Chapter 14: The Home of Masato & Akane
"Every man is afraid of something. That's how you know he's in love with you; when he is afraid of losing you." –Unknown
I was settled into one of their guest bedrooms that were in the same wing as the family bedrooms. The room was simple, with a bed that paled compared to mine and…there was a cupboard for storage and a table that was set up in front of the several windows that were on a wall facing the east. Through the window I could see down into the garden for I was on the second floor, and just slightly over the wall I could see the tops of trees of the forest. There was no room attached to it that had a washing room like at…
I paused. The word that home come to my mind was….was…home…
How…how could I call that place home?
I shook my head, pushing away the thought. Akane had told me that they did not have natural hot water springs underneath the estate like…he did. Instead, the servants here would prepare a bath for me personally when I needed it in a single wash like room they had for the family. Akane and Masato's bedroom was just down the hall from me, while Ichirou's was right across from me. Akane had left me to rest for awhile and to unpack if I wished to do it on my own. I did that now, unpacking the clothes and other items that I had brought with me. All of them…all of these things that had become mine had been personally made for me and bought by him. I halted, and let the silken garment I held in my hands slip onto the wooden floor, looking like a pool of blood.
"My lady?" Iwao's voice asked politely.
I looked over at the doorway, greeted by his usual guarded expression. He stood in that uptight position he always maintained. "What?" I replied irritated by his intrusion, more by the fact that he had caught me unaware.
"Are you alright?" He inquired with his golden eyes analyzing my every facial expression. He was like a predator with the way he examined everything, just as….he…
I gave him a small smile and shrugged. "I'm fine," I answered him through my teeth. Iwao's expression did not change the slightest, but he knew I was lying.
"As you say, my lady," He said monotone, "Lady Akane is waiting for you."
"Thank you," I murmured. Iwao left without another word, shutting the door behind him. I looked back at the silken robe on the ground. …I would let Akane's servants unpack the rest of my clothes, I thought, as I walked out the door to meet her.
I met Akane out in a room that worked as a reception room for visitors. It was on the first floor of their home, located off of the main hallway. There were no windows, but banners decorated all the walls. There was the usual one with the flaming symbol of their nation…I tried not to look at it. Then there were similar family portraits, just like at the dining room at…
The center of the room had a low table with cushions scattered for sitting, and a low furniture piece to the ground. Akane sat on a cushion by the table, drinking a cup of tea. She smiled at me when I entered the room. "Would you like a cup?" She asked, gesturing towards the tray that rested beside her.
"Sure," I answered her distracted. My eyes were drawn to a banner on the wall behind her. I walked over to it to closer examine it. It was a family painting of Akane and Masato, both who stood beside each other in the painting. What caught my attention was a second child in the painting, a small boy who stood beside Ichirou. Ichirou was a small child himself in the painting. The other boy had the same looks as his older brother, but their family eyes in his face shined. As if he were about to pull a childish prank. Ichirou's face was more serious like his father's, and Akane….she had that same gleam in her eyes. Renzo…her son that was taken away…
Is that what had caused that spark on her face, visible in this banner, to disappear?
Akane had risen from her seat, and now stood beside me as I examined the banner. I looked over at her carefully. Her eyes were strained on the image of her lost son. She lightly traced his figure with a finger, before her hand fell down back to her side. "He was such a troublemaker," She mused. Her face had a faraway look to it. The look fled as she looked back at me.
"How old was he?" I queried.
"Four," Akane stated, turning away from the banner. "A year before…" She quickly moved away, and returned to her spot by the table. As she did, I walked away from the banner, for some things are best left alone. I settled beside her at the table, and accepted the offered tea at the table. It had a minty flavor to it that I found myself enjoying, for I had had one similar to it before at…
"Rana," Akane began quietly. "Will you tell me something?"
I examined her face, which appeared hesitant and closed off. "Go ahead," I told her with a shrug.
"What is it like…where you are from?" She inquired inquisitive.
I gaped at her from the abruptness of the question. My home….my people…I shut my eyes for a moment to shove away the void that ached at these thoughts. "Why are you asking me this?" I demanded harshly, trying not to glare daggers at Akane.
Akane looked at me momentarily like she was taken aback by my reaction. "To understand you better," She answered me calmly. "You know now my pains. I only want to understand, as you have done for me."
"I….I can't," I retorted disconcerted. My hand curled around my cup of tea tightly. The void started to creep in so slowly, seeping in… "I just can't."
Akane looked at me with a bewildered expression. "One day you will be able too, and when you're ready, I'll be here to listen," She said with the intention to comfort. "If you want."
The next hour was spent in idle conversation about the estate, and the surrounding land. Later that day, Akane took me on a walk around the gardens and gave me a tour of the rest of their home. Iwao was always nearby, something I became used to again easily. Ichirou was off in his lessons and later with his playmates, the children of the servants. Masato was off doing whatever it is that he does, but I saw both of them that night at dinner. There I saw the side of Masato I had not seen before, but only glimpses of, that of a loving husband and father. Ichirou would still only barely talk to me, avoiding looking at me and so forth. I pondered slightly over his behavior, but figured it to be his natural prejudices and hatred for me. He is one of them after all.
That night I sat on my new bed. All of the rest of my things had been packed away by the servants. I had taken a bath in their family washing room, missing the easy way it was done at…
Plus, this was the first time that I had washed alone without Ran since…since I had…
I pulled out the scroll of poetry that Satoru had given me. I had several of the poems so far, enjoying this poet's style. I understood why Satoru considered it a favorite. One poem in particular struck me. It was simple, but somehow I found myself attached to it.
Out in the marsh reeds
A bird cries out in sorrow,
As though it had recalled
Something better forgotten.
I rolled up the scroll, and set it aside. This poet had a taste for darker poetry, but there was something beyond that, something that I could not place. I fell asleep that night dreaming of a bird that I chased after, but never could catch. The bird would cry with melancholy as I felt tears in my eyes, and that aching void.
The first week passed there quickly, as if time was there to spite me personally. I spent time with Akane, observing how she ran her household and learned from it. Not that I intended to ever run that place. Akane and I would go outside of the estate, seeing the local village and the forest that surrounded their home. The forest had filled me with awe, for I had never been in such a place before. Trees that towered over me and blocked out the sun with all of their branches. We even took a ride together on one of those monster horned-beasts they use for mounts. Akane told me it is called a Komodo-Rhinoceros. I saw very little of Masato except at the dinners, and the same for Ichirou. Akane told me Masato was attending to matters of the estate.
One evening I was out walking on the northern wall of their estate that kept their home enclosed like his. I enjoyed the view for I could see the village nestled on the rolling hill beyond their home, and after that the endless forest that stretched over the rising hills. The sun was starting to sink down in the western sky, creating a soft pink skyline. Iwao lagged behind me, nearby as usual. I was surprised to see Masato leaning up against the side of the ledge, staring out into the distance. His head turned in my direction at the sound of my approach. His eyes, their cursed eyes, looked at me caught unaware, but there was no look of annoyance. Masato wore comfortable clothing, the loose and informal kind that he….
"Rana, what are you doing up here?" He questioned me. I halted several feet away from him.
"Walking," I quipped, instantly regretting the sarcasm of my reply.
"I can see that," Masato replied amused. A grin touched the corner of his lips. His head turned away from me, looking back at the view. "I come up here for the view myself."
I took his reaction as an invitation, and precariously closed the gap between us. I stood to the right of him, leaning up against the edge with folded arms. "It is beautiful," I agreed.
"My home has only been within the family since my father," Masato said reflecting. "Did you know that?"
"No," I replied, now alight with curiosity. Their home looked newer, much newer than…
"My brother's home is where I grew up," Masato went on reminiscently. "It has been our ancestral home for generations. This place though, it was awarded to my father by the Fire Lord Sozin himself," Masato finished proudly.
Fire Lord Sozin….he was the one who had started this horrible war….the one responsible for everything! And now…now his son, Fire Lord Azulon continued his bloody work….
"Fire Lord Sozin…." I repeated bitterly. Because of that man….my people!...
Masato's head swung quickly to observe my shadowed face. His eyes narrowed. "Sometimes I almost forget where you are from," He declared. "I apologize, Rana."
My eyes looked down at the edge, avoiding his gaze. "I never forget," I stated firmly. I almost jumped at feeling Masato's hand patting my shoulder kindly.
"Of course you don't," Masato replied simply. "You never will." Bitter tears threatened to rise up at his words. It was because of his acknowledgement and strange kindness, but more so because of the simple truth. I pushed them down. Together we stood side by side without another word, watching the pink light turn to a deep purple before we parted ways.
The very next day I sat in the gardens with Akane, as she worked on embroidering some decorative thing. She had offered to teach me, but I had scoffed at the idea. I could sew clothes when need be, but embroidery was not my thing. I did not have the patience for it. Instead I would chat with her while she worked away on it. Iwao hovered nearby. Akane did not look up from her work as she asked me a sudden question. "Where did you get that necklace from?"
I gaped in momentary surprise. I kept it hidden underneath my clothing, lest anyone see my shame. The shame that I wore it…but it was the only color of blue I had now. "How do you know about that?" I replied irritated.
"I've seen it," Akane acknowledged, "It's slipped out from your clothes before, but you mess with it when you're nervous."
"It was a gift," I said between grinding teeth. Akane looked at me momentarily, opening her mouth to respond when a servant intruded on us with a quick bow, whom I had seen before around the household. He was an older man with the usual looks their kind have, but his build spoke of past laborious work. His dark hazel eyes and face kept his true feelings to himself. Akane had told me was that he was the highest amongst the servants, the one she trusted to fulfill out her orders.
"Yori," She greeted him. "What is it?"
Yori replied immediately. "A letter has arrived for Lady Rana." He offered the rolled up paper in his hand towards me with a slight nod.
"Thank you," I said, accepting the letter.
"Is that all?" Akane asked him forwardly.
"Yes, my lady," He returned politely. He did their unusual bow towards us and left without another word. I unrolled the scroll, and almost dropped it in shock. He…he…had sent me a letter…
I sincerely hope this letter finds you in a pleasant mood; otherwise you might destroy it in some fashion. Rather like the time you destroyed my whole wardrobe. Already a week has passed since you left, and I find myself missing your constant fighting with me. When you return, it will only be days before the winter solstice. I will show you how we celebrate the winter solstice.
He was right about one thing. I was tempted to chuck it into the nearby pond. My hands shook as I held it. What was this supposed to mean? I seethed as the fury slithered throughout my being. "Rana, are you alright?" Akane asked concerned.
I looked back up at her kind face. "He…he sent me a letter!" I spat witheringly. Akane's hands enclosed over my shaking ones.
"May I?" She requested. I nodded jerkily. She took the letter into her hands, while mine curled up on my lap into fists. Her eyes scanned the letter, as an amused smile grew on her face. My fury grew at her bemused expression. She thought this was funny? Akane set the letter aside, as she picked her embroidery back up and resumed her work. "Calm down Rana," She said, trying to rid the amusement from her voice. "He's only trying to do his best."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I snapped.
Akane held back an amused snort poorly. "He sent that letter to get a reaction, any sort of reaction from you, which he knew you would." She explained. "Katsu has that typical manly fear that you will forget him."
I took in a sharp intake of breath. Over the last week, I had pushed him to the back of my thoughts. There had been times when I had been able to enjoy myself here. He…he always ruined any chance I had for a moment of peace! "Why?" I demanded petulant.
Akane looked up from her embroidery at me. I glared right back at her. "Because he is afraid to lose you," She answered. "And that is because he loves you."
I did not respond to his letter. I refuse to give him that satisfaction! Akane later informed me though that the winter solstice is a time of festivities and celebration, even here in the Fire Nation. My people celebrated its passing as well. She commented that perhaps he would take me somewhere. I had laughed darkly at that idea. He would not take me anywhere where I could have a chance to escape. I was only allowed here for I was with his family.
The rest of the week passed much as the first week had. I did see more of Masato here and there, and in those times he and I would have actual conversations. I found that he did not hate me as I had first believed, but mistrusted me because of who I am. I could say as much for what I thought of him, but of course I hate all of them! Of course I do…
Ichirou still kept his distance from me. I had asked Akane about it once, and much to my chagrin she had told me Ichirou had a crush on me. She informed me it was nothing to worry about, and that with time it would disappear. He was also extremely shy according to her as well. On the last day before I was to leave, Akane and I were taking a walk through the gardens around midday. The gravel underneath our feet crunched with each step and a light wind caressed our faces.
"Rana, I'm glad you came here," Akane said to me with a warm smile. Her eyes were warm with fondness. I assumed she meant here to her home, and that was what created my response.
"Me too," I responded pleasantly. I had been ecstatic to get away. Though my thoughts would go back too…
"You are?" Akane called me out shocked. "I know you hate being here." It was then that I realized she was glad that I had come here, meaning the Fire Nation.
"I thought you meant…" I began immediately. "Of course I hate it here!" I finished acidly. Of course I hate it here…all of them…
Then there was the other though, the thought that had begun to edge in, oh so slowly…not all of them…Akane…Ran…Satoru…Iwao….Ichirou….Masato even….
I instantly mutilated that chain of thought. Akane ignored my outburst, as she had come to with my many furious outbursts. "Of course you do," Akane murmured, strangely echoing my own thoughts. Her eyes examined me, but touched with empathy.
I felt a peculiar urge fill me, an urge to tell her everything about before, so that she could understand more. So that kind face could cry with me over what had been stolen from me. What I had been stolen from. "At this time of the year," I began slowly and softly, "The winds are cold and the snowstorms fierce because of the winter at my home…."
The words came rushing out, one after another as I told her. She would listen calmly, occasionally ask a question out of curiosity, but mostly she just listened to me. At the end of it all, there were tears in her eyes. They were not only of pity, but of a new understanding of what I felt. Somehow the void shrunk at the back of my mind, leaving me feeling lighter somehow. The next day, Akane, Masato, and Ichirou went with me to the town with the port I had arrived at with Akane. I had felt tears almost come up as I bid them goodbye…
Akane gave me a tight hug. "I'll write to you," She affirmed quietly. "I'm glad you visited my home. You are always welcome here."
"Thank you," I replied, meaning every syllable. Akane had released me, where than Ichirou had come up from behind her. I was startled when he gave me a quick embrace before running off. Akane had failed to hide her amused smile. Masato had chuckled at this, and then came up to me. He did not embrace me, which suited me just fine. "Take care, Rana," He had said firmly.
"You do the same," I responded thickly. I had then boarded the ferry boat with Iwao, my luggage already aboard. I watched them grow into the size of ants as we sailed away from the dock. Now I would be there within hours, back within that gilded cage….
Yet somehow, though I denied it….
The prospect of going back there was not as horrible as I had once thought….