Chapter 11: Love Thy Enemy
"The real enemy can always be met and conquered, or won over. Real antagonism is based on love, a love which has not recognized itself." –Henry Miller
Later that evening, I sat with Akane out in the courtyard as she worked on sewing something I did not recognize. Before…I had used to sew with a bone needle when hemming up tear or some other on my clothes. Not a lot of time was spent as it used to be putting decoration onto our clothing anymore.
The patch of sky overheard was starting to become dusk. Soon, Akane and I would be joining Katsu for dinner. She had come to visit me without her husband or son Ichirou. I felt my eyes and knew that they were still puffy from my crying earlier. It had helped, to just let it out all without a care…I felt lighter somehow. Akane had just held me as long as it had taken for me to stop. I had cried the hardest, even more so than…when…
"Rana, I want to tell you something," Akane said quietly and out of the blue. She sat across from me on the stone bench while I sat on the edge of the fountain. I had been watching the water fall and trickle in the fountain.
I looked at her silently. We had not spoken much since I had stopped to cry about an hour ago. "What?" I responded dully.
Akane had a haunted look on her face with her hazel eyes hardened. "There's something you need to know…about this family," She went on in a hushed tone, "Something so that I shouldn't be the one to tell you, but you would find out eventually. Besides, Katsu already knows."
My interest was piqued instantly. What in the name of the moon spirit could she be babbling about? Something I could use eventually? "Go ahead," I encouraged her.
Akane looked around with a searching gaze before she began. "Remember…remember how I told you about my son, Renzo, and that he….he…."
"Yes," I murmured. I remembered…
Akane looked at me with an old pain plain across her face. She looked over at Ichirou who was practicing his firebending moves across the courtyard. "I had another son after him," She noted pained. "Renzo…he would be nine now."
"What happened to him?" I had asked.
"He died," She refuted coldly, "He died…."
I looked at her pain embraced eyes that were usually so soft. "You told me he died," I stated for her.
There was a tense moment as I analyzed her face that was filled with nothing, but pain and hatred. "I lied," She admitted. "I'm supposed to lie about it."
"Wha-" I began to say.
"They took him from me!" She spat on with her eyes becoming like fire. "This family…the Suzuki family has a little secret! Their children are given away to be bodyguards! Not all of them of course, just the ones that are close enough in age to a Royal Heir!" Her face was wild with fused pain and hatred, replacing the face of the usual loving Akane I had come to know.
"I don't understand…" I said confused. Taken away…by whom…what for?
"Of course you don't," Akane went on frantically. "I forget…there is a group, the Society, it's a group of bodyguards. This family gives a child away to them to be used as a bodyguard. When it happens, they become dead to you!" Several tears escaped from her hazel eyes. "They took my baby from me…"
"How is that possible?" I demanded with disbelief. A child taken away to be…Royal Heir…that would mean…a bodyguard to a member of the Fire Nation's Royal Family…to the Fire Lord!
"I don't know," She answered bitterly. "It's the way it is." Akane looked at me with pitying eyes. "I thought you should know. They took him from me because of the Crown Prince," She let out a deep breath and looked back at me more calmly. "It could happen to you someday."
Her son…bodyguard…to the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation?! Yet he was only nine now…so…he was being trained probably. A child….my child…wait, that would mean, Katsu and I….!
"No!" I blurted out. "I'm not going to have his child! Ever!" Even if he helps to keep away the void…
I looked over to see Akane's shocked face, but she was not looking at me. At the edge of the courtyard stood Katsu. He looked at me with a face that had turned into an icy mask. Katsu turned away and stalked off without a word. "Did he…?" I asked meekly.
"Yes," She answered me with a beginning of a pitiful smile, yet the pained expression from moments before still lingered. "You should watch what you say, Rana," She said politely, as if nothing had just happened. "Excuse me for my outburst. It's best that I don't speak of it again."
I nodded and looked back at the fountain. The sounds of the water flowing comforted me, but also brought on an ache in my chest. Would I soon fall into that void and cease to feel like I hoped and feared?
Soon enough Akane and I sat together in the dining hall, sitting on the cushions with the food laid before us on the table. Katsu sat across from me and Akane to my right between us. We had started the dinner in silence with Katsu's eyes not leaving his plate in front of him.
His shoulders hunched over tensely. I stared at my dish of rice that was mixed with their usual spicy vegetables, jabbing the rice with my eating utensil. Akane attempted to break the resentful silence. "I just learned that Rana is learning to play the erhu!" She exclaimed with a sound of forced happiness. "Is she good at it, Katsu? I'm sure she is, for she did agree to play for me."
"I wouldn't know," Katsu replied savagely. "She doesn't like to have anything to do with me!"
I stood up to my feet immediately and stormed out of the room. I could not stand to look at his face! How dare he act all self-righteous! After what he had done to me! And my people! How dare he hurt me!...It his fault!...All of it…my mother, my father, my brother…his people…how could they….monsters! All of them!
I collapsed onto the ground, having escaped to the privacy of the inner courtyard. The moon was half-full ahead of me, just visible through the open courtyard with a few twinkling stars. There were no clouds to stop the moon bathing everything in its silver touch. The water in the fountain flowed serenely as it always did, hopefully masking the sobs that choked out of my throat forcefully. Streams vanquished from the corners of my eyes as I stared up at the moon. I had lost all of my self-control, what little I had had left to begin with at last. All of my emotions that I had held bottled in for weeks were at last released!
Moon Spirit! How could you let this happen to us?
Have you abandoned my people? Help me!
"I just want it to end," I whispered. "I'm tired of it all." The moon was silent and serene, despite my cries. No one was going to help me or save me. I was on my own. Just as I had been all this time. The void crawled at the edge of my mind, beckoning for me to lose myself in it...
I had not heard any footsteps behind me and jumped up to my feet when a solid hand touched my shoulder. I whirled around to glare up at Katsu's shadowed face, except for his visible eyes in the silvered dark. My feet immediately took a step back away from him. He did not move from where he stood. "Do you plan to try to kill yourself again?" He inquired quietly. "Are you going to do it with a knife like you attempted to when you were captured?"
Kill myself…? I had thought about it, but his words from before still came to my mind every time I had thought about it...
"You wouldn't have done it…"He had said it as if it were a fact, before he had even come to know me at all…
...and the other words…when I had wanted him to kill me!
"No, I want you to live."…
...Why?...Why had he done all of this?...Why!
"WHY?" I shrieked at him, letting go of the thin control I had maintained these weeks. "Why didn't you kill me? Why did you bring me here?!" I breathed deeply and trembled as I glared at him wildly. "Why?" I repeated out of breath, "Just tell me why!"
Katsu did not move from where he stood. His voice was soft and calm as he replied after a long moment. "I have served my country for years and have seen countless battles in the Earth Kingdom," He began, "I had just been made the captain of the Southern Raiders, leading my first raid against your people…."
Katsu paused, before he continued almost in a whisper. "When you stood there defiantly against any hope, it was to save your village and you tried to fight as best you could. You did the bravest thing and perhaps stupid that I have seen anyone do. Then you were unconscious on the ground and I saw not a waterbender I had moments before, but a beautiful woman, helpless…"
I gaped at him. He had saved me for being brave? Was it my action than that had condemned me to my current fate? Katsu took a step towards me and touched the side of my face with his hand. His face was inches from my own. "That was my initial reason. If I sent you back though, my people would come for you again. It was through marrying you that I could save you. Rana, this is why I did what I have done, but also because…because of your strength, your refusing to give in no matter what the odds are…I have fallen in love with you."
I jerked away from him and stepped away. Katsu did not move to grab me. I stared at him, but could not see his face in the dark. "I know you don't love me," He added sincerely. "But I am hoping perhaps one day you will." He stepped forward with an extended hand, but stopped when he saw me take a step back. His hand fell back down at his side. "Would it be so wrong?" He asked me softly.
Love him?...But that would mean to forgive…accept…My people! It would be a betrayal!
"Yes," I muttered thickly. "It would be a betrayal to everything I am." I stepped away from Katsu slowly. He did not move closer to me or say word when I turned to flee from the courtyard. I could feel tears desperately breaking free from my eyes and my throat threatening to choke itself as I ran and ran.