Chapter 20: Restitution
"Absence diminishes small loves and increases great ones, as the wind blows out the candle and fans the bonfire." -François Duc de La Rochefoucauld
My return to the island was a quiet one. I bid farewell to Akane and promised one of us would visit each other soon. Ichirou had said nothing as usual and Masato had said goodbye with a full smile. It was a genuine smile that he truly meant this time. I find myself constantly comparing him to his brother in my head, but mostly there is an ache in my chest whenever I meet his eyes. Still, it had been good to escape from this empty place for several days. I was glad to see and Ran. I still remembered my request to visit her family upon my return. There was a letter for me upon my arrival, in response to the first letter I had written him.
How did you like the Capital City? The celebrations for the Winter Solstice? I'm sorry I wasn't there to take you to Ember Island as I had said I would. Your letter was quite expressive…..do you miss me that much? I can't believe I've already been gone for one month. I'm sure you are terribly upset at the idea of my absence for another five months.
I could almost hear his mocking sarcasm in the last sentence. As if he was standing beside me, drawling in my ear right now. I was standing in my bedroom for I had only been home for minutes. Instead of starting to unpack, I stormed out of the room towards the study. In moments there was a brush in my hand as I furiously wrote a response. Even now when he was an ocean away he still managed to rile me up! Part of me knew, even as I was writing the letter, that he could still probably see through my lies even on paper.
The Capital City was alright and as for the celebrations, I've seen better elsewhere! The best part about it though was your absence! This last month has been the only time I've had any sort of happiness here in the Fire Nation. I hope you get run over by a Komodo-Rhinoceros.
I knew it sounded rather childish, but I could not help to feel giddy as I wrote it. I could just the annoyed expression on his face as he read it. Ha! That night though was such a contradiction to my letter for this dream, like the last one had a way of making the void hurt like no other….
It seemed the inner courtyard was my favorite place to dream about. My dreams of ash mixed with snow had started to disappear, but over the last month they had returned with a vengeance. This dream, unlike the last one, was during the broad daylight. I was sitting on the bench and basking in the warmth of the sun's embrace. He walked into the courtyard and held his arms open, as if he were waiting for me to run into arms or as if it were a sign of peace. "I'm returned," He announced. Those eyes were looking at me with no hidden agenda, but I saw a hunger there that made me shiver.
I did not leave my spot on the bench. I knew that this was only a dream. It was not real! "So?" I drawled out. "It's not like I care."
"I think you do," Katsu persisted. His arms fell down to his side slowly. "More then you want to admit."
"Now that's a lie!" I spat at him. My hands curled into fists. Even my dream Katsu made me furious!
Katsu gave me a knowing smirk. I bolted to my feet and stormed over to slap him. When was the last time I had actually managed to slap him? At least here in my dream I could get away with it! Yet….he did nothing when I raised my arm. He only looked down at me and waited patiently. The urge to slap him started to dissipate and my hand fell down uselessly to my side. "Even in my dreams I can't hurt you," I griped under my breath.
"Perhaps you feel something," Katsu encouraged me. There was that familiar light in his eyes, one that usually made me run in the other direction. Yet here in my dream….it did not count, right? I did not say anything, but wrapped my hands around his neck. He bent his down to kiss me. This one had been like the last one in my other dream. Sweet, intoxicating, and speaking of things better left untouched. Part of me…..part of me almost wished it was real….
The dream haunted me the preceding day becoming the center of my thoughts. It was a constant torment for the following week, especially when such similar dreams followed it with rapid ascension. My first week back I visited Ran's family and home as I had asked to do. I had been charmed by her children and husband, in fact I had been…..envious of her apparent happiness in a way. My lessons with Satoru continued with a silent coldness between us. Every time it stabbed at the void and I felt horrid…..he was one of my only friends. His coldness to me and that of my own icy behavior left a prickling in my chest I would not have thought possible. I wished things could be as they had been before between us.
At long last I decided to take advantage of my new found freedoms. I visited Teruko and her family at their estate. Her parents, Lord Haruko and Lady Riku, were kind enough people. Teruko looked very much like her mother. She also had two younger siblings. Ichiro, age seven, whom is the heir of the estate. He was a shy little thing that kept to himself and then there was her sister Suzu. Suzu is a capricious ten year old that made me smile often while I was there. It was good to see Teruko again to become closer with her. Her wedding is not for months and in a short time we became frequent visitors to each other's homes on a weekly basis.
I also started to visit Ran's home once in a while as well. One day I finally worked up the courage to visit the town and several villages on the island. Everyone was respectful and polite, but still maintained their distance from me. Ran told me it was partially out of respect and the other was reserving judgment until they knew my character better. Iwao did not show any annoyance about me now running around the island, but I am sure it irked him to some degree. Weeks passed and my life settled into a routine of visits with Teruko, sometimes Ran's home, around the island, and lessons with Satoru continued. The nightmares had returned and the dreams of him did not dissipate. Akane and I exchanged letters every other week, but the letters that I truly….His third letter to my last response did not come until two weeks after my return to…home…
I know you had a good time. Kuro told me you did. What did you think of him? He's been a friend since I was a child. He's a good man. Too bad for you I didn't get run over by a Komodo-Rhinoceros, but at Earthbender did try to kill me yesterday. Does that please you? I'm sure you've heard rumors about the rebellion here. They are more difficult put an end to then originally thought.
I had heard rumors flying around in the town and Lord Haruko had mentioned it to me. Were there many battles in there? Was he fighting in the front or hiding like a coward in his tent? I preferred to imagine the latter.
Kuro was interesting and much more handsome then you. You can't even hold a candle next to him! How many recent near-death experiences have you had? I met Teruko and her family by the way, but I'm sure you already know that. I like her. She's much better company than you ever were. But things are….things are perfect without you here!
His next response was an even longer wait for it was three weeks until I received it.
I apologize for such a late response. Things have not been going well here. I had a dream about you last night. For once you looked at me without hatred. It was a good dream. I'm glad you've met Teruko and her kin. I used to be close with them once, which is a sad remedy I should fix. The near-death experiences have been in abundance of late, but don't get too excited by the idea. I don't plan on dying anytime soon.
You'll probably tear up this letter since I write this.
I love you.
He was right. I did tear it up when I read those words. The words….those three words…had somehow been on one of the torn pieces of paper. It had lain on the bedspread, glaring up at me with such three little words. Moon Spirit….Ocean Spirit….How I hate him….
Things continued in my life that had a semblance of order. Akane visited me one weekend that had been enjoyable. While I had waited for his letter my sixteenth birthday had passed. I did not mention it to anyone. My birthdays had passed uncelebrated since the day….since the day my mother had died….My birthday had been only several days before that day had happened. I have not celebrated it since. Than….then there had been a new nightmare….but it had been about him. In this nightmare though, he was not the tormentor….but the one who was the victim. Somehow….somehow it bothered me a little.
I shouldn't write back to you. But I figured I could torment with you for missing my birthday. You don't even know when it is, do you? And you thought you knew everything about me! Do you even know how old I am now? I hope I tried to strangle you or something in your dream.
Several nights ago….I had….Take care of yourself. You're a huge fool, so I'm sure you'll do something stupid to get yourself killed anyways.
The next letter came in less a week much to my surprise. I had opened it with some trepidation. I wondered what his face had looked like when I had called him a fool, I thought amused to myself.
Tucked inside of the letter had been a dried flower that was quite pretty. It was white and black in color. After some research in the study I learned it was called a Panda Lily. It is a rare flower found only in the Earth Kingdom and grows only on the rim of volcanoes. It is considered to be a symbol of love and is often used to try to win the heart of someone special. I also read that has similar connotation as to that of the Fire Lily here in the Fire Nation. I had touched my necklace while I read this, remembering he had given it to me thinking that it was a custom of my people. It was only a custom practiced by our sister tribe from what I had figured. The flower was tucked away with his other letters in my wardrobe in the bedroom. I had thought to myself…do I even know exactly how old he is? When is his birthday? I had never asked for either….
I did not respond to his letter for another two weeks. I do not know why, but the void within felt so….lost. By the time I wrote back spring had started to approach already.
Perhaps it is bad thing I don't actually know your exact age. How old are you? When is your birthday? As for….the flower….it is beautiful.
The wait for his letter was one of impatience. The spring arrived and greeted us with constant showers of rain, thunderstorms, and humid weather that I detested. I witnessed the season of the Fire Lily as they started to come into bloom. Ran told me the festivals for the Fire Lily would begin when the summer began. The thunderstorms had made me shiver alone in the bed. The loud claps of the thunder had sounded…..too much like sounds that drive me to fear…
The bed was cold. Empty. I found it to be….I received his letter a month after I had sent mine.
The last month has been of many trials. The rebellion will soon be stamped out and I will be able to return. Have the Fire Lilies started to bloom yet? It is one of my favorite things about the spring, along with the thunderstorms. I'm thirty-three. Does that disgust you? My birthday is only two weeks before our anniversary. Perhaps the idea of that disgusts you more, but I view it in a different light. I look forward to seeing your blue eyes glaring at me once more.
Try not to rip it up this time.
I love you.
I tore it to shreds just because of that second to last line! Take that, I had thought jubilantly as I tore it up, and that! Yet….when the pieces were scattered about reminded me of snow…I felt an ache inside the void. Life was getting dull without him around, I reasoned with myself. He at least gave me some sort of battle when he was around. There was never a peaceful moment when he was here, that was why….
That was why the void felt so…empty…
The fact about his age somehow did not revolt me as it should have. The news about the rebellion almost being over….I should have been thinking for the Earthbenders, but it was the fact that he would be coming back that I paid the most attention to. He had now been gone for four months. Had time flown that quickly? It felt dragged out to me ever since the winter solstice. As I usually did, I responded within several days of receiving the letter.
The Fire Lillies are blooming. Teruko is to be married this summer. They want you here for the wedding. When will you return? They asked me to ask you, so know that I am not looking forward to your return at all! Another thing….what sort of things interest you, outside of writing horrible poetry? Not that I truly care even the slightest.
His letter came almost two weeks later. It had not seem to come quick enough.
I've heard the good news from Lord Haruko as well. I will be back within a month's time. A month earlier then I am supposed to be. The rebellion is over. Outside of my splendid poetry, I like bickering with you and listening to the erhu when you're not making it painful to listen to. I also enjoy reading a good poem.
I dreamed of you again.
My hands shook as I held the letter. He was coming back a month early? This letter had been written how long ago….so sometime within the next several weeks he would be back! Of course the idea of his return sickened me, but the void seemed to shrink in size. The comment about my playing the erhu was true though. He knew I had lied about his poetry. I had read both of his scrolls and though it killed me to admit….many of them were good. Soon he would return….and I…..
I swore myself I detested the thought of it….Yet…..yet….