave way to a smile, as Katara was indeed appreciating seeing this elusive sight: a look into her mother's past. Confirmation, physical evidence, of that bizarre idea that Mom had once been a student.

Katara opened the notebook. The inside of the binder had another drawing scribbled on it - a simplified figure in a parka with dots for eyes. He was holding a stick, with a string that went into a hole.

There was some writing beside it: {There's always more fish}

"What's that?" Katara wondered.

"That's a little man ice-fishing," Kya explained simply.

"Oh. Mom, you're...not very good at drawing."

"Hah! All right, well...you ought to teach me, then."

"I'm...not very good at drawing, either," Katara confessed with a smirk.

"Ahaa, well, you shouldn't pick on me, then," said Kya, patting Katara on the shoulder. "Should you?"

Katara scanned the first page. It contained a quote, written in pen.

{Be who you are and say what you feel,
because those who mind don't matter
and those who matter don't mind.}
{ - Theodor Seuss Geisel}

Katara flipped the page. It contained text written in the same handwriting as the quote on the previous page. It looked like a diary entry, eliciting Katara to close the book.

"Oh, sorry," she mumbled, handing the book to her mother's lap.

"What?" Kya wondered.

"It looks like your diary, right? So, I shouldn't read it."

Kya grinned, tickled by her daughter's 'moral dilemma.'

"Um, it's not exactly my 'diary.' It's...a little more special than that."

"It is?" Katara was intrigued. "What's in it?"

Kya's mouth hung open at her girl's spark of curiosity. This was a book that held a lot of sentimental value for her, and the prospect of her child being interested in learning about it was heartwarming.

She began, "You know how you write notes in your notebook during class? To remember things, so you can go over them later?"

Katara nodded.

"Well...This is sort of like that. Except...it's for things outside of class."

Katara's brows furrowed, her brain fizzling at the thought.

"What...stuff would you need to remember outside of class?"

Kya scooted herself up to Katara's side.

"I know it may not seem like it in school right now, but...in college? There's quite a lot you learn outside of class. Here. How about...-" Kya opened the weathered notebook, spreading it across both of their lap. "-...we have a little reading time for a few minutes?"

Their sides pressed together, Katara wrapped her arms around her mother's waist, apparently eager for an opportunity to snuggle up for some reading. Kya kissed her daughter on the cheek, then flipped through some pages. Katara noticed that they were written out in different pens, with different consistencies and handwriting.

"I think I know a good one to read to you right now," Kya decided. "It's about how I met one of my best friends..."