Chapter 22: Yearning
"The worst thing you can do for love is deny it; so when you find that special someone, don't let anyone or anything to get in your way." –Unknown
Presently when I opened my eyes the following morning, I could feel the pulsating heat from a strong arm wrapped around my waist. He held me tucked against his side and I could feel his peaceful breathing down my neck. I kept back the shiver at the feel of his breath on my neck. Before I would have slipped out of his embrace at the discovery of being in it, but now I did something that should have troubled me. I let myself be held by his protective arms. A small smile grew on my lips at the thought of the previous night. We had been….extremely active to say in the least. Kanna had taught me the basics about what goes on between a man and woman, but I had had no idea….how pleasurable it is. He was the only one I had ever been with, but every time he managed to send me to another place. We had barely spoken a word to each other the whole time. There was a change in his breathe and a tightening of his grip on me that told me he was now awake. "I know you're awake," He murmured into my neck. "Agni…I missed this."
I was glad that he could not see my face, lest he see the look that was still there! Usually I would have some sort of angry retort to make him angry, but instead I just let out a deep sigh. I did not want to ruin it quite yet. The sunlight was shining through the windows, telling me that it was late in the morning. The spot next to me was warm and comforting, not the cold, empty spot I had grown used to over the last few months. "I don't know if I'll let you leave the bedroom," He mused in a playful tone. At that I rolled away from him immediately with a scowl on my face. I stayed underneath the blankets for I did not want to be more tempted by the sight of…
"Teruko is coming to visit me soon," I muttered, avoiding looking at his face. His warm hand gently traced up my arm to my shoulder. I shivered as lightening came from it and accelerated throughout my body. I wrapped the sheet around my body and quickly hopped of the bed to avoid his touch.
"Rana, look at me," He commanded in a tone that was authoritative. A blush and irritation returned as I turned back to look at him. I could feel the old anger at his tone, but I held back the reaction. The blanket was still covering him, thanks to the Ocean spirit, but the look on his face was one that would have had me dive back into bed with him. When he looked back at my face, he let out a knowing chuckle. My face heated up as if it were on fire. "Go on," He told me as he tried to keep from laughing. I quickly fled into the wash room. I had avoided looking at him for he could read me like an open book. I did not want to leave the bedroom either….but….but….I should be running in the other direction! Or at least having spiteful replies to him while he made love to me….instead….it had not been the blazing battle it had used to be, but was filled with a different kind of urgency instead. I did not understand this and was thankful as I felt the familiar anger return to me in a tirade. The void in my chest though….it felt as if it no longer existed almost…
Katsu was not in the bedroom when I had returned to if after finishing up on the washroom. Ran did not always help me to get ready and this was one of those times. She must have some sort innate gift on knowing when she should not come; I had thought wryly to myself more than once. I decided to go off for a walk in the gardens to enjoy the sunny weather. It was not too warm, which was nice for a change. I was out walking along one of the graveled paths, near the discrete alcove that I had hidden in before. Iwao followed behind me with his footsteps crunching on the gravel. My feet stopped in their tracks when I spotted two people entering the alcove by the pond. I slinked behind some bushes near to it for it had been….Satoru….and….Teruko? She was not supposed to be here for at least thirty minutes!
They had only met a few days ago when she had interrupted one of my lessons early. Satoru and I had had one more lesson since and he had not mentioned a word of her. In fact, our friendship seemed as it had been before….except for a look in his eyes and an air of guarding myself that I now held around him. I had begun to believe that it could never been as it had been before, at least for him. I looked over at my shoulder to see Iwao joining me in my hiding spot. I held a finger to my lips and if I had known any better I would have claimed there was a flash of amusement in his eyes. Teruko sat on the bench inside of the alcove, but Satoru stood near the pond and did not step entirely into the alcove. I was to the right of them on the other side of the path and well hidden from their view. I could only see the side of Satoru's face and only a wisp of Teruko's arm as she made a gesture with it.
Satoru had been in the middle of a sentence as they had walked into the alcove. "-it's been rather difficult get my hands on several texts that would be valuable for the project," He finished with open longing in his voice.
Teruko's voice was sympathetic as she gave him a response. "I'm sure Lord Katsu or my father could use their influence to help you."
I could make out a cynical smile on Satoru's face as he kept his back towards her. "Forgive me, my lady," He replied darkly. "But asking such a thing, even of my patron, would be stepping out of my place." What were they talking about? His research….I knew he was doing some historical project or other…yet what was she doing here? Was she here for a music lesson that he had promised her at their first meeting? Why did I feel an apprehension as he called her the proper title as he would myself?
A moment of observed silence passed between them. "This is a lovely spot," Teruko commented at last. "I have never been to it before."
"It is one of her ladyship's favorite spots," He said quietly. I could see the smile was gone from his face. How did he know that? I liked this spot after the inner courtyard when it came to privacy.
"You're close to her, aren't you?" Teruko inquired in the smoothest of voices. As if she understood, or glimpsed something, that she knew was not supposed to be. Satoru turned around to face her towards the alcove, making it difficult to make out his face for now I was seeing more of his back profile.
"So are you, my lady," He answered her and in that avoiding giving her a direct response.
"She's different, isn't she?" Teruko pondered out rhetorically. "Rana is not like any other nobles I've met."
"Or commoners?" Satoru asked with an air of sharp bitterness. He instantly recovered. "Forgive me, my lady."
"No….you're right," Teruko told him kindly. "But I wouldn't really know. The only time I associate with them is as servants."
"I am a commoner," Satoru proclaimed with a challenge in his voice. "Does that bother you?"
"No," Teruko confessed simply.
Satoru took a step back from the alcove. He took in a deep breath. "Then you are like her in that respect," He observed. "She is the only other noble I have met….who sees beyond my ascribed status." He stepped into the alcove to sit beside her, I assumed, and disappeared out of my sight. Now I could only here their voices and that of the insects bussing in the air. I could feel the sensation of shame overtake me at eavesdropping. We had always been scolded as children not to do such things. The curiosity to know what they were doing together overrode my ethics about spying.
"I…." Teruko began to speak softly. "I didn't see a commoner when I met you." I could hear the crunching of gravel as she rose to her feet. "Thank you for the lesson," She told him swiftly. "I must be going. Rana will be waiting." She stepped out of the alcove and I could make out a small frown on her beautiful face.
"My lady," Satoru called out from behind her. He stepped out of the alcove after her and seemed to be reaching for her arm. His hand fell back down to his side and Teruko did not turn around to face him. "Does she know that you have come here to take lessons?"
"No," Teruko admitted as her frown deepened. "She does not." Teruko quickly fled away from the alcove, leaving Satoru gazing out after her retreating figure. I discreetly snuck away from the alcove with Iwao and headed for dining room. Ran would no doubt be bringing Teruko to me as if she had just arrived. Why was she keeping her seeing Satoru for lessons a secret from me?
When I entered the dining room, I was slightly taken aback at the sight of Katsu taking his midday meal at the table. He looked at me with raised eyebrows and then gave me a smirking smile. "Feel free to join me," He offered with a wave of his hand. I sank down to the right of him on another side of the table. Katsu poured me cup of tea as I did so and handed it to me.
"Thank you," I said as I accepted the tea. I cupped it into my hands as I took a deep sip. The tea was not too hot and was a cool jasmine that I had tasted before. It was not my favorite, but it was much better than one that set my mouth on fire! My thoughts were still doing circles around themselves with what I had just witnessed.
"Yes, Ran?" I heard Katsu say inquiringly. I looked up to see Ran standing at the entranceway as she bowed towards us.
"Lady Teruko is here to see her ladyship," She reported towards him. She gave me small smile that I knew to be for me. I returned her smile with one of my own. I glanced at Katsu to see a slightly irritated look dance across his face. I felt dark amusement at that. He had hoped to have me all to himself uninterrupted apparently.
"Show her in," He ordered Ran as the look disappeared from his face. He took another bite of his meal to hide any more emotion from his face, but if anything I would describe it as if he were sulking!
Teruko walked into the room. I saw her eyes widen as she Katsu and have him a deep bow. "Welcome, Teruko," He greeted her with a fondness entering his face. I watched him suspiciously.
"I didn't know you had returned, Katsu!" She exclaimed with a look of happiness.
"I arrived only yesterday," He informed her kindly. I saw his eyes flicker towards me as if he were searching my face for something.
"I hope you will visit my father," She returned politely. "He has missed your presence much, along with the rest of my family."
"I will visit him soon enough," Katsu said with an ease of familiarity I did not like very much. There was a weird jabbing sensation going throughout my body that…..that I recognized but I did not dare admit to. "I heard there is to be a congratulations for your upcoming wedding."
Teruko avoided looking at either of our eyes as she replied politely. "Yes, I'm sure Rana and my father both told you. I'm to be married in less than two months now."
"After our own anniversary," Katsu commented, looking at me with sly eyes. I felt the old need to smack him across the face. Had that much time passed since that day? It seemed impossible…and yet….I was still here…
"We should be going," I interrupted them both, rising to my feet as I felt the anger sweep through me like a broom on a nasty pile of cobwebs. Teruko gave Katsu a smile as I walked over towards her.
"It was a pleasure to see you, Katsu," She told him with a brilliant smile. The anger seemed to bristle even more.
"And you," Katsu returned with a winsome smile. I could have sworn there was amusement in his eyes. "Give your family my greetings." Teruko bowed towards him and then followed me out the doorway.
I led the way towards the inner courtyard and Teruko caught up in step with me easily. Even she was taller than me. Everyone here seems to be. "Rana, are you alright?" She asked concerned. I had never once snapped at her or felt the anger that seems to be my constant companion. "I'm fine!" I lied with a violent snap. I had stepped out into the courtyard and whirled around to see the look of plain hurt on her face. The look on her face made my anger melt away. She….she was so naïve sometimes….she had no anger nor did she understand what terrors I have. Did she even know about the destruction of my people? She did not know the truth about me and the temptation to tell her than was very overwhelming! Usually her….innocent kindness was something that helped me to forget! Yet now…I wanted her to hurt….for….for….
Sneaking around my back with Satoru….what was she hiding?...And for looking at Katsu….making him smile….
Ocean Spirit….Moon Spirit…I realized with utter horror and amazement….I was….was jealous!...
That realization made me step back from her with the blood fleeing from my face. It could not be true. "Why are you sneaking about to have lessons with Satoru?" I demanded instead, trying to hold back her from seeing the truth that I had just realized.
"With Satoru?" She asked hesitantly. "How do…?"
"I saw you both today in the garden," I confessed begrudgingly. I felt the embarrassment of spying on them sneak into my emotions.
"I started taking music lessons from him since I met him," Teruko told me with a graceful shrug. "Today was my third lesson with him."
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked her as I analyzed her face carefully. "Why not just have him come to your home?"
Teruko looked away from me. "My father would not approve of my taking lessons from a commoner," She replied in a shamed tone. "No matter how good of a teacher." Is that why she had snuck around? I felt as if I were still missing something, but did not push it any further.
"Oh," I breathed embarrassed. "Well….we are friends, so know that you can trust me." Once I would have abhorred the idea of being friends with one of them, and now here I was telling her she could trust me? Even though….I did not trust her with the truth about myself…
"By the way," Teruko told me with a knowing look. "I have known Katsu since I was a child. He used to toss me around in the air….you might say he is like an uncle to me."
Ah….so much for…I gave Teruko a look that asked for forgiveness. "He is like an uncle?" I stated back. Teruko nodded towards me.
"Well, my father had hoped he would look at me differently after Masuzu passed away," She imparted with a careless shrug. Well, that was an interesting bit of information that sent prickles of discomfort throughout my body. "I have never seen him differently nor has he for me," She added hastily as if in afterthought. I moved towards sit on the stone bench and she sat next to me. There was the chirping of birds ringing in the air.
"Feel free to continue coming here for lessons with Satoru," I said after a minute of silence. Teruko gave me a small smile and a shadow passed in her eyes that were not usual for her. "Are you alright?" I asked with a tinge of guilt spilling into my words.
"I feel…." Teruko divulged in a shamed voice. "I don't want to marry a man I've never met." She had never once since we had started our friendship confessed such a thing to me. Teruko had admitted to being nervous and afraid of her marriage to a total stranger, but there had never been an outright statement of not wanting to do so. She was a person of her culture and usually embraced all aspects of what was expected of her. Arranged marriages did happen with my own culture, but not as they seemed to be done so with regularity here. If a person did not wish to marry another, they did not have too. If a marriage was arranged, usually it was done with both of the future spouse's consents.
"How long have you felt this way?" I appealed to her with only concern.
Teruko raised her head to look at me and I was taken aback to see the tears forming in her dark brown eyes. "It's not my place to say such things. I am a horrible daughter for feeling this way!" She rushed out in raw pain. Had she been holding this in the whole time? And to think…I had thought her only to be filled with naïve kindness and unfamiliar with pain! I put my arm around her shoulder to comfort her, but tried to keep any discomfort from my face. I did not know how to comfort another crying person. Back at….we had learned to not cry or ignore those who did long ago…
"Do….do you think it's possible to….care deeply for someone you don't know?" She asked me between sobs as she tried to keep from crying. The tears were now freely falling down her face like a gentle rain. Immediately my mind went to Satoru and I understood the suspicions that had shadowed me since they had first met only days ago. I had seen the look on both of their faces and had not understood it immediately. I did not know if it was love or merely a strong attraction they had immediately attained with each other. He…he is in love with me though, I thought, he cannot possibly be in love with her already. I knew that thought was cruelly self-centered, but it seemed impossible to believe that she could already care for him that much? That was only in the stories one is told as a child….of true love….at first sight….of a peaceful world…Such things were for children.
"I suppose it's possible," I lied to her. She was older than me by two years….yet…even with her hidden pain….She still knew very little of how the world works….
"I can't help it," She added in a tight voice that was pained and guilt ridden. "I….I…am…I want him!"
I did not know what to say. What was I supposed to do? Encourage her in something that could never be to begin with? Did he even know….and would he even be capable of letting go of…Besides, I reasoned with myself, such a union would never allow be allowed. They had such a distinction between classes of people, nobility versus commoner. It was a concept I still struggled with for it was foreign to my people. I highly doubted that her father would even entertain the notion for a commoner as a son-in-law, considering he would not even want a commoner teaching his children.
Teruko cried into my shoulder as I held her. It was not possible to love someone at first sight….or to fall in love with them so quickly, I reasoned to myself. She will forget him. Yet…I remembered a certain pair of golden eyes looking at me from underneath one of their terrifying helmets…arms that held me with surprising care while I was still in chains….the same arms that swooped me up into his when I declared hatred…
His voice with those eyes circulated in my mind now as if he were saying those words again…."When you stood there defiantly against any hope, it was to save your village and you tried to fight as best you could. You did the bravest thing and perhaps stupid that I have seen anyone do. Then you were unconscious on the ground and I saw not a waterbender I had moments before, but a beautiful woman, helpless…That was my initial reason. If I sent you back though, my people would come for you again. It was through marrying you that I could save you. Rana, this is why I did what I have done, but also because…because of your strength, your refusing to give in no matter what the odds are…I have fallen in love with you…."
….No….I reasoned with myself….Such a thing is impossible…