Chapter 21: Reunion
"You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well." –Lewis B. Smedes
The next several days I was taken over by a breathless cloak of impatience. I felt suffocated as if the ache within my chest somehow…somehow quaked with fear and anxiety. My lessons with Satoru were still with a horrid coldness and distant formality. His grey eyes had become clouded and distant from me, instead of the bright, kind eyes I had come to depend on over the months. My next lesson that I had several days after the last lesson was one that became different. He broke the frigid silence between us that had begun to drive me a little insane…
We were sitting in our usual spots in Katsu's study. The light shined through the windows in the pale afternoon light, warming my back as it shined heavily. Satoru sat on the other side of me at the table. He was teaching me about the origins of the firebenders from the dragons, which had started to become extinct. They were now hunted down by those who desired to be known as the most powerful of firebenders. A tradition that was started by Fire Lord Sozin….the evil man who was responsible for this war….
I was looking at the picture of a fierce blue dragon that was beautifully drawn on the open scroll before me. Satoru was speaking about the dragons, but I avoided looking at his face. I always avoided looking at his face these days. There was a pause as Satoru stopped speaking. I looked up hesitantly to see why he had stopped speaking. I was shocked to see a soft look in his eyes, but it quickly vanished when my eyes met his. The coldness as if from the icy winter returned to his face as if it had never left.
I held my breath. What did this mean? Ocean Spirit….what was I supposed to do with him? I….I missed his friendship….I needed it….but I did not want to give him reason to hope. This was for his own good! If…If only I had not come to care about him in the first place. A traitor to my own people….
"Lord Katsu is returning soon," Satoru spoke placidly, breaking the terrible silence. How did he know that? Satoru saw the question on my face. A small cynical smile grew on his face. "News spreads fast here. It's very hard to keep a secret from the servants,"
"What about it?" I asked sharply, trying to keep the suspicion from my voice. What was his intent?
There was a shadow that passed over Satoru's face that took me a moment to recognize. It was….jealousy…
"I'm sure you're pleased about his returning," Satoru jeered with an unpleasant expression. This was not like him….this…this was turning him into something nasty.
My temper flared at his words though. Always my anger gets the better of me, especially since I had come to the Fire Nation. "What if I am?" I taunted him back. "Even if I don't, you still mean nothing to me!" The void within me quaked with pain at my own words. Lies….lies….I care about you, though I should not….you are my friend…..my friend….
The unpleasant expression on his face transitioned to one of open pain and fury. Satoru glared at me with his grey eyes as if lightning bolts could shoot out of them any moment. "You're lying!" He snarled. "I know you're lying!"
And I have to keep lying….for both of our sakes…but mostly for you…
I sneered at Satoru in a false contempt. "That's what you want to believe!" I taunted him with a mocking laugh.
The snarl in Satoru's face slowly started to vanish as he stared at me. The fury began to vanish as a depressed acceptance took over his face. His shining eyes became clouded with a mixture of emotions once more, almost as if…I felt surprise take over my face. What did this mean?
"You're trying to protect me," He murmured with a dawning of comprehension. "This whole time….that's all you have been trying to do."
I shook my head in denial.
Satoru made a small noise of dismissal. "You do care, don't you?" He asked softly. A cynical smile stretched his lips. "But how can I compete with him, when you're in love with him?"
In love with…? No, I do not love that…momster!...Yet…..yet….the void in my chest….the absence of….
"I don't love him!" I protested loudly.
Satoru bowed his head and then looked back at me. He raised his hand as if to touch my cheek with the back of his hand. I winced as he drew closer and his hand fell back down to his side. "I love you, Rana," He announced tenderly. The cynical smile on his face became one of sincerity. The blood disappeared on my face. How could he say it? It….no…
"I just wanted to say it to you," He added thoughtfully. Satoru rose from his seat and towered over me as I tiled my head to look up at him. The sunlight his pale face, making his grey eyes shine softly in the light. "You don't have to lie to me anymore. I won't say it again."
What was supposed to happen now? What was I supposed to do? "Are we friends again?" I asked him with plain hesitation.
"Yes," He murmured. "That's the only way it can be. I know that now." Satoru gave me a sudden bow. "Until our next lesson, Lady Rana," He said with great formality. With a sudden whirl, he departed from the room as if nothing had happened. I felt the void within me shrink a little. I was happy to have his friendship once more, yet at the same time fearful for where it might lead him. When I had walked outside of the room, I had avoided the knowing eyes of Iwao. He had heard everything. When our eyes had briefly met though, the only thing I could see was the guarded calculation in his eyes.
The next week seemed to drag, but the two highlights of the week were a visit to Ran's family and a visit from Teruko. Things between Satoru and I almost seemed as they had been before, yet I still held myself in reservation. There was one turn of events that I did not expect nor did I entirely recognize the seed that was planted when it occurred…
Satoru and I were having my next lesson. This time I was practicing on the erhu under his instruction. Slowly I had started to improve on that impossible instrument. The lesson had been interrupted by the sound of Ran's voice from the doorway. "Excuse me, My Lady," She had announced loudly. Satoru and I had both looked to see her standing in the doorway, but my eyes caught the sight of Teruko standing behind her. "Lady Teruko is here to see you."
A smile came to my face at the sight of my friend. "Thank you, Ran," I told her as I went to stand up. Beside me, Satoru started to rise as well. Ran bowed and departed, while Teruko stepped into the room. She was dressed in a fine outfit that was of a darker red and brown colors. The color helped to emphasize her dark brown eyes that gazed at Satoru curiously. She bowed towards me. I returned the bow and out of the corner of my eye saw Satoru bow towards her. "Teruko, may I present you Satoru, my teacher," I introduced them formally. There was a flash of approval in Satoru's eyes at my introduction. Some of his teaching on etiquette had actually rubbed off onto me.
"A pleasure," Teruko said to him with a kind smile. "Now I know who has been teaching her the erhu so well!"
Satoru gave her a sheepish smile. I was taken aback to see the palest of blushes warm his face. "Her Ladyship is a good student," He responded respectfully.
"Perhaps you could teach me," Teruko said genuinely. There was wistfulness on her face. "Sadly I never really had the chance to learn to play an instrument."
Satoru bowed towards her once more. "It would be an honor."
I chuckled in amusement. "Are you trying to steal my teacher?" I teased Teruko. Again, I was a little surprised to see a fierce blush on her face at my teasing, but I dismissed it. "May we end our lesson for today?" I asked, turning my attention towards Satoru. He was gazing at her with a distracted look before he looked back towards me.
"Of course, My Lady," He returned with another bow towards me.
"Thank you," I said sincerely. I walked towards Teruko with a smile. I took her offered arm as we left the room. We started to chat, but I did not register the flickering of her eyes as she looked back towards the study. My visit with Teruko was one of pleasure. Her wedding was in less than two months away now and I could see her apprehension and fear of it. She asked me a little about Satoru, but I assumed it to be about wanting to learn the erhu from him. Then the day finally came that he returned after almost five months….
I was sitting in his study, reading a scroll which was a biography of a noted Fire Nation philosopher and poet. There was a sensation that overtook me that I was being watched, but not by Iwao. I looked up from the scroll to see him standing in the doorway. He was dressed in their horrid armor that usually drove me into trembles of fear, but this time it did not. There was no helmet on his face and I caught the sight of a new scar running along the left side of his jaw. There was already one on the right side of his cheek from many years ago. My throat felt clogged and incapable of speech, while my chest tightened, making me short of breath. The ache in my chest gave a burst of pang as my heart sped up.
We stared at each other for a breathless moment that seemed to last minutes. His powerful arms hung by his sides, but his hands were clenched tightly, as if to restrain himself. He walked into the room with powerful strides and halted before me. My neck strained to look up at his powerful face. He stretched out a hand towards me. I accepted it and tried to keep my hand from trembling. What was wrong with me? He raised me up to my feet gently. I was inches from his face that bent down to gaze me. At long last I could see his pale golden eyes clearly. They seemed as if they were glowing from the intensity of his emotions.
I bit my lip and waited for him to speak. I was still incapable of speech. His right hand grazed my cheek with the back of his fingers until he cupped the back of my neck. His fingers enwrapped themselves in my hair, which I had down. My eyes did not leave his own. His gaze was too intense to look away from. He seemed to be reading my face, as if he were waiting for me to push him away. The other hand stroked my arm and went up to join his other hand at the base of my neck. A shiver, which was not from anxiety, shot up my arm and down into my stomach.
I closed my eyes when he leaned his face down towards mine. This kiss was exactly like the ones I had dreamed about. It was not one of passionate anger, but one of tender passion that spoke of much more. I could do nothing more than to accept this kiss and returning it. I should not be doing this, I thought, yet….yet…
It was several minutes before the kiss ended. Katsu broke it first and hovered still only inches from my face. My cheeks were heated as I blushed fiercely from the soft sigh I could prevent from escaping my lips. His eyes were now even more ablaze with a passionate need. His hands moved to cup my face gently. "Rana," He rumbled lowly. I could hear the statement of possession as he spoke. I was rather startled he gave me the beginnings of a delighted grin. There had never been such a look on his face before. I should have said something to turn that smile into a scowl, but….I wanted to see that smile…It was like the one he had on his face in one of the paintings….the look in his eyes was the he had had than…
There was a part of me that was horrified when I began to smile back at him. The void within though almost felt as if it was entirely gone. "I dreamed of this moment," He confessed heavily in the barest of whispers. I took in a sharp breath at his words. I did not tell him….that such dreams had haunted me as well…
Ocean Spirit….Moon Spirit…
What am I to say?
My usual bitter or angry remarks had fled me. Any of the retorts that I should have said did not float in my mind. Instead, they were ones that would be exchanged between two lovers. Not between someone who considers the other their enemy. A monster. The clog in my throat was still there as I began to stutter out a response. "I…..I….I'm glad you're back," I stuttered out with my face beating red. My heard sped up as a fire surged throughout my limbs at the sight of his face.
There was a look of open surprise on his face, but seconds later it softened. I saw the flash of the familiar in his sparkling eyes that sent a tremble down to my knees. "So am I," He breathed. His breath was warm and reminded me of a comforting spices. My right hand seemed to act of its own accord as it reached up to trace his new scar. He closed his eyes as my fingers touched his new scar lightly.
I let out small yelp as he suddenly released my face and swept me into his arms as if I were a child. His arm hooked underneath my legs as he held me to his chest. Katsu's lips were on mine in an urgent kiss as he hurried out of the room. I knew the direction he was headed even as I kissed him back with my eyes closed. We both exactly had the same thing on our minds and would not be leaving our bedroom for hours.