After the war ended, life seemed to be even busier than earlier. There was so much to do, so much to fix... It would take a very long time for balance to restore itself, that was something that nobody doubted. But, in the meantime, there were many urgent things that did need to be taken care of. Ba Sing Se needed to be rebuilt, its people protected, and that alone gave the Order plenty of work during the first few months. It felt as if an eternity had passed, when Piandao finally returned to the peace and quiet of Shu Jing.
Only a few days after his arrival, he got an unexpected visit. His first reaction was, as usual, to tell Fat that he would not receive anyone. He only wished to rest and think for some time, before he returned to everyday troubles. But when his butler showed him the White Lotus tile that the visitor had presented, Piandao immediately put down his tea and got ready to receive them. He hoped it was nothing serious. Most of the Order members who were close enough to him to simply drop by for a chat were much too far from this town at the moment. Iroh had stayed in Ba Sing Se, Bumi and Pakku had returned to their homelands... Could it be Jeong Jeong, finally returning to the Fire Nation"
Two sets of steps approached down the corridor, and Piandao turned to see the person that Fat was leading to the room.
It was Sokka.
He couldn't help but smile a little as they greeted each other. It hadn't been too much time since they had last met, but his student seemed to have matured a great deal in the meantime, anyway. The boy was almost a man now.
"It's a pleasant surprise to see you here," Piandao said. "I expected you to be back in the South Pole by now. Or in Kyoshi Island, perhaps."
Sokka pretended not to get the hint. It didn't really work.
"Well, Aang is here, and he and Zuko wanted me to help them organize some things before I went home... So I thought I could pay a visit," he explained. The he grinned, scratching the back of his head a little. "But I'll be honest. There's another reason why I wanted to come here."
"And what would that be" asked Piandao. Sokka looked relieved to see that he wasn't offended, and became serious once again before he replied.
"I lost my sword in the war," he said. "And it felt wrong to just buy one. Even if I won't ever have a Space Sword again... I'd still like to forge one here. If you'd let me."
Piandao smiled at him, and was more than pleased to see Sokka's wide, honest grin in response as the young man realized what he was going to answer.
"I would be honoured."
It took Sokka several days just to find the proper steel, and a few more to forge the sword. Although he worked under Piandao's supervision, he did almost everything on his own; he was very skilled, and his master was sure that he would become even better, with time and practice. When the new sword was finished at last, it turned out to be a blade of great quality, as it was fit for its owner.
"You must keep training, of course," said Piandao, as Fat poured tea for both for them on the last afternoon that Sokka spent there. "You have barely had time to begin. But I believe you can become a talented swordsman, if you set yourself to it."
"Thank you," he replied, an honest smile gracing his features. "I'll do my best."
A few minutes of silence followed. The young man looked as if he wanted to say something and wasn't sure of where to start. Piandao didn't rush him or ask anything, but he didn't say anything himself, either. If Sokka needed to talk, he would talk. In the meantime, his master simply sipped his tea, waiting for him to speak.
"There's something I've been meaning to ask you," Sokka said at last. Piandao put down his cup of tea and listened.
"When I left here the first time," he went on, "you gave me that Lotus tile. And, well, I didn't really understand what it meant back then..."
"I didn't expect you to understand," his master said.
"Yeah, I guess so," he replied, rubbing the back of his head. "The thing is... I know what it means, now. But I'm even more confused. Why did you give it to me"
"Because I thought it might be useful for you in the future," Piandao replied simply. Sokka didn't seem too convinced.
"But the people in the Order... I mean, I've seen who the members are," he muttered, staring at his knees. "People like Iroh and King Bumi and you and - I'm nothing like that."
"Of course not." Under Sokka's confused stare, he took another sip of his tea before explaining himself better. "You are very young. There is still much you must learn, and live, to become like those people."
"But... you think I will" the young man asked, unable to hide his enthusiasm. "I mean, eventually"
"I don't know what you will be like. That depends on you," said Piandao. Then he let his stern expression relax into a small smile. "But I wouldn't have given you that tile if I didn't think there was a chance."
Sokka's grin became wider than ever. For a moment, Piandao feared he might even be getting a hug - but this student managed to refrain himself, somehow, and instead offered him a formal bow that contrasted greatly with his cheerful expression.
"I will make you proud," he promised.
"No," said Piandao. "Make yourself proud."