Chapter 17: License for Fabrication
"It's true that we don't know what we've got until we lose it, but it's also true that we don't know what we've been missing until it arrives." –Unknown
Sleep had not come peacefully to me that night. I had laid in bed, staring with eyes into the darkness, my mind crawling in confusion. Ran rarely helped me to prepare for bed, so I had been blissfully alone. The void was there, taunting me at the shadows of my mind. I had never slept well back at home, for my dreams had always been filled with ash mixed with snow and fiery flames. Yet here…over the last few months….there had been peaceful sleeping…
Tonight though, my dreams were more startling than ever before. When I dreamed of him, they would usually be nightmares. Yet in this dream, it was not that way…
The moon was half full in a starry sky, creating an eerie silver light in the courtyard. I sat on my favorite bench, looking down at the object in my shaking hands. My hands were settled on my lap, and in my right hand I grasped a knife with aching fingers. The blade was the length of my whole land, and the wicked blade gleamed in the moon's light.
"You would rather choose death then me," His voice stated, almost with an air of sadness. It was unlike his usual anger. I looked up in surprise to see him standing across the courtyard. He held a ball of fire inches from his palm, created by his firebending. The firelight danced with the shadows across his face, but it was his eyes were my attention was drawn. They gleamed in the dark. I shuddered at the sight of the fire, and stood up, backing away from the bench. Away from him. "You still hate me….my people….that much," He went on, as if to himself. I halted, but my terrified eyes were still concentrated on that flame in his hand. No….I thought….
….I do not…
Once, I had thought all of them to be bloodthirsty demons. Yet I have learned otherwise. I am supposed to hate them. They are supposed to be my enemy. For months I have been twisting in turns and circles in that myriad of confusion. Part of me still did….for what they have done and are doing to my people…
And then there was….him….
"I don't hate you," I whispered, looking down at the knife. The void was vast then, pressuring me to end it all. "I hate myself for becoming weak." I raised the knife, preparing to plunge it in. I deserved to die, I thought, for being a traitor to my own people!
"No!" He yelled desperately. Suddenly the fire was curling around the blade, as if it were a whip of fire. I screeched in horror, dropping the blade as the fire licked around it and snapped it away from me. The blade was flung across the courtyard, clacking loudly as it hit the ground. I had fallen backwards as I had scrambled away from the fire. It disappeared, throwing us back into the light of the moon. He hurried over towards me while this had happened, and now he towered over me like a dark menace. Yet I did not see anger in his face as he kneeled down beside me, only….
"I'm sorry about the fire, Rana," He said softly. I gaped at him, and did not slap away his hand when he touched the side of my face gently. His hand was warm, comforting. Would it be so wrong, I thought for a moment, it helped to keep the void away. Right then and there, the void was gone, as it had been chased away by….him…..
It was difficult to read his face in the dark, but I could make out his concerned eyes. I used to be terrified of golden eyes, but now…
"I just want it to end," I confessed in a thin voice. "All of this pain. I just want it to stop."
"Let me take it away for you," Katsu replied in a warrior's response. He put his other hand to my face, holding my face in his hands. "Let me help you." I had become used to our physical intimacy, but it had never been soft or tender. It had always been a battle between us. A constant struggle of will. Yet when he bent his head down to kiss me, it was with soft endearment. A true kiss that spoke of deeper feelings. I should have pushed him away. Instead, I met him willingly. Surprised…and touched…by this kiss. I had not known that kisses could be this way…
I awoke with a small gasp, sitting up on the bed. Automatically I turned to where he usually slept, expecting him to wake at my reaction. The spot next to me was cold and empty. I closed my eyes, and let out a deep breath. It was just a dream, I told myself, nothing more. Then why did my heart pound not with fear, but by something else entirely?
The next morning Ran helped me to prepare for the day as usual. I sat on the low bench in the wash room, looking at her face in the mirror as she brushed my hair. I had pushed the dream away, but now my thoughts were back on the events of the day before. "Ran…" I began to say with apparent hesitation.
She continued to brush my hair softly, but her eyes were on the mirror, looking at me face with concern. "Yes, my lady?"
I averted my eyes, not knowing how to ask the question. "Ran….how…" I began to stutter out. "How do you handle someone whom…cares….for you, but you…"
Ran halted brushing my hair. I kept my eyes down at my hands that I wringed down on my lap. Ran's hand went past my head as she set the brush down on the table, and then to my shoulder. "Are you speaking of his lordship?" She asked me gently.
"No!" I replied instantly, then horrified at my response. Would she report to Katsu…did she report to him like Iwao did? What if he found out? I did not want Satoru to... "Do you report to him?" I demanded, lifting my head up to the mirror. I gazed at her surprised face in the mirror.
"To his lordship?" She responded calmly. "No, not unless you were planning to harm yourself or the like." She paused as if in cautious thought. "I've come to care for you, and though I shouldn't because of our stations….a friend, my lady. And I don't betray my friends."
I had come to care for her as well, but she considered me a friend? Just as Akane had without me asking or even realizing it. What had I done to these people to make them like me? I certainly was not the friendliest person to get along with, especially with my random outbursts and fits of anger. I had not been that way at home, but I had always been prone to quick temper. "So, who were you talking about?" Ran inquired kindly. "I promise I won't breathe a word to anyone."
"Satoru," I confessed, looking back down at my hands. "Yesterday…He admitted it to me and then Iwao overheard him. They almost started to fight, but I was able to intervene." I did not mention the part about Iwao, what Satoru had said. It could not be possible, right? I glanced back up at the mirror, glimpsing Ran's pale face that became paler. "I told Satoru that I hated all of you still." To drive him away….to keep him safe… "What should I do now?" I asked her with a plea. Ran's other hand grasped my other shoulder to comfort me.
"The wisest decision would be to dismiss him," Ran started to say simply. "But that would bring his lordship into it. The next best thing would be to distance yourself from him, and his feelings for you will disappear with time." I nodded my head, agreeing with her silently. I had spent most of the night thinking about this. Her advice was what I had thought to do precisely. If I dismissed Satoru, Katsu would want to know the reason why and when it came to hiding anything from that man, it was extremely difficult to do. On the other hand, part of me did want to see Satoru go.
….He was my friend, and one of the exclusive people here I had come to trust. I was selfish. I did not want to lose him….
"Thank you, Ran," I told her sincerely. I turned my head around and up to give her a small smile. She returned it with one of her own. Her hand went past to me to retrieve the hairbrush.
Later that day, I was to have my lesson with Satoru as usual. Iwao was outside the study as usual. He had not spoken a word to me, but that was not unusual either. I might have sworn that his movements seemed more stiff than usual, but that could have just been my imagination. I sat at the low table, trying to keep my breathing regular. There was no sunlight today, for the sky outside was a depressing grey and soft rain fell down. The sound of the rain hitting the rooftop I found to be of some comfort. There were several torches to light the room on the walls, but they did not make me too nervous. It was only when it was in front of me, or created by them that I became overtaken with fear.
At long last I heard his approaching steps as he came to enter the room. Satoru walked into the room with a tight expression that made me want to wince. He was dressed in a dark red and soft grey outfit. The grey helped to bring attention to his own grey eyes that were shut down as Iwao's usually are. There were shadows underneath his eyes, as if he had not slept well either. He held several scrolls in his arms that he set down on the table without a word. "My lady," He said formally with the usual bow. Satoru then sat down to his spot to the right of me, but it felt as if the distance between was vaster than ever before. It had always been me who had put up the walls and kept my distance. Now for the first time it was him, and I realized that I did not like it one bit.
My tongue felt extremely fuzzy, as if I were incapable of speech. I wanted to tell him I was…sorry…that I did not hate him…Yet instead…
"Satoru," I returned with a cold voice. I could see a quick flash of pain in his eyes that disappeared quickly. "Shall we begin the lesson?"
Satoru gave me a frigid smile. One that held nothing except a barrier of pain. "Of course, my lady," He answered me.
We began the lesson, maintaining that cold distance. After the lesson, when I sat in the study alone I felt a great urge to break out into tears. Somehow I held down the urge, lest Iwao hear me. I was still terrified that he would report to Katsu of what had had happened. Still, I intended to speak to him about it and…what had been said…
I was foolish perhaps to pursue that answer, but I did not believe it. Besides the fact I had not befriended him like I had Satoru and Ran, and when I had tried my attempts had been shot down. I had become used to him as my silent shadow, my protector from my own foolish escape plans in the past, and sometimes the man I detested for helping to keep me a prisoner. It was after lunch, when I took an often favored walk on the western wall that I made my move to know the truth and to be reassured nothing relating to the issue would make its way back to Katsu.
The view from this wall was one to a glimpse at the dock down below, and then the endless ocean that looked like a dark abyss today. The sky overhead was a still a melancholy gray, but the rain had ceased to pour. The stones were wet and slippery, making me cautious with each step. The wind was strong, pulling stray hairs out of grip of hair clasps. Iwao followed behind me several feet away, used to me taking this route for the occasional walk. There was a slight taste of the ocean in the sea air, something that I enjoyed whenever I could smell it up on this wall. It took me more than a few minutes to gather up my sparse courage, but at last I stopped in my tracks and turned around to face him.
Iwao looked at me with the cold indifference I had become used to from him. Yesterday was the only time I had seen anything close to actual emotion coming from him at all. Even more so then when I had accused him of not being human for the way he seemed to feel nothing. But I believe he did, underneath that thick emotional barrier that was created by the people who created him as a bodyguard. Anyways, it was true was Satoru had claimed, than he would have to feel things. "Is it true?" I beseeched him, getting straight to the point. "What Satoru said…is it…?"
Iwao reflected me with his indifferent gaze. "As my lady has asserted," He interrupted me. "I am incapable of feeling." His dark eyes were as cold as the night sky when I glared at them.
"If that were true, you wouldn't have any issued with admitting that you don't!" I argued defiantly in return. "And if it true….then what you said is exactly what you would say." Iwao's dark gaze held a momentary look of annoyance at my claim, but also seemed to have held a look of pride at accusation. Almost as if he were proud of my insinuation that….
There was a long moment of tense silence. "Satoru misinterpreted what he thinks he understands," Iwao insisted placidly. "He is a fool."
I did not understand what he meant entirely, but I did understand that he was not entirely refuting what Satoru had claimed. That he did feel something. I had not wanted to believe it, and felt the whole truth hitting me like a wave after a wave upon the rocks. A shaky breath escaped from my lips. I stared at Iwao in disbelief, and could not keep the horror from my expression. "I don't under-" I started to say.
Iwao cut me off immediately, even then somehow maintaining his respectful formality. "My lady," He entreated me. "Some things are better left untouched."
"No word of this will reach his lordship's ears," Iwao added swiftly. "As long as that fool tries nothing again." There was a look of disgust in his eyes that quickly vanished. "And this should never be spoken of again between us." Most of me was glad at his words, yet still….I did not understand what he meant entirely. But instead I merely nodded my head, accepting it as it seemed I had come to accept so many things that I should not have.
When we were headed through the gardens back to the main building, I could see Ran coming towards me. I stopped as she bowed towards me, and I could see a letter in her hands. "A letter for you from the Lady Akane," She told me as she handed it towards me.
"Thanks, Ran," I told her with a smile. Ran gave me a momentary look. I knew she was searching my face to see if everything was alright, based on our conversation from this morning. I gave her a reassuring look, and she bowed, leaving without another word. I recognized Akane's graceful writing, so much unlike my own that still resembled a child's no matter how hard I tried. I still had difficulty reading and did not understand every symbol, but I had become accomplished enough and was still learning. Eagerly I opened the scroll for we had not written to each other since I had left her home.
To my dearest sister Rana,
I pray this letter finds you in good health and spirit, but if not it should cheer you up! Katsu wrote to us before he left for his tour, telling us of your plight. Perhaps he mentioned to you our plans for celebrating the winter solstice? This year we plan to go to the Capital for the celebrations there. They parades and the fireworks are amazing! Katsu requested that we take you with us and one that I do with great pleasure! We will be at your home in two days to pick you up. Your servant Ran should know what types of outfits to take, so don't worry about that. The solstice is in four days, so prepare for good times!
Will all of my love,
A peculiar combination of excitement and relief overtook me. In response to my leaving of this place and to be distracted from…the void…and the feeling that something was…
I smiled. Akane somehow knew to cheer me up even through a mere letter. I would be going to the Capital of the Fire Nation in two days. What if I saw one of them…the hated Royal Family on my part…
I shuddered at the thought. Monsters…all of…no….not all…
Many thoughts on what it would be like paraded in my head, but they were not quite large or loud enough to push away the image of Satoru's cold eyes….or the void that whispered more strongly like currents within my mind…or the remembrance of that dream….
…..And within that dream….the confession that I knew to be true now….