Tales of White Lotus (Academy)
Chapter one New Ground, Old Ground
Sixteen year old Katara stared at the house in front of her as her one year older brother stepped out of the car behind her. It was a large house compared to the house she had lived in for fifteen years, though the rich people would probably scoff at her for saying it was large. Compared to the houses, or rather mansions, they had passed on their way here, this house seemed mediocre. But it wasn't to her or her brother.
"Wow." Sokka breathed out as he stepped next to her. "This is where we are going to live?"
"I guess so." Katara answered.
"Wicked." Sokka responded with a big smile covering his face.
Katara just rolled her eyes at him as he bounced up the steps to the front door. He gave the door a loud knock. In his excitement though he had no patience and bounced over the patio to the back. He didn't even notice that the door opened behind him.
A tall, broad shouldered man in his forties opened the door. His light brown hair barely reached his shoulders and a few bangs were tucked away behind his ears to keep them out of his face. From where Katara was standing, he looked like he had not shaved in a while.
The man looked confused for a while until his eyes fell on her. A broad smile appeared on his lips. "Katara."
She smiled back at him. "Dad."
Both moved towards each other to give the other a hug. It had been a few months since she had last seen him and as he came closer she noticed that the wrinkles in his face had increased. The last time she and Sokka had seen him was at the beginning of Summer. When he had told her that they would be moving from their small sea town to the big city of Ba Sing Se.
It had been a bit of a shock when their father had told them that. Ever since their mother had died when she was four and Sokka was five, they had lived with their grandmother Kanna. After the death of their mother, their father hadn't been able to earn enough money with his fishing boat he had owned with uncle Bato to support their family. When he got an offer to join a big sea company, there was no way their father had been able to say no. It meant money to support them. It also meant that he could sometimes be away for six months, be home for a short while and then have to leave again. Which was why their grandmother had moved in with them. Though their grandmother had taken over the parenting role and had made them feel loved, they had missed their father greatly and had needed him to. There was even a time when Katara had been very angry at her father for leaving them when she was ten. But that had passed them now. She understood why he had chosen this. Fishing, sailing and navigating was what he was good at. Getting another job at that time in the economy for something that he had never learned for, had not been an option.
And after being with the same company for over ten years now, had earned him the job of second helmsman. If he continued he could even become the first helmsman. And with this job came different times when he had to sail. Right now their father would be sailing for about six weeks and be home six weeks. Which was a much better arrangement from before. It meant they could live together again. Properly. And with the money their father was now making, he could apparently buy this house.
Her father was holding onto her tightly. "I am glad you are finally here."
"Me too." She whispered in his ears as she struggled to keep up right on her tip toes. There was no other way to reach his ears to whisper in otherwise.
With one final squeeze her father let her go and he directed his attention behind his daughter.
"Kanna." He acknowledged her grandmother with a smile. "I still can't believe you drove these two out here on your own."
Even Katara couldn't quite believe that honestly. It was a four hour drive and gran-gran was old enough to make that quite challenging.
"Seeing is believing." Kanna told him.
Her father laughed loudly at that. "It is good to see you again too." He looked around them for a moment. "Now where is that son of mine?"
"Probably dancing in the backyard." Katara commented, wiggling her eye brows at her father.
"It is a beautiful house." Kanna commented as she joined Hakoda, the father of her grandchildren, on the balcony. She put her hands on the white fence. The sun was still shining brightly, even at the end of summer and the end of the afternoon. Though a cool breeze had been blowing the past week which was awfully refreshing. The breeze here though was nothing compared to the breeze she experienced in the south.
Hakoda was leaning on the balcony fencing. He glanced sideways towards her. "It is." He agreed before returning his attention on what was happening below them. Both Katara and Sokka were taking their luggage out of the car. Most of their other stuff would come in the truck of the moving company tomorrow.
It was amusing to see how Sokka attempted to drag up two very heavy looking suitcases up the stairs to the front door.
"You must be happy to finally be able to live with them again."
"I am." Hakoda replied. "I owe them to be more a part of their life now. I missed so much." He regretted that most of all.
"But you will still be away six weeks at a time." Kanna commented. Clearly she was going somewhere with this. "How are you going to handle that. Bato will be on the ship at the same time periods as you, he told me." She referred to his best friend. The children saw him as their uncle.
"Well I can hire a babysitter
." He answered casually as he regarded her. He could see her scrunch up her nose at the word baby sitter and it made him smile. "
.or you could move in."
That got her attention. She looked at him, somewhat speechless.
"I..I wanted to ask you this earlier but I wasn't sure how you would feel leaving the south." He continued though not looking at her anymore. Sometimes even he could turn somewhat embarrassed. Especially now as he really should have asked her much earlier but he had been putting it off. "You have been a constant factor in their life and I don't want to take that away from them."
Kanna smiled. "I thought you would never ask."
"So..you'll move in?" He asked, still somewhat awkward.
"Of course I will Hakoda." She answered warmly.
"It will make them happy." Hakoda smiled as he fondly regarded his children below, who were now arguing with each other. Probably because Sokka wanted to be the man and had attempted to drag Katara's bags up as well who most likely had fallen.
Kanna put her hand on his shoulder. "We will be happy here."
He hesitated for a minute before knocking softly on the door. It was just past midnight on a Friday night and even though he knew they would still be up at this time, he could even see the lights burning through the window, he felt like an inconvenience.
The door opened quick to reveal a jovial tall striking young man. His long black hair was pulled back into a pony tail, revealing his strong jaw. Two sparkly amber brown eyes looked down at him. "Zuko, I thought that might be you." He grabbed Zuko by the arm roughly, though he didn't notice that, and pulled him in the house. "Come on in, man."
Zuko followed the other young man in through the hallway and into the living room. It was a light room with mostly pastel colors and a big collection of items from all over the world hanging on the wall. It had personality. It showed who lived here. Unlike his own house which was completely impersonal and cold.
"Dad, Zuko is here." The black haired young man called before heading up the stairs. "Just need to finish something, cousin. Be back down in a bit." He commented over his shoulder.
The living room was connected to the kitchen by an arch at the end. From around the corner a grey haired, well rounded older man peaked. "Zuko." He greeted him happily. "I made cake. You want a piece?"
"No thanks Uncle Iroh." He answered as he moved towards the kitchen. "I'm not hungry."
"Not even a tiny slice from my famous apple cake?" Uncle Iroh pressured as Zuko entered the kitchen. Iroh was cutting the cake into slices. He was always busy with food or tea, no matter what time it was.
"Sorry Uncle." He responded as he sat down on a chair and leaned on his elbows on the kitchen table.
Iroh noted the sad, tired undertone in his voice and he stopped cutting the cake. Turning around, he questioned: "Nightmares again huh."
Zuko nodded mutely.
"I'll make you a cup of jasmine tea."
Zuko started to protest but his uncle wasn't listening. He stopped and sighed. When it came down to tea there was no objecting or protesting with his uncle. He did not understand how his uncle could never get tired of tea after working in a tea house the entire day. A few minutes later there was a cup of hot jasmine tea in front of him. His uncle had sat down across from him.
He didn't question Zuko about the nightmares. They had, had many conversations about the content of the nightmares and Iroh knew well that his nephew could not do these conversations each night.
But he was here almost every night. Iroh understood. His younger brother Ozai was not a very understanding man. If he would know that Zuko had nightmares he would just tell his son to get over it and stop acting like such a baby. This was why he was happy he had been able to come into the life of his nephew. And that Zuko had accepted him.
They sat in silence for a while, both sipping from their tea. It wasn't awkward. There was understanding.
They heard heavy and quick footsteps coming from the stairs and a minute later his cousin bolted into the kitchen. He seemed oddly nervous was what Zuko noticed first, glancing between him and his uncle rather quickly. What he noticed second was a form he was holding behind his back.
And he was clearly avoiding the subject that he was nervous about, for now. "So Zuko, staying the night here again?" He asked, a little heaving from nervousness.
"I guess." Zuko answered with a shrug. He knew he didn't need to ask his uncle if it was okay. He had slept more in the bed in the spare bed room here than in his own bed. Wasn't like his father noticed.
"You know we could just decorate the spare bed room for you." He suggested, though more looking at his father then at Zuko.
"That is actually a good idea, son." Iroh said with a small smile. But his eyes were locked on that piece of paper behind his sons back. There was a clear tension hanging in the air. "Did you want to tell me something, Lu Ten." He finally asked.
"Uhm yeah." Lu ten answered sheepishly as he sat down next to Zuko. He put the paper down on the table in front of him. "I uh.." He continued, staring at his paper. "I unregistered from college."
"And..?" Iroh asked. Because he knew his son wouldn't just stop with college unless there was something else.
Lu Ten finally looked up at his father. "I am thinking of joining the United Nations Army."
Zuko blinked at this for a second. He hadn't expected his cousin to want to join the army. He wondered what had brought that on.
It took Iroh a second too before he recovered. "I see
well it is your decision my son." But you could see him thinking.
"I knew you would say that." Lu Ten sighed. "I haven't decided yet. I just
"He swallowed hard.
"..want to talk it through with me this weekend?" Iroh guessed, a small smile playing on his lips. "Of course we can do that."
Lu Ten sighed relieved. "Hey I want a cup of tea too!"
It was Saturday afternoon and Sokka was walking through one of the shopping streets of Ba Sing Se with his family. This morning most of their things and furniture had been brought by the moving company. But instead of unpacking everything first their father had suggested a walk through Ba Sing Se. They had walked past their new high school; Roku White Lotus Academy. Sokka hadn't really wanted to see that yet. Honestly. Their father had also shown them one of the most populair tea shops of Ba Sing Se, The Jasmine Dragon, though they hadn't entered. And now they were walking through the shopping streets.
Katara was all excited, looking at all the various clothing shops and the newest fashion that was in the shop windows. He didn't see what all the fuss was about. So what if there were a bunch clothes here?
"Well we could always look for some new outfits." Hakoda finally suggested, sounding a little exasperated after another look from the ladies when they passed another clothing shop.
"Thank you dad!" Katara beamed.
Hakoda turned to Sokka. "Do you need any new clothes."
"Nah thanks." He answered. "I'm fine."
"Not really." Katara commented flippantly.
Sokka glared at her. "What is that suppose to mean?"
"That you need 'new' clothes." Katara answered. Well he did.
"There is nothing wrong with my clothes." Sokka said indignantly with a pouting face as he crossed his arms in front of his chest. He glanced down at his clothing a little insecurely though. There were no holes in them, he was sure of that. Gran gran always threw away socks that had holes in them or fixed his pants if that was the case. And they were hip, right? Nice blue lose fitting jeans and brown boots under them. He had a somewhat tight fitting white t-shirt on with a cactus on it and the green words Cactus Juice below them. He loved his cactus juice..
"Right you are." Kanna confirmed as she put a hand on his shoulders, throwing Katara a look.
"Just saying you could use more clothes." Katara elaborated. Though that wasn't really what she had meant.
Despite the previous exchange, Sokka did know that she had not meant it venomously. He and his sister were close but like any siblings they did bicker. Katara could act so motherly. It got on his nerves sometimes.
There was a short silence which seemed to make their father nervous. "So Sokka, are you coming with us to look?" Hakoda asked.
"Nah." Sokka shrugged as he looked down the shopping street. Then his eye fell on something. "I think I'll check out that Cactus Juice Bar." He said happily as he was already walking away from them. Katara rolled her eyes but smiled at him nonetheless.
"Okay." Hakoda said. "We'll meet you back here at five okay? Then we'll get a sea crab burger."
"Sure." Sokka put his thumbs up before continuing his walk to the Cactus Juice Bar. He walked rather quickly to it then stopped in front of it.
Finally a Cactus Juice bar. He had wanted to visit one since the first time he had Cactus Juice. But one of these bars just would not come to Southern Cove. Probably because it was too small.
Oh Dear Cactus Juice, that he loved so much. Not everyone enjoyed the cool and exotic taste of Cactus Juice. He did not understand that. There was something abou-
"Are you going in or are you going to keep drooling at the front of the bar?" A girl voice asked bemused behind him.
Sokka turned around to find a girl of his height standing behind him, regarding him with a raised brow. Her expression was still bemused but her blue gray eyes looked at him skeptical. Her shoulder length auburn hair waved slightly in her face from the slight breeze. She had her right hand resting on her hip, like she was challenging him. She wore a tight fitting green top, showing a little of her stomach and a loose fitting white skirt with green flip-flops. She noticed he was looking her over.
"Uh." Was all he brought out at that moment.
She was cute.
"Very intelligent." She pointed out with a small smile playing on her lips. She passed him by rather closely to walk into the bar.
It took him a while to regain some of his senses and he walked in after her. She glanced over her shoulder and smirked at him when he stood behind her in line. She ordered a Deluxe Cactus Juice and he watched her leave the line. She smiled at him again. Teasingly.
"Uh sorry I want a Large Double Deluxe Cactus Juice." He replied, a little embarrassed. He wasn't paying attention. He paid and then walked out of the bar.
"So you are new here aren't you." The girl was sitting on one of the seats in front of the bar, sipping from her cactus juice.
"Uh yeah." He responded. "Just moved here yesterday actually." He rubbed his head a little sheepishly. "That obvious huh."
She nodded at him. Bemused again.
"Suki!" Someone yelled. Both looked at the source. In the girls case there was some recognition. Sokka was just curious who was shouting.
A young girl came running, her dark brown hair and her loose green dress waving wildly from the movement and the soft breeze. She stopped beside Sokka, heaving a little. "I'm sorry I'm late ."
Then she looked beside her at Sokka and turned awfully red on the cheeks. Her eyes grew wide. "Hi." She squeaked.
"Hey." He responded a little awkward.
So.. her name was Suki.
Suki stood up and took the other girl by the arm. "I'll see you around." She winked at Sokka before pulling the other girl with her.
Finally a break. Zuko sighed as he sat in the small canteen of the Jasmine Dragon, a cup of tea in front of him as his reward. Figures. At least it wasn't Jasmine Tea this time.
He had been working here all summer, though no one really knew. He had been keeping it a secret. Or maybe not a secret but more just not telling anyone like his father, sister and girlfriend. They were however suspicious about where he was. But as he was a private person by definition he just didn't really share anything with them. He never really did. Well maybe sometimes with his girlfriend. Sometimes being the key word there
Some people knew. Like some of his teachers that came in often. But he didn't think they would tell others. They were friends with his uncle in any case. And as this was a tea shop, not many teenagers came in. He was sort of relieved by that though he did seem to have a fangirl club here at the tea shop consisting of woman between thirty and forty. They came in every day just to chat him up a little. He shuddered to think that some of them even flirted with him. Yuk.
His uncle Iroh had thought it would make a nice break away from the big cold mansion this summer. Though he objected at first, after the first week alone in the house with Azula (their father had a business trip), he quickly changed his mind.
He didn't spend much time at home anymore. Well at least not this summer. He spend most of his times working at the tea shop. When he had a day off he tried to spend it with his girlfriend Mai. He avoided dinners at home, sometimes eating at his uncles, other times again spending it with Mai. It wasn't as if dinner at home was together in any case. Father hadn't dined with them the entire summer (or so he had heard from a servant) so Azula dined on her own most of the time. He felt a twinge of compassion for her when he heard that but no way was he going to dine with Azula on his own every night. He tried to be there one day a week though. Just because of that twinge.
His relationship with his sister was hard to describe. He didn't understand her most of the time. She was his father's favorite child. A prodigy in most things that she had done; studies, cheer team, spelling bee etc. In a way he was jealous of her. The attention she always got from their father. In turn Azula had always been jealous of the attention he had gotten from their mother when she was still alive. They had bickered from when they were little and there never seemed to be an exchange of anything nice or understanding. Azula seemed so far away for him.
Sometimes he wondered if she even cared.
His mobile phone peeped.
(What are we doing tomorrow?)
He smiled before texting her back. As this was their last weekend before the start of the new school year, he wanted to surprise her. He had worked a lot this summer and he knew she felt somewhat forgotten though he tried to spend as much time with her as he could. So he was going to take her out on a picnic tomorrow with some of her favorite food.
(It is a surprise)
His phone peeped very quickly again. Mai really hated surprises.
(I hate suprises!)
And immediately after.. He sipped from his tea with a smile tugging at his lips.
(What time are you picking me up?)
(11.00. Be ready.)
He put the now empty cup in the dishwasher and was about the put his mobile phone back into his coat, where he kept it while he was serving, when it peeped again.
(Father demands you to be at dinner tonight, Dum Dum. Don't be late.)
He rolled his eyes as he put his mobile phone away. Even in her text messages, his sister was demanding.
Zuko walked back to the front and headed straight to the register. He saw a customer waiting there.
It was Mr. Bumi, his high school soccer coach and guidance counsilor. Ever since Bumi had heard his sister use this nickname for him, he had started to use it also. He hated it and he glared at the older man.
But Bumi was clearly oblivious to that.
"Can I help you, Mr. Bumi?" He asked through gritted teeth.
"No." Bumi pursed his lips then gave him a big toothy smile. "Just wanted to see my Zu Zu."
Bumi looked behind him before pinching his cheek. "Isn't he a catch ladies."
Oh my F
His tea shop fan club cooed.
Lu Ten, who was on his way back to the canteen for his 15 minute break, let out a rich bark of laughter at the situation.
Where was his uncle when he needed him?
Finally the older man left and he let out a sigh of relief. He cautiously looked over at his tea shop fan club and they eagerly waved at him.
He was rubbing his pinched painful cheek when a figure appeared in front of him. He didn't look up straight away. "Can I help you?"
"Uh..is that you Zuko?"
His head snapped up to find one of his class mates in front of him. Actually, two of them.
"It is you."
Suki was the one that was addressing him. Next to her stood Jin. At least he thought that was what she was called.
"What are you doing here?" He blurted out in his surprise.
"Well that's not very customer friendly." Suki pointed out. "No wonder your uncle is hiring."
Then Zuko noticed that she was holding the poster for a new waiter or waitress that he had hung up this morning. Lu Ten would quit working in the tea shop. So they needed a new waiter for the weekend mostly. "You want to apply?"
"Yeah." Suki answered.
"Duh." Suki replied flippantly. "No wonder Azula calls you dum dum."
Jin glancing from Zuko to Suki, looking a little cautious. Like she was expecting world war three to start.
The way Zuko was looking, he did look like a vein was about to pop. Suki winced. Maybe she had pushed it a little too far with that last comment. But honestly, she found that Zuko deserved every bit of it. Bastard.
"Uncle!" Zuko bit out.
Iroh came running. The tone his nephew was using, was not good for business. "Hello, how can I serve you?"
Suki took one last look at Zuko but she only got a look at his back. He was already walking away. She wondered about this side of him. She hadn't seen it before of him. Usually she saw the arrogant pompous silent bastard parading around school with his fanclub running after him. "Actually I came to serve you." Suki replied, showing him the poster.
Iroh smiled. "Finally a girl in the staff."
Zuko glanced at his watch to see it was 18.00.
Time for dinner.
Time for hell.
He inhaled and straightened his back and shoulders before pushing open the thick and heavy wooden door that lead to the dining hall.
Both his sister and his father already sat down at the large and long dining table. It could hold about twenty people. His father sat at the head of the table.
He could feel his father's piercing eyes on him as he sat down opposite of Azula who was smirking at him.
There was a silence for several minutes.
It made Zuko nervous. Something was up.
One of the servants entered with their plates and he tried to focus on that. But the servant left fairly quickly again, after asking if they needed anything else.
His father dismissed the servant with a flick of the hand before folding his hands over his plate, his elbows on the table. "Zuko." He started with a cold tone. "I hear you have been working in your uncle's shop all this summer."
Zuko shifted under his father's unwavering stare. Three guesses who had discovered and told him.
Azule let out a little snicker.
"Is it true?"
"Yes." He answered, not daring to look up at his father.
He could feel the anger seething from his father. "It is already bad enough that your uncle and his son are such a disgrace to the family." He gritted his teeth. "But now my own son!" He exclaimed. Zuko sat mutely. He knew better then to speak against his father when he was in this mood. He had learned that the hard way. He knew what was coming. He was going to forbid him to continue working with his uncle. Maybe even forbid him from going to his uncle.
"I am closing your weekly allowance as you are a working man now."
Zuko's head snapped up. What?
"And as a working man you have to pay for everything yourself. You will only receive food from here from now on."
Well it clearly wasn't what Azula had been expecting either, the way the disbelief was spread over her face.