It had been a little over two months that she had now been living in the lower ring of Ba Sing Se. The effects of ongoing war with the Fire Nation had finally reached her village three months back. Their medium sized town of Kuromori, to the southwest of Omashu, had managed to survive the past ninety six years of war, the townsfolk, as well as herself, had begun to develop this unrealistic notion that the war would never arrive on their front doorstep, since it had been untouched for so long. Inevitably, the day came when they were wrong.
Meiying never saw the siege and the onslaught of the Fire Armies with her own eyes. From what she had been told, they had narrowly escaped the first day of the siege, acting on instinct and word of mouth. They fled the city, taking little with them and set off for the safety, stability, and shelter of Ba Sing Se. The journey would take them over a month to accomplish on foot.
"When we get to the city, we will certainly be safe. Life will undoubtedly get easier!" Her father would repeat over and over as a motivator with each waking day of travel.
Meiying wasn't so keen. She missed the town she came from and the local neighbors and merchants she had essentially grown up with. But being the eldest daughter of two she remained optimistic and pushed through the exhaustion of day to day traveling. They marched across plains, pulled themselves over mountains, waded across great rivers, and trudged through marshlands. Until then, Meiying didn't find herself wishing for better paths and more infrastructure; but the stress of needing to navigate unmarked and forsaken routes of travel, many of them made up, quickly changed her outlook. In Kuromori, their family had lived in the middle class, being merchants, but by the time they had reached Ba Sing Se's ferry terminal at the Serpent's Pass, their clothes had become ragged, tattered, and dirty and they blended in well to the sea of refugees which surrounded them.
"Once we settle down behind that wall, to our new home. I think you'll like it here," her father remarked. "Maybe you'll finally find that special someone as well. It's about time you know."
"Dad, someone has to take care of you, mom, and Jiao. I can't do that well if I am occupied with someone else," she shrugged cheerfully. "Besides, I'm just twenty seven. I'm still young you know! I have a lot of time!" Her father and mother had constantly prodded her in the town to try her hand at dating to find a suitable marriage partner. It wasn't like she would have a difficult time finding suitors or interested boys either, Meiying was considered to be one of the prettiest- if not the most beautiful young woman in the entire town.
Three months into their new home in Ba Sing Se and the reality of the city and their new situation. Meiying had always heard and thought that Ba Sing Se was everyone's ultimate goal in life. You didn't have goals or aspirations if you weren't actively working to move to Ba Sing Se, or at least that was what the city had been made to seem. It was filthy, at least the lower ring was. Murky water puddled up in every street and alley, in some areas they formed small streams that took up most of the street. The district they were in was full of small sized and numerous shops. As Meiying walked through the borough, peering into each store, she saw a variety of knife makers, fabric weavers, and meat cutters. It definitely was a district for craftsmen, artisans, and people that worked with their hands. At the most, Meiying thought it was, at the very least, quaint and lively.
A man was suddenly flung from a store front just before her. A larger, more muscular, individual who worked in that particular shop stepped out and stood above him. "The next time you try and short change me," he yelled, "It'll be more than your arm, I'm breaking!"
It was definitely a place where one would need to watch their step.
She jerked the sack of rice she carried in her arms up to lift them once again to a better carrying position- rather she slung the bag over her back to carry. Her family had definitely suffered a demotion in social position. Their background and wealth as well-off merchants in Kuromori did not mean much nor get them far when immigrating to Ba Sing Se. They were only able to afford living in a run down neighborhood of the lower ring. Meiying was not by any means against the added strain and workload necessary just to get by, but she constantly wished to find a means to give her family a much better life. She did not like watching her dad struggle and push himself, especially in his older age, swinging sledge hammers and lifting heavy wooden planks with construction crews just to afford to put food on the table. Equally, she did not like watching her mom struggle to maintain the house and care for her younger brother who was still too young to do much. Anything that she could manage to do, she was more than willing to struggle if it meant a better situation for her family. Her raven hair draped elegantly to her shoulders, falling like silk curtains around her head and framing her face almost perfectly. Her presence turned heads of the young men of the scene as she passed by. Coupled with her natural beauty, her determined and ever hopeful smile with the streak of dirt across her cheek was difficult to ignore. No one said it, but she was acknowledged well around the district.
"Meiying!" A voice from behind her called. "Meiying! Wait up!"
She turned around. A uniformed patrol officer of the local police force came running up behind her. The young man was a clean cut, respectable, handsome fellow. His black hair was cut close to fit uniform regulation, but his bangs were swept back to maintain an ounce of flair. He wore the uniform of the local police forces of the city, similar to the security officers who worked at the ferry terminals. His twin, sheathed, Dao swords swayed at his side as he ran.
"What are you doing here, Wei?" Meiying asked, a smile forming on her face. She felt her heart accelerate as she watched him. "Aren't you working?
"The captain put me on patrol in this precinct today," he replied, panting. "I thought I would come see you." He ran his hand through her draping hair, the silky strands flowing gracefully through his fingers. She giggled as she pressed her cheek into his palm. He was the one person who had the volition to approach and get to know her.
"Aren't you slacking in your duties? Surely an officer of the Earth King shouldn't be making side quests," she teased.
"My partner is slacking off in his favorite local bar, right now," Wei chuckled, smiling warmly. "I think I'd rather be here with you than there with him right now."
The local security forces in the city had been known to not be as thorough nor as disciplined. It had been that way even during Avatar Kyoshi's time, almost three hundred years ago. The ranks of the police forces consisted of local men who occasionally were rotated throughout the city's networks and rings. Wei was among the few diligent and dedicated officers of the force. Most were there simply for a job to pay the bills, and would likely flee in a severe enough fight. Wei was not one of those men, but he did make use of the motivation-lacking system when it would benefit him.
Wei was younger than Meiying by two years, twenty five to her twenty seven, but he did not let the difference in age stop his adoration of her. "Let me carry that for you! It's heavy," he offered.
"Why?" She slung the heavy bag once again, adjusting how it sat over her shoulder. "You think a strong woman such as I," she huffed, "..is incapable of carrying her own weight?" She teased. Truthfully she was more than happy to have his help.
"It's not really me assuming than it is the fact proving itself right in front of me," he teased.
"Oh stop it you," she laughed, shoving him roughly with her free hand. The loss of one hand made her lose a holding force on the sack of rice. Meiying stumbled as the bag began to pull down against her. The sack itself was not the sturdiest of containers; if it dropped from shoulder height, it would split open and spill its precious contents.
"Careful!" Wei shouted as he dove toward her. He gained a supporting hold on the bag just in time to steady it and prevent the cargo from falling. His hand met hers as they moved to steady the payload. Her face was mere inches away from his. Meiying's cheeks flushed red as her eyes looked widely into his. He was captivated by her gaze similarly as well. Both of them smiled and chuckled.
"I'll be taking this," he jested as he took up the burlap sack from her.
"Hey! I can carry it myself," Meiying objected. "You're always carrying things for me!-"
She felt his arms tightly wrap around her waist, pulling her into a very warm and tight hug. She was speechless, blood rushed to her head. She could feel her ears heating up. She blinked, speechlessly, twice before closing her eyes and burying her face into Wei's neck. He was far from against public displays of affection, even in the city- the district that really despised such shows.
"W-Wei, everyone will stare at us," Meiying managed to shyly whisper into his ear, her face still buried in his neck. He did not hear her words, or he ignored them completely.
"Someone like you shouldn't be carrying such cargo," he said sincerely with a calm voice which just caressed her ears. He withdrew from his hug and quickly picked up the heavy sack of rice once again before she could. "Besides, if I keep this up, I'll build notoriety with your father," he joked. "Now let's get you home! It's getting dark."
"Oh Wei…" Meiying sighed. She thought herself fortunate that such a man tried so much for her.