Pai Sho and Sea Prunes
Upon A December

"Iroh told me you were a very talented Pai Sho player," Piandao contemplated, his eyes resting on his friend's hesitant hands, "but you seem a bit off your game."

Pakku rolled his eyes. "I'm just getting started," he said. "I didn't expect such an impatient partner."

Piandao didn't even flinch. "Are you sure it's the partner" he asked. "It could also be situational. Are you stressed? I've heard your marriage isn't exactly going smoothly."

"It's going fine, thank you very much," Pakku snapped. He'd been trying to improve, but sometimes, his old temper got the better of him. It wasn't his fault everything was always awkward with Kanna, and Piandao wasn't supposed to mention it.

"If you say so. I was simply making an observation," Piandao said as he moved a white lotus across the board. He made it sound so innocent, and that was what affected Pakku the most: the subtle glances behind his friend's actions.

"At least I'm making an effort," Pakku said, moving his tiles in quick movements, none of them very well thought out, "unlike you, staying cooped up here with your lovely talents and nothing else. You might be able to find someone good if you actually went outside."

"I'm satisfied with this life," Piandao shrugged. "I'm comfortable, with only my talents and, on occasion, the company of the White Lotus members. Just because I'm cooped up doesn't mean my sense of self is any lower."

Once the sun had come and gone, the ships arrived to take Pakku back to his home. He resigned to the fact that he was not going to prove himself at Pai Sho-not on this trip anyway. But as he left the harbor speaking of battles and adventures, he watched his friend out of the corner of his eye. Piandao was doing nothing out of the ordinary; he was just practicing painting in his plain, familiar home. But somehow it brought Pakku down, realizing that even though he seemed much freer than Piandao, there were some closets Piandao was well out of that Pakku couldn't seem to escape. The great Pakku-a coward when it comes to human relations; the very thought made him inadvertently freeze his sea prunes.