Asami stepped onto the ferry from Air Temple Island when she heard running footsteps on the dock.
"Wait for me!" a girl's voice called out. She hopped onboard as well.
"You made it."Asami smiled at the girl as the ferry left the dock.
"Yup!" She smiled back. The moon shone brightly above them and Asami observed the girl more closely. She was in her teens, her light brown hair tied in two very long pigtails, and she wore a simple blue dress.
The girl noticed Asami looking at her curiously. "What's wrong?" she politely asked.
"Oh, sorry." Asami awkwardly laughed. "It's just that, you remind me of someone…"
She nodded her head. "I get that a lot. I just have one of those faces."
"You have very beautiful hair," Asami complimented.
"Thank you." She bowed. "So do you."
"So what brought you to Air Temple Island this late?"
"I just wanted to look around."
"I see. Are you from around here?"
"No, but my friends are."
"Where are your parents?" She thought the girl was still too young to be wandering around the city at night.
"You're by yourself?" Asami questioned. "Where are your friends then?"
"It's okay, I know where they are," the girl answered. The ferry began to pass by Aang Memorial Island. "I never get tired of looking at that statue," she said, glancing up at the monument of Avatar Aang.
"You would've never thought it was knocked into the bay at one point," said Asami.
"Hmm? What is it?"
"When will Avatar Korra come back?"
Asami turned away from her. "I don't know," she answered truthfully. "It's been nearly a year."
They stood in silence until the ferry finally arrived back to the city. The girl and Asami set off in opposite directions. "When friends are apart from one another… it is very easy to feel lonely," the girl called out to her.
Asami stopped in her tracks. "And sometimes they never respond back when you try to contact them," she replied.
"That doesn't mean they don't care about you."
"What does it mean then?" She received no answer so Asami turned around, but the girl had vanished. "Where did she-?" She shook her head. Tomorrow was another busy day for her as Future Industries continued rebuilding the city's infrastructure. As mysterious as that girl was, she had other things on her mind.
Zhe Shu was surprised she had a customer so soon after she just opened. "Forgive me, I haven't finished unloading this morning's delivery," she said from the back of the flower shop.
"That's fine," a young girl's voice replied. "Do you need any help?"
"No, I'll manage. Feel free to look around." Zhe Shu carried a box with her as she walked over to the front, but she nearly dropped it when she saw the girl. She looks so much like-
"Please, I wouldn't mind helping out. You wouldn't have to pay me at all," the girl insisted. Zhe Shu nodded her head and handed her the box.
The girl was an efficient worker, but she did not talk much. "Where should I put these?" She showed Zhe Shu an armful of panda lilies.
"Over there, on the table with the vases." The girl did as instructed. "Anything else?"
"No, I think that's it. Thank you so much."
The girl smiled at her. "It was my pleasure."
"For you," Zhe Shu handed her a bouquet of arranged flowers tied with a ribbon. "I know you said you didn't require payment, but I wanted to."
The girl pointed to herself. "For me?" Zhe Shu smiled at her and nodded her head. "Thank you." A faint pink blush appeared on her face. "I should be going now."
"Come back soon," she waved good-bye. The girl bowed to her before she stepped out the door.
Zhe Shu was busy cleaning up when Jian entered the shop. "Hi Mom, I left my keys to the apartment in my room. Can I borrow yours?"
"Let me grab them." She headed towards the back and Jian followed her.
"I passed by one of your customers, this cute girl who was holding a bouquet. What was the occasion?"
"She wasn't technically a customer. She helped me out this morning and I gave her that as a thank-you gift."
"Oh, you know she told me it was going to rain today. Said I should pick up an umbrella so I won't catch a cold."
"Such a helpful young lady," Zhe Shu commented. "Do you think… she looks sorta like Mizuki?"
"Mom," Jian sighed. "It's been almost a year. I hope you're not starting to see things."
"You're right. I should move on… like you and Yuan Fen. I just hope she's happy, wherever she is."
"I'm sure she wishes the same for you."
Yuan Fen reread the menu for the third time as he glanced at the empty seat across from him. She was late… again. He heard a bell ringing when the door swung open. A slender young woman carrying textbooks entered the café and her green eyes scanned the nearby booths. She had dark brown hair wrapped in a bun with a pencil sticking through it. "Ailee, over here," he waved his hand at her.
She smiled apologetically and walked over to him. "I'm sorry," she kissed him on the cheek.
"I would say don't make a habit of it, but it's already too late," he teased.
"Hey, I actually have a good excuse this time." She slid into the booth.
"More late night studying?"
"Nope. I'm done with all my exams now. And I wasn't late for class, I arrived before all of my professors," she stated proudly.
"Did you bump into my mother or Jian?" he questioned.
She laughed. "You say that like it would be a bad thing."
"They're very… intrusive when it comes to my love life."
"So is my family. My mother wanted to know who your previous girlfriends were. I don't know how she'll take the fact that you and Lili used to date." She reached for a menu and began scanning through it.
"What's that?" Yuan Fen pointed to a bandage wrapped around her pinky.
"I nicked my finger this morning while I was cutting the vegetables. That reminds me…" Ailee removed her bandage and gasped when she saw that her cut had disappeared. "Wow, she really did heal it."
"It was raining earlier this morning and I bumped into this girl on my way here. To be honest, I was so distracted by her appearance. She was so pretty and adorable." Ailee smiled at the memory of her.
"What did she look like?" Yuan Fen was surprised by all the happy and bubbly feelings this random encounter stirred within his girlfriend.
"Let's see…" Ailee tapped her finger on her chin. "She had large brown eyes and light brown hair that she tied in these two long pigtails that reached past her waist. Oh, and she was holding a bouquet of flowers. That's all I can remember. She looked young, maybe around fifteen or sixteen."
"You say you bumped into her and she healed your finger?"
"Well, I was staring at my watch and I realized I was late in meeting you. I started sprinting and I nearly ran over this petite girl. She caught me by the hand before I tripped over my own feet. I immediately apologized to her, but she smiled at me and said not to worry. I remember I felt this sensation on my finger, but she let go of my hand. After that, she just waved good-bye and hopped away."
"How nice of her."
"I still feel bad, especially now that I know she healed me. I hope I get to meet her again," Ailee wished.
"If that's your destiny, then you will."
"We should go look for her! Maybe she's still at the park. I need to thank her."
"I suppose, but what are the chances?" Yuan Fen questioned.
"Come on, Yuan, where's your sense of adventure?" Ailee got out of the booth and dragged her boyfriend out of the door.
Yuan Fen pulled the collar of his coat up and he stared worriedly at the cloudy sky above them. I wish I brought my umbrella.
"There she is!" Ailee pointed to a girl sitting against a nearby tree.
"What do you know, I'm glad I was wrong." He noticed the girl was working on a flower crown. She brushed aside one of her long ponytails that were tied with blue hair ribbons. She almost looks like...
Ailee walked up to her. "Hello, do you remember me from this morning?"
The girl nodded her head. "I knew we would meet again." She smiled at her.
"Just a hunch." She looked towards Yuan Fen. "I hope your boyfriend was okay with you being a little late."
"Aw, Yuan Fen's a softie, even if he tries to hide it," Ailee teased. She noticed he was standing several feet away and wondered why he didn't attempt to come any closer. She bowed in front of the girl. "Thank you for healing my finger. I'm sorry I didn't notice at the time. It wasn't until I unwrapped my bandage and after that, I hoped to find you here."
The girl returned the bow. "No apologies or thanks are necessary."
"Yuan, come over here. You look like a statue right now," Ailee chided.
"It's okay." The girl gazed at Yuan Fen. "If the person I loved was hurt and someone helped them, I would be very grateful to them, even if I didn't say anything." The girl stood up and bowed again. "I must be going now."
"Oh…" Ailee gave a disappointed look. "Goodbye."
Yuan Fen finally approached her. "Goodbye." He offered her his hand. The girl briefly hesitated, but she gingerly shook it. He felt a brief tingle in his hands. Mi- "What's your name?"
The girl cast her head down. "It does not matter. It's been a long while since anyone has called me by my name," she whispered. "I wish the two of you happiness." They heard the sound of rumbling thunder before rain fell again from the cloudy sky. The girl used her waterbending to keep herself dry and walked down the long path. Yuan Fen had an impulse to follow her, but he stayed beside Ailee.
After her music lesson, Lili stepped outside towards the balcony for some fresh air. She was mildly disappointed to see it was still raining, but noticed something on the railing. "Hmm?" She picked it up in her hands, a crown of flowers. "How beautiful," she leaned over the railing and saw no one nearby. "Could they have… climbed up here?" Lili wondered who would've gone to such lengths to deliver this gift to her and with such dexterity that no one in the household noticed anything unusual. "It's not Askari… or Mizuki." From his latest letter, Askari said they would be spending time at Ember Island for a family vacation. "Thank you… whoever you are," she called out to the wind.
Mako checked the last entry in his logbook when he heard footsteps in the dark alley. He crouched down and was prepared to launch a fire blast at any moment.
"Please, I mean you no harm," a girl's voice called out. He illuminated the alley and saw a teenage girl with long hair in pigtails standing before him.
"What are you doing here?" Mako demanded. How did I not notice her at all?
"I just- I-" the girl stared at her feet.
He was getting antsy as he looked back at the hideout he was staking out tonight. "Never mind. It's not safe out here. Just go home, do you understand what I'm saying?"
"I'm not safe anywhere," she whispered.
"Wait, is someone after you?" The girl turned her back away from him. "Well, don't stop talking now. Do you have a home? Or a family?"
"It doesn't matter. I wish you well."
"Wait-" The squawk of a lizard-crow caught his attention, but there was no activity from the gang's hideout. When he turned back, the girl was gone. He made a mental note to check the reports for runaways, but he had a feeling he wouldn't find the girl there.
She looked up at the moon and her droplets of tears fell into the ocean. "I promised myself I wouldn't cry," she sniffled. The girl looked back at the city's skyline. "Thank you… I'm so happy that I met all of you."
One Year Later
Lili stood nervously outside of the building when she finally spotted him. "Yuan!" she called out.
"What are you doing here?" He didn't like the fact that she was waiting for him since he was working another late night.
"I just haven't seen you lately," she responded.
"That's it?" he asked, even though he knew the answer.
"No, I saw Ailee earlier today. She was at this restaurant with a group of classmates. And well… I haven't seen you two together lately. She seemed happy, but I noticed you've been working more again."
"We broke up," he answered succinctly.
"Don't tell my mother or Jian," he requested. She nodded her head. "Three months ago."
"And you never said anything?" Lili felt a little hurt. "But you were together for a long while… I mean we were betting on your engagement. Oops." She covered her mouth. "Don't tell your Mom or Jian I blabbed."
"I knew it," he groaned. "But… we were never close to that point. You're still the only one who I ever made a marriage promise to." He sighed. "She was hinting at it for some time. Her parents are very traditional."
"You seemed happy. She was beautiful and smart, she was one of the top students in the university's literature department." Lili gasped. "Was it because of me?"
"No! Why would you think that?"
"Because that was a problem in the past?"
"Ailee knew about our history. She always understood and I wouldn't have been with her as long as I did otherwise." Tears welled up in Lili's eyes. "Now what. LIli, why are you crying?"
"I'm not crying," she sniffled. "Ok, maybe a little. Of course, why didn't I realize it? You still love her."
"Can we not talk about this? Let's get you home and out of the cold."
"No! I'm tired of tip-toeing around this. And now I know how Ailee felt. You never once mentioned her-"
"It's been two years, Lili," he snapped. "And she hasn't written to my mother or Jian once. I bet she hasn't even written to you, isn't that right?"
"That's not fair, what do you expect her to do? Give us updates about how she hasn't gotten any better?"
Yuan Fen paused for a moment. "She hasn't been fully healed yet?"
"I've said too much."
"No, you would know. You've been writing to her brother, haven't you?"
"That's my own business, thank you very much."
"Oh, and now you're keeping shut about your own love life. Talk about hypocrisy. I knew it, from the moment I saw you flirting with him in your kitchen."
"That was not flirting!"
"You're blushing," he commented.
"So what if I am? It's not a crime having pen pals."
"Isn't that how Chun Hei's marriage started?" he hinted.
"Don't tell me your mother and sister have been placing bets on my love life, too."
"I don't tell them you told me and you don't tell them I told you."
"So when's the wedding date?"
"When are you going to talk about how Mizuki broke you and Ailee up?" Lili rebutted.
He sighed. "It was when you brought that wedding photo that one night."
"The bride and groom look like a good match," Ailee commented. "Who's that?" she hovered a finger over the center of the photo.
"That's Ting Lan, the mother of the bride," Zhe Shu answered.
"What? She looks so young!" Ailee sighed. "I thought she was a younger aunt. I wish I look half as good at her age, or like you, Zhe Shu."
"Nice save," Jian muttered to her.
"They're a very good-looking family. Is that your boyfriend you're standing next to, Lili?"
"Oh no!" Lili immediately cleared her throat. "I mean, Askari and I, we're… friends. Our families are friends. He's Chun Hei's twin brother."
"Ok then." Ailee's eyes had an amused look. "I see the resemblance to their father. And the girl you're standing next to- that's their younger sister? She looks like their mother."
In his seat, Yuan Fen felt himself tense up and he tried to straighten his posture. "Yes, that's Mizuki. She's the youngest out of the three of them," Lili answered.
"She's beautiful," Ailee mused. "I would've thought she'd be married first." Yuan Fen suddenly started coughing and Ailee looked up at him with a confused expression. "You okay?"
"Fine," he wheezed.
She took a closer look at Mizuki, her clothes were much plainer than the others' formal attire, and her eyes had a distant look. Ailee also noticed Zhe Shu becoming a little misty-eyed staring at the photo. "So you're friends with the family, Lili?"
"Yes, we all are," she answered.
"How do you know them?" Ailee asked Zhe Shu.
"Uh-well," she stammered.
"It's kind of a long story," said Jian.
"Jian met Mizuki when they were both imprisoned by Amon. Mizuki moved to the city afterwards, but she was also friends with Avatar Korra. She also left the city around the same time the Avatar did," Yuan Fen responded.
"That's just the really short version," Jian added.
"Wow… sounds like one long crazy story."
"You have no idea," Lili murmured.
"And you never once mentioned her, Yuan."
"The opportunity never arose."
"I see," said Ailee.
"I'm sorry. I should've waited until you and Ailee left to show Jian and your mom Chun Hei's wedding photos," Lili apologized.
"No, it was inevitable. I shouldn't have kept Mizuki from her as long as I did."
They stopped in front of Ailee's apartment building. "Good night," he leaned over to kiss her.
"So that girl, Mizuki… were you in love with her?"
Yuan Fen straightened up and nodded his head. "Yes."
"Did she love you back?"
"We… never had a chance to formally admit our feelings to each other. We were never together."
"I see… so she's the one that got away. Why did you let her go?"
"It's hard to explain, but… she's friends with Avatar Korra. She was there during Harmonic Convergence and she got injured- it was really bad, we thought she was dead, I had to carry her- I um…" Yuan Fen could hear his voice cracking and he tried to push back those dark memories.
"It's okay, you don't have to say anymore." Ailee could see how difficult talking about Mizuki was for him.
"She's fine now. She looks fine in that photo, but she lost her waterbending and her voice."
"She's very brave. You said she's friends with the Avatar, so she fought alongside her as well?"
"Yeah, and got captured as well. That's how Jian met her, they were both prisoners of Amon at one point. Then Unalaq got to her- but yeah, she was brave and foolish. And stubborn, once she put her mind to something, even when it's fighting a dangerous enemy she can't win against, she'll still do it. I think it runs in the family, she's a granddaughter of Sokka. "
Ailee began rubbing her arm. "That's one impressive lineage. You really do miss her."
"That's all in the past. She's not the same girl anymore. Her home is with her family on Kyoshi Island and we're on different paths. I'm with you now."
"Your eyes say differently. When you talk about her, even when it's a sad memory, your eyes light up... I've never seen that before in all the time we spent together."
"I um- I'm sorry, Ailee." He took her hands in his and pressed his forehead against her. "I'll try harder, I'll fight for us. I'll admit that a part of me will always miss Mizuki, but I'm not in love with her anymore. Can you accept that part of my past?"
She sniffled a bit and wiped away a tear. "You were with Lili once, and I know you love her, but like a sister now. And the two of you will always share that strong bond from your childhood. I know losing your dad was really hard on you and that's partly why you push yourself at work, to make him proud. I know you had a different life before I entered it and I'm glad you shared a lot of that with me." Her voice began cracking, "But, you never once mentioned Mizuki and… a girl can tell when the one she loves looks at her and… he's imagining someone else. I thought it was Lili for a while, but I was never sure. In fact, I was never sure with you. I wanted us to be happy, but I know now that I'm not the one. You can't fight for something you don't want, Yuan."
She gave him one last kiss on the cheek. "Don't give up. If she loves you just as much as you love her, fight for her. I-I really hope you find each other again." She walked away, trying her hardest not to cry again until she was indoors as Yuan Fen stood alone in the moonlight.
"How are you feeling?" asked Lili.
"Sad… but I'll be lying if I didn't say there was a little bit of relief."
"When are you going to tell your family?"
"I won't let you keep one of my secrets for long. So the next time I have dinner at my mother's."
"Yuan… when did you know you were in love with Mizuki?"
"It's hard to say, my time with her seems like a dream now. One day, we said goodbye after one of her usual visits and she walked away from me, I felt a slight pain in my chest. I realized that I only felt it whenever I saw her leaving me and I wondered how long it would continue. The pain's worse now… I was the one who walked away last time." Lili rushed him into a hug.
"I wish I could help you."
"You've stuck by me this long. That has always been enough, flower girl."
"Geez, haven't heard that one in years."
"Whatever happens, don't let me stop you from falling in love, promise?"
He opened his eyes and he saw her sitting on a rock. Her long wavy hair was down and she was wearing a pale blue strapless gown with off-shoulder sleeves. The long skirt, in the pattern of ocean waves, was sprawled on the ground. He remembered this was her wedding dress from her pictures.
"Mizuki… what is going on?"
"Yuan Fen?" She gave him a contemplative look. "If it is not really you, then I am glad you're here. But if it is, my heart shall weep. So it is best that I do not know if you are real, even though… this is not a dream."
"What do you mean this isn't a dream?" He looked behind him and saw the Tree of Time. "How are we both in the Spirit World? I'm still in Republic City and you're back at Kyoshi Island."
"The one you speak of, she is not me, but we are part of the same whole," she replied.
"What?" Why was she being so cryptic? Yuan Fen gasped when he saw swirls of purple appearing on the skirt of her dress and they began creeping towards her bodice. "Wh-what's happening to you?"
She seemed indifferent as she noticed the swirls appearing on her hands. "A road may diverge to two different paths, but that doesn't mean they'll never meet again," she quoted. She wrapped her arms around her. "But our paths will soon separate forever."
"That's dark spiritual energy, isn't it? You have to fight against it! Use your waterbending to heal yourself!" he shouted.
"I cannot, that power is not within me. I am sorry, Yuan Fen… I was being selfish."
"How could you be selfish?" Her entire body was enveloped now, and the swirls began appearing on her cheeks. "Mizuki!" He ran towards her, but spirit vines emerged from the ground, holding his arms and legs captive. He pulled at them with every fiber of his being, but they did not budge. "Tell me this is just another dream!" he demanded.
"I'm sorry… I cannot lie to you." Only her eyes, nose, and mouth remained at that point. "You asked me once what would I want, anything at all… And my wish is simply for all of you to continue living, to be happy and content." A girl in a white dress, wearing a veil that covered her face, appeared behind her. Blinding radiant light emanated from her and Yuan Fen had to close his eyes.
"I'll find you, Mizuki!" he called out. "I'll find you again, I promise!"
He awoke to find himself back in his bed. When he tried to get up, he became disoriented and collapsed back onto his mattress. The first thing he had to was to call his boss, and then Lili.
"You're going to Kyoshi Island?"
"Lili, your cup is overflowing," Yuan Fen pointed out.
"Oops!" She quickly reached for the napkins before the tea spilled over the table and onto the carpet. "So what brought on this decision?"
"A dream, or what I hope is a dream."
"Huh?" Lili tilted her head in confusion.
"It doesn't matter, I'm leaving soon," he stated.
"When you arrive, can you ask… if they've heard from Askari yet?"
"Why would he leave home if Mizuki's still not better? Where is he?"
"Somewhere…" Lili began fiddling with her hair. "He's traveling around the world to find a way to heal Mizuki. His letters are more sporadic now. I haven't heard from him in months."
"I see… If he tries to break your heart, he'll have to answer to me." He thumped his fist on his chest.
Lili giggled. "All right, but he'll whoop your butt just like Mizuki did."
"Don't you have any faith in me?" he teased.
"I do." Lili placed her hand over her heart and closed her eyes. "I just had a funny thought."
"What is it?"
"If I'm the one that Askari loves, then Mizuki will become my sister-in-law, and she's the one you love. We have a chance of becoming siblings, Yuan," she smiled.
Yuan Fen chuckled. "If I didn't know you better, I'd swear you planned it that way."
"Neither of us ever planned on falling in love, childhood promise or not."
"Will she forgive me for not seeing her all this time? It's been two years," he wondered.
"Why do you still doubt that you're the one Mizuki loves?"
"Because reason tells me so."
"You're not right about everything, Yuan. It's time to open your heart again and listen to what it's saying to you."