Chapter 24: Changes
"You've changed so much. I guess that's what happens. I wish you knew how much you changed me. I wonder if I changed you, if your are different because of me. Because mine's different. My god, you taught me so much, and now we don't even talk to each other. I guess that's what happens." –Unknown
The stupefied look on his face almost sent me into a fit of laughter. It took several moments for him to recollect his thoughts. "Are you serious?" He investigated cautiously. There was a suspicion on his face, however small, that made me realize that he wondered if this was a ploy to hurt him and that also….he was afraid…
"Yes," I retorted as I kept my smile hidden. It was then that I saw the look on his face. It blazed in his eyes and in his smile….that look he had from the wall painting with Masuzu. I yelped in surprise as he grabbed me and pulled me into a sitting embrace. "Katsu, I can't breathe!" I protested in a muffled voice from his shoulder. He chuckled and released his hold on me. I returned to my previous sitting position.
"How far along are you?" He inquired excited. He still held one of my hands in his own.
"Around two months I think," I reported as my smile grew wider. He looked peaceful. There were no shadows in his eyes. "If I am anyways. I don't know a whole lot about pregnancies."
He squeezed my hand in reassurance. "I'll send for a healer so we can be sure," He replied with blissful happiness. A thought seemed to overtake me and a small frown grew on his face. He looked at me with searching eyes. "Are you happy with this?" He asked with a tinge of denial and fear.
Months ago I would have screeched at him and hated the child growing within my womb. When I had first realized it, I had not been dancing with joy naturally. Yet these things cannot be changed, so like it or not I was with child. For certain, it would complicate things between Katsu and me….whatever our relationship was and the fact that if I were ever to escape…though you have not tried in months! I pushed that particular thought away. Originally I had not wanted this child, especially since it was his child, but after I saw that look on his face moments ago when I told him. It made me want this child. I smiled at him reassuringly. "I always wanted to be a mother someday," I returned honestly. "Though this isn't quite what I had in mind."
This reply seemed to be good enough for him. Katsu wrapped his arms around me once more and kissed my head. Iwao had been hovering out in the hallway and Katsu must have caught a glimpse of him. "Iwao!" He called out proudly. "Did you hear? I'm going to be a father!"
News seems to have a way of travelling fast in small communities. I knew that from my beloved city becoming nothing but a village. Gossip was one of the highlights of any small community it seems, no matter what nationality of the people in it. After dinner I had not been surprised in the least when Ran had come rushing to find me as I walked in the gardens. "My lady," She bowed with barely held excitement. "Is it true?"
"Yes," I mumbled in partial embarrassment. Did the whole island know already?
"Congratulations!" She gushed out with a brilliant smile. "I know you'll be a great mother! You've always interacted well with my own children when you visit. They're quite fond of you." I could not help the smile that came to my face at her words. Ran's joy was contagious. A healer did come later that day and confirm my pregnancy for the safe side. Much to my irritation, it had turned into an hour long lecture about what to do and what not do while pregnant. Katsu somehow got to skip out on all of this, but the healer had reassured me she would be seeing him after me. That had made me smile ever so slightly.
Later that day, I was sitting in the courtyard on the bench reading over the scroll of waterbending that Katsu had given me. He was off attending to estate business. I studied the scroll with excitement for he had promised to take me to secluded place that I could practice at. When I heard footsteps approaching me, I hastily rolled up the scroll and looked up to see Teruko approaching me. We had long passed the usual bow for greetings. "I just heard," She stated with a contained smile. I noticed that Teruko did not have the shadow in her eyes that had haunted her of recent, but in its place there was a joy radiating from her. I dipped my head in partial embarrassment.
"Who told you?" I questioned her carefully, holding in my irritation.
"My mother," She answered with a shrug as she sat down next to me. I tucked the scroll underneath my arm as she did so. "Mura, our head washwoman, is neighbors with your head cook."
"I see," I muttered moodily. Teruko tried to hide her bemused smile and failed miserably at the attempt. The smile was infectious though and I found myself smiling back at her. The image of her and Satoru was ever present before my eyes as I looked at her, but I held my tongue in check. Who was I to interfere? If she wanted me to know, she would tell me. Yet her arranged marriage was less than two months away now….what was she going to do? What was going between the two of them? I….cared for her well-being as with Satoru's…..I did not want them to be in pain or unhappy….because….they are my friends….
"Congratulations though!" Teruko interjected through my thoughts, pulling me back to the present. "I'm sure Katsu is thrilled."
"Yes," I answered her. The look in his eyes….it had been the same as in the painting with Masuzu….I felt something warm in my chest as if I felt I could walk on the clouds. That everything seemed perfect in that singular thought. I looked at Teruko to see her looking at me with consideration. "What?" I asked curiously. "It's not like I've changed overnight because of being pregnant."
"No, it's not that," Teruko replied innocently. "I've just….the look you had now…I've never seen you look so happy."
…..What?...I thought I had hidden any true sentiments from her well enough when it came to the truth….Was it that obvious?
I tried to hide my shock from her, but was unable to do so. "And I was unhappy before?" I snapped at her, irritated at the fact the possibility that she might have seen right through me…..and also that I was touched that she had.
"I don't really know," Teruko returned while looking away ashamed. "Forgive me, Rana. It's not my place to say such a thing." I almost wanted to snort at the Fire Nation's obsession with rank. Technically I was a higher than her for I was married.
But I also felt my old anger rising up like an unleashed coil. My cheeks started to burn up. "It's not!" I snarled at her. I wanted her to feel hurt for daring to notice….for daring to care….I wanted her to feel pain for being my friend…
….Sometimes I wanted them all to burn in the same pain I still felt….
….And I wanted myself to burn with them for daring to think otherwise….
I stood up to my feet and stormed off several feet from her. I knew that the look of pain would be on her face, yet at the same time I did not want to turn around to face it. The fact that I knew better and told myself not to go there broke what little honor I still might have had. "I know about Satoru," I remarked darkly. Teruko took in a sharp intake of breath. She had told me of her feelings of him, but she did not know that I had seen them together.
"He is teaching me," She defended herself immediately.
"I saw the two of you doing otherwise," I spat at her with my back still turned towards to her. "What are you going to do? You're going to marry someone else!"
Teruko let out an abrupt sob. "I know!" She wept in sincere grief and heart-break. The guilt came to me then for trying to break her….she had confessed her feelings to me about him and now I tried to use it to make her hurt. I was acting no better than them….or perhaps….it was she who was better then I. "I love him, Rana!" Teruko confessed with the aching knowledge in her words that she should not.
I turned around and looked at her. Teruko was a quivering mess where she sat on the bench, but her look of guilt, pain, and somehow with a look of hope made my heart clench. The hope she had in her eyes….it was the very same sort of hope Kanna had maintained for a hopeless future. Something I had never been able to understand. "Does he love you?" I managed to say quietly.
"Yes," A masculine voice declared solemnly. We both jerked in surprise to see Satoru walking quietly into the courtyard from behind me. "Forgive me, my lady," He added with a small bow. Satoru walked past me to the trembling Teruko and helped her to her feet. He kept her hands in his as he turned around to face me. The look on his face was confident, but I could see a glimmer of something in his eyes. …..Was it possible?...He had only claimed to love me a short while ago…
"What will you do, my lady?" He asked me boldly. "Now that you know the truth?" It was a challenge from him. A challenge to help them or to leave them be….and the ending of their happiness in a short while.
"I don't know," I answered him honestly. How could I possibly help them? Should I even attempt to do so?...Yet they are your friends….I looked at the two of them standing before me. Satoru held Teruko's hand in his own and gazed at me with a challenge. Teruko's tears were starting to dry, but I saw the look of apprehension on her face. They were in love….and they could make each other happy….and in this world with all its pain….who was I to stand in their way?
But they were supposed to by my enemy….how could I help them to be happy, while my people suffered at their nation's hands?
"I guess there's only one option left," I said quietly. "But if you do it, I don't think there's any going back for either of you." There was a gleam of knowledge in Satoru's gaze at my words.
"The thought had occurred to me," He commented as he looked back at Teruko's curious gaze. She did not seem to catch on at first. "Yet I couldn't ask that of you, Teruko."
Then there was the light of comprehension on Teruko's face as she looked up at Satoru. In her face, I saw all of her appreciation and intense love for Satoru. In such a short time she had come to love him. Why could I not….? The thought was destroyed as it went into a direction it should not go. "Satoru…I…." Teruko managed to stutter out. "What about your work here? Your patronage from Lord Katsu?"
"My work can be continued anywhere," Satoru told her reassuringly. He smiled lovingly at her and I felt a strange quake in the cavity in my chest. Envy. But for what? I did not love Satoru in that way. "Rana's right, if we do this….you'll have to leave behind your family. They'd never accept me."
"I know," Teruko replied carefully. She looked towards me briefly. "But I'm willing to leave everything behind…for you." The two of them had entered their own world as Satoru dipped his head down to kiss her. Quietly I crept away from the scene. What happened next with them was obvious, but as to how they would go about doing it I was not sure. Whatever they planned, I knew that I would hear of it from them. For there was one thing that I could help them with….Katsu did own have a small dock in small alcove below the cliffs behind the estate. It was from there that they could be able to make a private getaway….Satoru knew this, just as I did. Perhaps I was selfish in thinking it, but I did not want either of them to go. They were several of the few friends I had here….I needed them….But they needed each other more. The love between them was evident and a part of me hated them for it.
I headed towards the study for privacy and settled down in my usual spot. Iwao had followed behind me silently the whole way, not saying one word about the situation he had just witnessed. He had stopped by the doorway when I had entered into the study. In fact, he had not said one word to me the whole day, which was not unusual for him. But there was that nagging thought in the back of my mind…a suspicion from the words I had heard exchanged between him and Satoru….and how much he disliked Satoru. "What do you think?" I called out towards the doorway.
Iwao stepped into view of the doorway from the hallway, but did not enter the study fully. His face did not reveal one once of any feeling. "Think of what, my lady?" Iwao inquired in a placid voice.
"Of Satoru and Teruko," I chided him with an annoyed expression. He knew what I was talking about.
"I have no opinion," Iwao answered me indifferently, much to my irritation.
"Of course you do, so spit it out!" I snapped at him.
Iwao's golden eyes seemed to, if only for a second, show a flash of mixed feelings…but the one I did detect was of intense dislike. "Satoru is an idiot," He muttered with the hint of repugnance. "Forgive me, my lady, but Lady Teruko is also a fool for thinking to love him. They are fools in love for they would break tradition and honor for themselves. I am not surprised by Satoru's actions for he-" Iwao paused as if realizing that he should not be speaking. He immediately shut himself of from me and bowed. "Forgive me, my lady," He intoned as he moved to step back out into the hallway.
"And my child?" I rebutted. He had been the one person thus far not speak of my pregnancy to me. Somehow I wanted to crack through that armor of his….someday at least. It was a challenge to me and somehow Iwao knew it silently. Perhaps it had started off for me in the beginning to stave off the boredom and days of loneliness when Katsu had been gone.
Iwao's back was to me. "Congratulations, my lady," He replied in his usual aloof tone. Without another word, he slipped back into the hallway like the forgotten shadow.
My thoughts were a myriad, but things would follow their course I mused. At least where Teruko and Satoru were concerned. There was nothing I could do about that, no matter what my thoughts may be. I pulled out the scroll of waterbending I had been reading before, and resumed to study its fascinating contents.
I did not see Katsu again until that evening when we dined together. There was a lingering thought if I should talk to him about Teruko and Satoru for he could help them more then I could. Yet I kept it to myself, for they had not asked me to, and there was also the realization that he could not be supportive. What if he told Teruko's father for he was friends with him? I listened as Katsu told me about his affairs of the day, primarily in being those of the estate and dealing with locals. I half-listened for in all honestly, I did not find it all to be of interest. Occasionally I would ask a question, but I remained silent mostly. Katsu was used to that from me I supposed. It was his next words that made me catch my breath. "I received new orders today."
He sat to the right of me on the other side of the table. I had been in the middle of swallowing a spicy piece of seafood and started to sputter as it went down wrong. Katsu looked at me with concern as he handed me my cup of tea from the table. My eyes were watering from the coughing as I took the tea from him and drank it. I was not crying! "Are you alright?" He asked me earnestly. I nodded as I set the tea back down on the table. The speed of my heart had picked up at the sight of his eyes when had looked at me. It was the same kind of gaze that Teruko had looked at Satoru with…I had seen it before, but somehow had refused to acknowledge it entirely.
"What were they? Your orders?" I queried in the quietest of voices. Katsu looked at me thoughtfully and took one of my hands into his own. "I am to leave for another tour again shortly," He answered me bluntly. His eyes held my face as if I were trapped, for I could not look away. As if he were looking for something. "How long for?" I continued, trying to keep my voice calm. He could not leave me alone while I am pregnant with his child! That was my thought to myself….but there was also the fear of being alone….for the last time he had been gone for those six months….
Katsu gave me a consoling smile as if to drive away my fears….as if he knew they existed. "It will only be for six weeks," He told me as he stroked my hand with his thumb. "It's just a short stint on the patrolling the edge of Fire Nation waters. I won't leave for another week."
"Not that I care," I managed to retort out, returning to my usual ways. I took my hand from his and resumed eating as if I were impartial. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bemused smile on Katsu's face momentarily. "I'll enjoy my time without you," I added after another bite of food. I looked over to see Katsu looking at me with a mixture of amusement and affection. Yet there also a lingering shadow there. He opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but closed it instead. Instead he reached out and pulled me towards him suddenly before I could even let out a sound of surprise. His lips were on mine in a heated flame….as if that flame could consume me…
…If the flame could be the fire….that expresses where words cannot go…