Chapter 25: Abhorrence and Ardor
"When we don't know who to hate, we hate ourselves." -Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
I had told Katsu that I was alright with my pregnancy, meaning I had come to terms with the fact that I was going to be having his child. Did this help me out at all in my current situation? Certainly not for it meant things….things would change. Would I ever be able to escape from this place after…? Worse yet….if the child was like him….a firebender….I knew that I would never be able to return home with the child if it was like him. My baby brother had always been looked at with fear or hatred. Just for having the golden eyes that are so common of the Fire Nation people. There was also a quiet fear within me….what if I my child had his eyes….and I hated him or her for it? Would I be able to love this child with no resentment? My mother had loved my little brother, Kohaku, but she had detested him at the same time. If I had not felt that disgust for my little brother….would I be able to do the same with this child? Yet….I was no longer repulsed by looking at his eyes….
Katsu would depart within the week and each day seemed to fly on by. We spent our times together as we always had and nothing seemed changed between us. The only thing that was different was Katsu treating me delicately as if I might break at any moment. Several days before he was to leave, he finally took me to a private place where I could practice my waterbending. I was still shocked by the fact that he would even let me do so, after making me agree once to never waterbend for fear of discovery. He must trust me to not escape because of my promise….for if I trained and developed my skills….what was to stop me from escaping then?
It was after midday when I was out walking along the outer wall that faced towards the east. The expanse of the green rolling hills melded into each other. The dirt road leading from the estate disappeared quickly into it. A fierce sun was beating down on the landscape with the few white clouds in the sky. There was no breeze today, making the detestable heat of the summer here even worse. Not to mention the humidity. The clothing here was of such light make that even though I was wearing several layers I did not feel as if I was dying from the heat. I still detested the heat though. Iwao was close behind me as usual. I leaned against the stone wall with my forearms, lost in my own ponderings. The sound of familiar footsteps made me glance up to see Katsu walking towards me, passing Iwao as he did so whom bowed towards him.
"Are you busy?" He asked me as he stood beside me. I straightened up from leaning on the wall.
and searched his face for any clue to his agenda. This was unusual for him. He was usually busy during this time of the day. "I don't know," I stated with a shrug. "You know I detest spending time with you."
Katsu did not even twitch at my words. "I think you can ignore said disgust enough to want to see where you can waterbend," He murmured while stroking my left cheek with the back of his fingers. A shiver ran through my body. Disgusted indeed, I thought cynically. At the mention of said promised place to waterbend, I could not halt the smile that lighted up on my face. Katsu's eyes warmed in response. "Come," He ordered, taking my right hand into his own large one. He briskly took off with me walking beside him.
Perhaps it was because of his being a noble, but he was naturally used to issuing orders and being well…a commanding, quick-tempered man with emotional baggage that was quite similar to what I carried. This thought occurred to me as I walked with my hand in his as he led me through the gateway that led us towards the cliff sides. Where had this thought come from I thought? I looked at his face through the corner of my eye. He looked down at me as we walked down the path that led towards the zigzag path down the Cliffside where the alcove was. "Yes?" He inquired with a bemused smirk.
"Where are we going?" I asked sharply in recovery. Katsu was now taking off of us the path and walking south-west away from the alcove. The ocean crashed onto the Cliffside several hundred meters below. We walked only several meters from the edge of the cliff and were now walking on a green cushion of grass, instead of the worn down dirt path that was the only path from the dock in the alcove below the cliffs to the estate that was above the cliffs. The estate actually laid perhaps a thousand kilometers southwards from the cliffs. The village and the rest of the island inhabits all lived on the eastern part of the island. There was a small thicket of larger bushes and trees ahead of us, hugging the edge of the cliff.
"Don't you trust me?" Katsu queried with false injury.
I snorted. "That'll happen the day when penguins fly," I retorted.
Katsu looked at me with a confused face. "But they don't fly," He chided me with a frown.
"Exactly," I muttered we started to walk into the thicket. Sometimes I forgot about different cultural colloquialisms. It's not exactly like the Fire Nation was overrunning with penguins like back at….I forced the thought away. Several meters in we met the Cliffside and to my astonishment, a discreet path that led down the Cliffside. It was barely noticeable and probably was not visible from the waters below at all.
Katsu shot me a look that he now understood what I meant. We stopped before the beginning of the path which I looked at with a look of apprehension. The pathway down the alcove was several meters wide across, but this path was only half a meter wide. One misstep and you could go hurling several hundred feet down to your death. I was not afraid of heights, but still….Ocean and Moon Spirit I thought. Now he wants to kill me. "Watch your step, alright?" Katsu warned me, having chosen to ignore my last comment. I nodded, letting him take the lead down the path as he released my hand. I kept my back to the rock face as we went down for security. It was a relief to know Iowa was right behind me. I knew that if I slipped he would grab me with his lightening quick skills. It took a good twenty minutes of cautious inching on my part to get most of the way down the Cliffside. Katsu walked down the path nonchalantly without hugging the Cliffside at all. I glared venom at his back for that. I could see no visible beach at the bottom of the cliff and wondered where the path ended before my question was answered for me. The path stopped before it led all the way down into the Cliffside. It ended in a small opening in the rock face that would require you to turn sideways to go through it. Katsu slipped inside and I followed.
I winced as he turned around to face me with a ball of fire in his hand. Behind me Iwao entered and also lit up a ball of flame in his hand. I tried to ignore the fear that screamed in me at the sight of fire in their hands. The flames danced across Katsu's face, remind me of the demon eyes behind iron helmets…
Katsu looked at my face and retook my left hand with his free hand. We were in more of a tunnel then a cave that was narrow, but it was wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side as it gently inclined downwards. We walked for five more minutes down the tunnel before it opened up to one larger cavern. Katsu released my hand and started to shoot small tendrils of fire throughout the cavern. The fear whispered within me, but ceased when the tendrils of fire caught fire on the torches on the cave walls that I had not seen before. A small gasp came out of me as the previous darkness was now cast into the torchlight. The cave was irregular in its shape and the ceiling above still seemed to be like the night sky with no stars. From where we stood there was a sandy embankment before us on this eastern side of the cave, but the rest of it was a large body of water. "The water is from the ocean," Katsu informed me after my gasp. "The pool is gets deep towards the end of the cave and leads into the ocean a few meters."
"You swam it?" I asked baffled. If was probably pitch black swimming underneath the rock to the ocean, even if it was only a few meters.
"There's sunlight on the other side for the ocean bottom isn't too deep," Katsu enlightened me as if he knew what I was thinking. "You can waterbend here with no fear. The only people who know about this place is me and now you and Iwao." Katsu looked over at Iwao whom bowed towards him.
"My Lord," He said in his emotionless voice. Iwao had a way of reading people that I could never hope to have, but he somehow knew that the very mention of his was a dismissal that I would not have caught.
"I will be in the thicket," Iwao stated as he turned and disappeared into the tunnel behind us.
"How'd you know about this place?" I asked Katsu as I walked forward towards the water. I crouched down to touch the water, expecting it to be cold for we were in a cave. I was slightly shocked to find it was still warm, but the ocean waters here in the Fire Nation were warm after all. The water must circulate in and out of the cave I realized. The torches here revealed that Katsu had known about this place for some time. Katsu stayed where he was, but the fireball he had before had disappeared when he had lit the torches.
"It's actually more of a family secret," Katsu mused thoughtfully. I had both of my hands in the water and was now just moving my hands around in the water. The pool before me seemed black like the cave around us, but the torchlight danced on its calm surface. "My father showed me this place as his had before him. I don't know how long my family has known about it."
I stood up and slipped my shoes off of my feet as Katsu continued to speak. "Masato and I used to come here to swim as children and then when I was married…." He stopped and I turned over to look at him. His face was troubled at the remembrance of what were clearly painful memories for him.
"You and Masuzu would come here," I said for him. A blush came to my face at the realization of what they had probably done here. I turned away from him and stepped into the warm water to my ankles. The edge of my outfit was wet from the water. "How deep does the water get?" I asked hastily to change the subject.
"The water gently slopes out until it gets deeper on the other side," Katsu answered me. "It'll get over your head, but halfway through it comes up to my chest." Katsu let out a gentle laugh. "For you though that would have the water over your head." I looked over at Kastu and glared at him. "Are you going to swim?" I shrugged in response. "If you are, I'd prefer it if you don't ruin your clothes."
There was suggestion in Katsu's eyes that made his eyes seem to glow in the dark. I felt the warmth start to bubble within me. I stepped out of the water and onto the sandy embankment towards him. Whenever we were intimate, it always started out with fiery words and was usually the end result from our fights and my spats at him. The only other time it had not been so when was he returned from his last tour and this now was one of the few times of it not being initiated in what was usual for us. Katsu reached me in several strides and pulled me into his arms. My arms snaked up around his neck and I pulled the band out that held his hair up in a top-knot. His ebony hair fell out and reached the base of his neck. My fingers embroiled themselves into his hair. I would never tell him, but I lo…enjoyed, I corrected myself, touching his hair. Katsu cupped my face with his warm hands and gazed into my eyes. "Thank you," I whispered up at him.
"For what?" He replied and with bewilderment joining the smoldering hunger in his eyes. I never thanked him for anything sincerely, except out of polite habit and one time in a letter.
"For showing me this place," I confessed sincerely. I should not, but…. "For letting me learn my bending. I never thought you would." My bending was a part of me. It had felt like part of me was missing by not being able to practice my bending, but the knowledge that I soon would filled that hole. I had risked being caught by the Fire Nation to practice my bending back at….and you were caught because of it I reminded myself coldly.
Katsu made a sound in his throat that sounded almost like he was strangling. He circled my cheeks with his thumbs. "It shouldn't have to be this way," He murmured darkly. When he said those words, I knew that he was not only talking about my bending. The look on his face also implied what was happening to my people. The war itself. This was the closest thing from him that resembled anything close to an apology or regret about the war. He had always just stated that it was the way it was and that it was not his fault that it was. I knew that to be true, but for him to admit that….it was not right…or at the least that it should not be this way…
"I love you, Rana," He said next with that look entering his eyes that should have made me do something, anything, to ruin the moment. It was there with that hunger that made me weaken in the knees and at the same time have the brimming warmth race through me. His eyes seemed to penetrate my own as if he were searching for something.
The last time he had told me he loved me, I had dismissed him with saying he was my enemy. The words had seemed so empty when I had said them and now….now I could find it in me to say the same words. "I….I don't hate you," I stumbled out before I could stop myself. Katsu's face blanched in astonishment. He certainly had not been expecting to hear that all of things. I pulled his head down towards mine before he could say anything. Our lips met as I began it in that urgent way that I had become fond of. I had not wanted him to have a chance to respond…and I did not want to see whatever emotions were in his eyes…
Katsu left several days later. Unlike the other times when he had left, I had informed him I did not want to say goodbye. My excuse had been that I did not care enough to want to say goodbye to him formally. But really….I did not want to stand there at the dock and watch it sail away….it would feel as if…Katsu had not commented on my request and had merely disappeared that morning before I woke after the passionate night that we had had together. The only other new occurrences had been my going to the cave to practice my waterbending for the first time and the development of getting nausea in the afternoons. I had found that my skills had decreased greatly for I had not practiced my bending in over a year, but I had only rudimentary skills even then. The joy I had felt when I had bended was indescribable. The only other times I had bended in the last year was the only time I had escaped outside of the estate and one time in front of Akane. As for the daily afternoon nausea, I knew that to be a side effect of the pregnancy. The healer had mentioned that such things might happen. Oddly enough the smell of the jasmine tea that I had come to like now made me want to relieve myself of my stomach's contents.
Part of me dreaded the fact that Katsu would be gone for the next six weeks. It was only because of the loneliness that I knew I would feel, though I abhorred even admitting this to myself. The thing was I knew I had not tried to escape in months. I had come to view these people, some of them, as my friends and not my enemy as I should. Moon and Ocean Spirit...I loathed myself for it and for daring to find peace here while my people suffered. Would the Ocean and Moon Spirit forgive me for feeling that? For the first time, I was terrified that I would be trapped here for the rest of my life and not because of Iwao or the walls that surrounded me. The walls of considering them my friends...for feeling peace here...and because of the child that now grew within me. Such thoughts were ever present in my mind and were compounded with Katsu's departure. The day after Katsu left, I was pleased to say the least when I received a letter from Akane. Ran had delivered it to me with my breakfast. I had mentioned in my last letter to her earlier that week about my "present" to Katsu and was eager to see her response.
To my dear sister Rana,
Congratulations! I was happy to hear the news and so was Masato, but I hope you are truly happy with this. I remember our last conversation and your reaction to the idea of having children with Katsu. This will be your first child, so I'm sure you must have questions? I know Katsu will be gone on another tour. He wrote to Masato. Do you wish for me to come and visit you while he is gone?
Thinking of you fondly,
I wrote to Akane immediately and did request her presence. There were questions that I had that I had not felt comfortable to ask the healer. Honestly I wanted the company of a….friend so I did not feel this loneliness….the ache in the hollow in my chest…
There was another fact that I knew I could not rely on Teruko at the moment. Satoru and I had not had any lessons since our last encounter. I had not seen either of them for over a week. They were doing who knows what, but I figured they had their own problems to deal with. I was praying for them….it was the first time I had prayed to the Ocean and Moon Spirit for someone either then me in so long…