Chapter 12: Akane's Proposal
"In good times and bad times, I'll be on your side for ever more...that's what friends are for." -Unknown
I sat holding my arms wrapped around my knees in my hiding spot. There is a discreet alcove in one corner of the garden by a smaller pond. The gravel trail circles around the garden and off to other parts of the garden. Several bushes are planted around the wooden alcove that has a vine-like plant growing all over it, even onto its roof. There is a small bench that resides within it to provide its visitors shelter from the sun. In this nighttime visit, it was a perfect dark corner to stay well hidden in. In the distance, I could hear the echo of voices. They were looking for me. He probably thought I had run away again…
I had promised, but…
I buried my head into my arms. Soft footsteps crunched on the gravel path as they approached me, but I did not care. Firelight disrupted my dark corner as I raised my head up to see Akane standing over me. She held a small ball of fire in her hand, floating there above her hand dangerously. I flinched at the sight of the fire in her hand. Akane's face was shadowed, but I saw a flicker of comprehension on her face. She closed her hand, casting us back into the night. "Rana," She said quietly. She sat down on the bench next to me, as I stayed on the ground in my corner. "They are looking for you," She continued. "He even sent out a search party." Akane touched my shoulder comfortingly. I settled my chin on top of my knees.
"Did you know?" I croaked. My throat was raw as a skinned Tiger-Seal. My face was probably a hideous sight to behold, but I had the dark to hide it from Akane temporarily. Not that I really cared at the moment.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Akane replied kindly. She squeezed my shoulder. "What is it?"
Tears, which I had thought done, swelled up in my eyes. Kanna would be ashamed of me if she had seen me like this…Akane reminded me of her. "He…." I started to stutter out, "He….said….he loves me…"
"Is that why you're like this?" Akane proclaimed with a mix of shock and sternness. "That is a good thing!"
"Good?..." I repeated in a whisper. He is my enemy…just as Akane…should be. "Did you know?" I asked with more conviction. The anger was starting to filter in. I was an emotional storm, tossed from one wave to another.
"Not exactly," Akane answered me carefully. "Before, Masato and I assumed it to be lust for he had admitted that he didn't love you. But when he went on his tour, his letters to us….they implied otherwise."
I regarded her in the dark, feeling the tears drip down from my puffy eyes. "Rana," Akane advised me tenderly, "You don't talk about your life from before, but I know it was a place of war. Here you have peace, a good home, no worries about clothing or feeding yourself, and a good man who loves you." Akane lowered herself down onto her knees and placed herself in front of me, with her hands holding my cheeks. I moved my face up from knees and looked at her face, which I could only see the outline of. "Why not accept your life here?" She went on with a touch of pleading. "You would be happy if you just let yourself be!"
I put my hands over Akane's much softer ones. The true hands of a lady. Even her hands were larger than mine. I removed her warm hands from my face and held them in my own. "I can't," I refuted simply.
"Why not?" Akane challenged me. "It's only yourself that's in the way!"
"My people," I confided to her, trying to ignore the sting of her words. The rage within me was tempted to explode. "The life I was stolen from! Your people who are destroying mine!" I released her hands and stood up. Akane followed suit. I stormed out of the alcove and looked down at the pond. The half-full moon and stars reflected onto its surface like a mirror. I could make out the dark outline of myself and Akane standing to my right on its surface. "I'm a waterbender, Akane," I told her, even though she probably already knew that. "A bender should know their bending. If the war didn't exist, I would have my bending as you do yours." My father…my mother…Takao…they would still be alive!
For the first time in months, I dared to do the forbidden. It felt strange after so long, and I had never been trained to begin with, but I could feel the power tingle within me from the moon. I always did when the moon came closer to becoming a full moon. With a circular motion of both my hands, a tendril of water came out of the still pond. I made it wave around like a tree in the wind before it collapsed. A heavy breath exhaled from me as my arms fell down to my sides. Akane took several steps, closing the gap between us as she placed her left hand on my right shoulder. I looked at her taller outline in the pond's reflection.
"I never questioned the war until I met you," Akane confessed to me mournfully. "We were raised to believe it a good thing." I was shocked as she said her words. We had never really talked about the war before, not in depth like this! "Even though you shared little, it was enough to make me wonder. The war started before I was born, Rana. We've had no choice, in this we're victims just as you are."
He had said similar things before, but it was only now, coming from Akane that I felt a rivulet of relation and understanding. Even if I did not want too. She was right that we follow what we are raised to believe. I had grown-up believing them to all be monsters because of the war, but I had learned that they are just as human as I am.
"I wish you could know your bending," Akane added sincerely. "What you showed me was beautiful."
A sad smile, however small, formed on my face. I turned around to look at Akane. "I do too." I wished, in that moment, that I could call her bending beautiful. Yet I could not, for whenever I saw their bending, the acidic fear enticed me along with the memories. Akane released my shoulder and instead took my hand into her own with a gentle squeeze. "You ready?" She inquired warmly with sympathy underlying her words.
"No," I murmured. My voice still sounded raspy to me.
"No one ever is," Akane commented as she turned to step away, pulling me behind her, hand-in-hand.
We entered the house still holding hands, having walked the whole time in silence. The darkened hallway flickered from torchlight. I kept down the shiver within me at the sight of the flames. It did not bother me as much, only when they bended it…
"Lady Rana!" Ran's voice cried. She hurried down the hallway and bowed before Akane and I. Her face was relieved when she looked at me. "Oh thank Agni, you found her, Lady Akane! The whole house is in an uproar!"
Ran's dark, brown eyes were filled with relief and worry. She…cared? "I'm sorry, Ran," I apologized quietly.
Ran gaped at me uncertainly, before she smiled and dipped her head. "It's alright, my lady."
"Where is Katsu?" Akane asked her shortly. Ran's attention turned towards Akane.
"He went with the search party," Ran answered her respectfully.
Akane held my hand tighter for a moment. "Have a servant sent to find him," Akane ordered. "And have the servants here return to whatever they should be doing."
Ran paused and looked at me instead.
"Did you hear what I said?" Akane asked her with her voice rising.
"I'm sorry, Lady Akane," Ran apologized stiffly. "It is Lady Rana's whose orders I would heed next after his lordship's…"
"Do you think this is a time to debate who the lady of this house is?" Akane snapped. Her face had a shadow of fury covering her usual kind expression. "Now go!" I could feel my own quell of anger from before now becoming directed at Akane, but I held it back. Ran bowed and hurried away on quick feet.
Akane's disapproving eyes followed her until she was out of sight. She looked back at me and her face softened. "They need to know their place, Rana," She explained as if I were a child. "Though she was correct about you."
Akane continued to walk with my hand in hers. "What do you mean by that?" I questioned her with just a hint of resentment in my voice.
Akane did not turn her hear to look at me as we walked. "This is your home, after Katsu you are the one who should run the household affairs and the servants. You're not doing this, which is not traditional, but understandable…" Akane's voice grew quieter. "Katsu is my husband's older brother; therefore you have a higher position over me. Within our family, you would be the head of it with Katsu. That's how it is in larger families usually."
I was supposed to be of higher social standing than Akane? Me, a foreigner, the enemy, compared to Akane, who was a true Fire Nation lady? I had no idea until moments ago that I had power, that I am supposed to run the household! Satoru had never taught me this! No, he had mentioned, but…
I snorted loudly. "That's ridiculous!" I exclaimed in disbelief. "Compared to you?"
Akane had led us to my bedroom. She halted in front of the doorway and turned to look at me. Her expression was one of wise understanding. "You'd be surprised," She claimed confidently. She opened the door and waited as I walked in past her. "Wait here," She added. "I'll talk to Katsu before he can come berate your first." She started to close the door.
"Akane!" I called out. The door stopped half-way and Akane stuck her face in with questioning eyes. "Why do you care?" I demanded. Why did she try to help me, comfort me? Was it only out of pity or some sense of responsibility?
Akane gazed at me with a look of complete understanding at my question. "Because I am your friend," She replied seriously. "Would you call me friend?"
I hesitated. Our letters…her advice and kind understanding…her acceptance…one of the only people I had connected too… "Yes," I told her honestly. I meant it. Even if…it was wrong of me. Akane gave me a brief smile and shut the door.
A half hour or so passed. I changed into my nighttime robe and let my hair down. My face and voice were still evident of my earlier tears. There was one candle lit on a small table that stood in front one of the windows. The window he had smashed before had been repaired for some time now. Anxiety, fear, a whirlwind of emotions, spun inside of me fiercely. I sat on the edge of the bed, feeling frozen, even though the room was warm.
It was always warm here. I still hated the hot weather of this accursed country. It had only rained here and there with thunderous showers that only lasted minutes. The weather had cooled a little the last month or so and the showers had increased. Minutes ago the rain had started to pour violently and continued to do so. I could hear the raindrops pounding on the roof overhead.
My left hand twisted the necklace around nervously. I tried not to think about my upcoming encounter, which was sure to have a very angry…nothing she would say would calm him down. I had broken my promise to him in his eyes probably, even though I had not left the house. To distract myself, I sung a lullaby from my people, one that my mother had used to sing to me. It was the only one I could remember with a soft melody that reminded me of a gentle, but morose wind.
"Little one, do not fear. Soon this storm shall pass," I sang under my breath. A roll of thunder crashed for the first time since the rain had started. I paused and then continued the lullaby, playing with my necklace. It was the only color of blue I had, except for the sky. "Our defenders are near! Moon Spirit, protect us. Ocean Spirit, hear us." A white, blinding light flashed through the windows as lightening crackled in the sky. Another battle drum of the thunder took over as I sang the last two lines. "My prayer, they do hear. They keep us safe, my dear." I did not believe those words anymore as I sang them, but somehow they quelled my anxiety ever so little.
"Those are the names of your spirits?" His voice asked roughly from across the room. The thunder had hidden the sound of his entrance. He leaned up against the door with crossed arms, eyeing me like a predator. "Do you think they hear your prayers?" He continued with mockery veiled in his question.
"I didn't run away," I stated loudly, getting straight-to-the-point. I was not in the mood for any of his games.
"Ha!" He jeered as he pushed himself away from the door and walked towards me. "You were waiting for the house to be empty enough for you to slip on right outside!" Katsu growled. "It was a clever plan, probably your best so far."
"I'm here," I retorted with my voice rising. Had Akane said anything to him or was he to blinded by his anger? Could he not simply accept the fact that I was in shock and…and…
"Only because Akane found you!" He quipped back. I stood up as he reached me at the bed, and glared up at him with all of the furiousness I could muster. Something softened in his eyes, before it went back the dark shroud of vexation.
"I hate you!" I yelled up at his face. Nothing changed on Katsu's stony face as he glared back down at me.
"I know," He replied matter-of-factly. Suddenly he turned away from me and took a step towards the candle that was lit at the table. I watched him cautiously as his right hand hovered above the flame, making it grow larger and smaller, as if it were breathing. "Akane asked me if you could return to her home with her," He said abruptly in a placid voice. "I told her yes."
I sucked in a sharp breath. Go to Akane's home?...Away from him!...A chance to escape?...Thousands of possibilities flashed through my mind like the lightening storm. "I will let you go stay with her," He went on, "But I know I can't trust you to not run away." His hand moved away from the candle as he settled both of his hands onto the table. Katsu's tall back was faced towards me as he looked out the window. Lightening danced across the midnight sky. "I am going higher another bodyguard again. You lost whatever trust and previous freedoms you had before."
My eyes burned into his back at his words, but I was going to be able to escape him for awhile at least. Thanks to Akane. I knew there would be no chance for me to escape as there had been before, not with another bodyguard around if this one was to be like Iwao at all. "When do I leave?" I asked sharply. "And how long do I get to stay with her?"
"You'll leave in about three days," Katsu answered me surly. "I gave her permission for you to stay for a two weeks."
I could have danced with joy, if it had not been for the new knowledge of another bodyguard. Yuck! I wanted to start pounding his frustrating back with my fists. Anything to irritate him for I knew I could not hurt him! Except…in that way…
"I'll never love you," I seethed in a low voice. "You disgust me!"
"Really?" Katsu intoned mockingly and bitterly. He turned around with his golden eyes flashing dangerously. The candle suddenly went out and the room was cast into darkness. I yelped as his strong hands grasped my shoulders roughly. I was shoved down onto the bed. I flailed about as his large form pinned me down effortlessly. Perhaps I should not have said anything….
He lowered his head down next to my ear. I could feel his warm breath on my neck. "Your body doesn't seem disgusted," He murmured. I shivered, but it was not out of total fear. Katsu's lips were immediately on mine roughly: hungry and demanding. I did not want to give in, but somehow, like always…
My body turned against me, delightfully enjoying what he would do to me…