Imprisoned Love

Chapter 26: Consanguinity, Confusion, &

"I hate and I love. Perhaps you ask why I do so. I do not know, but I feel it, and am in agony." –Unknown

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." –Jane Howard.

I was standing in the center area of my village. The grey's sky snow was just as bleak as it was. Red fire gleamed like cruel lovers as they leapt in a dance from home to home. Screams thickened the air with the sounds of battle. I could see bodies of the fallen with the red painting on the snow. The smell penetrated my nostrils-the smell I could never forget. Burned flesh. I could not help the blurring in my eyes, though I should have known better.

One of the corpses splayed out in the carnage before me rose to its feet, turning to look at me with a familiar face that had haunted me for years. She looked at me with half-a-face, a twisted mirage of beauty and scarred flesh on one face. I could not move. She held out a hand towards me and her cracked lips smiled at me disgusted. "That thing in your womb," She announced with that contorted smile. "It'll be just like your brother. A corrupted and loathsome thing!"

I winced and automatically put my hands onto my flat stomach. No, I wanted to scream in denial, my child had not come from an act of hatred like my brother had been. This child had been created in….

I lurched up into a sitting position with a terrified gasp. My breath was labored in my panic as my hand went to my stomach protectively. I closed my eyes and told myself that it was only another nightmare, just like so many others I had had over the years. Yet….this time he was not here. The bed next to me was empty and only the sheets were thrashed around from my night terrors. Somehow, when he was here, the nightmares were not a regular occurrence. There was also a new fact that my nightmares these days tended to center on the life growing within me. The thing was that these dreams scared me more than the others ever had. For now I was thinking not only of myself, but of another innocent within me. Eventually I managed to return to an uneasy sleep where accusations and fears scourged my shadowy realm.

Two days after my letter to Akane she came to the estate, saving me from any feelings of monotony and possibly one of isolation without…Needless to say, I was elated to have her company, even if it was only to be for a few days. On the second day of her arrival we were both sitting in the study. I sat with my back to the window, enjoying the morning sunlight that warmed my back. Akane sat across the table from me with her embroidery at hand. She had offered to teach me repeatedly and each time I had turned her down. It was one thing to repair some clothing, but another to do torturous, precise, needlework. Even back….I had never really liked sewing anyways. Not that Kanna had not tried.

Much to my innate pleasure, I had found another way to abuse myself by practicing the erhu at Akane's request. I do not know if she did it merely to be kind or if she truly enjoyed listening to my playing. I had improved over the months and since she had last heard me, nevertheless I was rather awful considering that I had Satoru as a teacher. Albeit that it was no fault of his, and the blame was on my own lack of talent or lack of enthusiasm for it. After I had managed to fight my way through several songs, I had set the instrument aside with a frustrated sigh. I eyed Akane with boredom and debate on hand.

Akane had already begun to discuss with me any personal questions I had about pregnancy and her own personal experiences that I would not have asked the healer about. The thought suddenly occurred to me that I knew nothing about the traditions in naming a child in the Fire Nation. Back in….parents had agreed upon a name mutually when it came to naming a child, as far as I could remember at least. What kind of name would my child have? A surge of loathing went through me at the knowledge it would be a Fire Nation name. I highly doubted that Katsu would want his offspring running around with foreign sounding names. If I had to name my child a Fire Nation name, at the very least I wanted a name suggested by someone I cared for. "Akane," I asked abruptly. She did not move her eyes from her needlework. A sound of acknowledgement came from her. "Do you have any ideas for baby names?"

"You won't name this child," She informed me, looking at me from underneath her eyelashes. Her concentration was on the embroidery piece before her. The small needle in her hand moved swiftly back and forth in its precise and tiny stitches.

Quickly agitation spilled into me. "And why not?" I demanded politely as possible.

Akane responded with her attention still on her work. "Don't worry. Women get to name the girls."

I frowned at her confused. What in the name of the ocean and moon spirits made her think the baby was a boy? "What makes you say that?" I inquired curiously, putting aside my annoyance at another Fire Nation tradition. She had sounded confidant in her statement. "It's impossible to know if the baby is a boy or girl."

Akane's needle stopped halfway through a stitch, paused as she looked at me with surety. "A fortune teller told me," She assured me.

"You believe in that stuff?" I scoffed incredulously.

"Don't you?" Akane returned with a brief dismissal in her eyes as she glanced at me. The needle continued its movement as he eyes went back to her work. "Perhaps it's because of where you're from."

"So are all Fire Nation people as superstitious like you?" I asked, trying to withhold back any ridicule that wanted to seep through.

"No, not that I've noticed," Akane told me bluntly. "Only people from the more rural areas believe in these things still."

"Yet you believe it?" I returned, unable to prevent the mockery this time. Akane ignored my tone and kept on with her needlework diligently with the patience that many a hunter would envy for when it came to ice fishing.

"I used to be like you," Akane revealed, "Yet the local fortune teller in the village near here, she's always right. The first time I went to her, I wanted to prove her to be a liar, but she correctly predicted the number of my children and when they'd be born. After my first two sons were born, I became a believer."

"Maybe it was a luck guess," I said miffed. There was no way the fortune teller could be right!

I saw Akane's shoulders give a small shrug. "I go to her every once in awhile. She has yet to be wrong."

I rose to my feet from my cushion to stretch out my legs. I turned towards the window to stare out at the sunlight garden. In the distance I could see the single caretaker of the gardens trimming a bush. "What else has she predicted for you?" I went on with the intent to find a wrong prediction, thus to make my point. I was also little intrigued by what this fortune teller supposedly has predicted. Sometimes I still prayed to the moon and ocean spirit out of habit and desperation, but I had ceased to believe in any kind of spirits or anything connected with the spirit world. The world is harsh and we have only ourselves. There is no one or nothing that helps us, or even if they do….they do not care enough for my people, my culture, for it is slowly dying.

"She predicted that I would lose a son," Akane said quietly, trying to hold back an old phantom. "She also said that Katsu would find happiness again."

I had winced at her first statement. Yet that did not prevent me from making my point. "Losing a son could mean many different things," I protested, "Like disowning him or him running away. And for Katsu's finding happiness again, that's just a generalization!"

"Do you want to know what fortune she gave for you?" Akane asked calmly, ignoring my protest. At those words I turned around from the window, looking down at Akane. The line had been set and now I had bitten onto the bait. "It might stop your protests." Her last sentence made me hold my tongue. I had been berating her over something unimportant, but still…

"Why not?" I said sarcastically. "Shock me!"

"She can predict more when she's with the person whose future she's seeing," Akane entailed with a mixture of reverence and respect in her words. "She did say that your first born will be a boy."

"Again, guessing and a general prediction," I stated confidently.

"It's not done," Akane said sternly. "She also said you're from another land and have suffered much, yet from your pain you will find much happiness and peace if you let yourself." Akane paused and looked at me with a wondering expression. "Wouldn't you call that accurate?"

There was a tremble of disbelief and denial ringing in my brain. There was no way… "It's a small island," I countered dismissively. "Perhaps she heard something." Yet there was something else for I had heard such words before from Akane and him.

I did not….could not….

"There'd just no convincing you, is there?" Akane sighed as if exhausted. "Why don't you just go see her if you're so set on proving her false?"

"I think I will," I declare, rising to my feet. "Let's go!"

"Right now?" Akane asked startled, looking up at me from her embroidery in half-exasperation.

"It's not like we're busy," I muttered, eyeing her needlework. She was quite good at it. Not that I cared of course.

"Ah, why not," Akane replied, setting her embroidery on the bench. "I could use a walk anyways."

It was a beautiful day for a walk. The sun was out with a playful breeze. Akane and I took the usual thirty minute walk to the village with Iwao hovering nearby. Akane told me she had come to her often over the years, but that on this trip to visit had been the first time since before my arrival to the island. She led us to a small house on the outskirts of the village that resembled the other houses. There was a well-tended garden in front of the house. The woman had to be cheating people out of their money through lies, so I was expecting a little grandeur at her house. It was now obvious to me why I had never noticed her home before. Akane knocked on the dark wood door, which was opened by a middle-aged woman with a non-presuming look. There were lines on her face and tanned look that revealed a life spent out in the sun. She had medium brown hair in a partial top-knot, the usual fashion, and a stern face with even sterner hazel eyes. Her clothes were the usual longer shirt and pants with an over-robe, all varying shades of red. The fortune teller opened the door wide. "Lady Akane," She greeted as she released the door to give the Fire Nation style bow. "I didn't expect to see you again so soon." I kept down the urge to snort at the irony of that statement. The fortune teller looked at me as if studying a scroll. "Lady Rana," She said respectfully. "I am Ira."

"The fortune teller?" I inquired, keeping any disrespect from my face. Ira looked briefly at Iwao who stood behind Akane and me, before looking back towards to me.

"On the side, I'm primarily a healer and help my husband on the fields," Ira stated as she opened the door beckon us inside. "Please come in." My evaluation of her occupation had been wrong. I felt the prickles of dislike at being wrong at the base of my skull. Ira brought us to a simple looking living room, instructing Akane and Iwao to remain there while she would do my fortune in another room. All of us were briefly startled when a loud crashing sound was heard from the hallway and four small figures came bursting forth into the living room. It seemed that three were wrestling in an entanglement of arms and legs, while one small boy looking to be around three years old watched silently with a thumb in his mouth. "Taro! Minari! Yori! Stop it this minute!" Ira yelled with an embarrassed blush rising to her face. Immediately all three of the children ceased their fighting and looked over at their mother abashed. Akane's son and Ran's two children were the only Fire Nation children I had handled personally with before.

Any other children had been seen from a distance, even Teruko's younger siblings. Thus I eyed the children with some curiosity. The oldest looked to be a boy of around nine years of age with Ira's hazel eyes and a look of mischief about them. All three of the children's clothes and hair were messy from their rambunctious playing. The other two children were girls with one looking to be around seven and the other perhaps around six. They were almost mirror images of each other and could pass for twins, if not for the older one having dark brown eyes compared to her younger sister's hazel eyes. The only clean looking one was the toddler whose dark brown eyes looked at the scene mystified. "Sorry, mom," The oldest boy chorused out.

Ira let out a frustrated sigh. "What have I told you about when I have guests?" She reminded him with a biting look. There was a small smile however, hovering behind that look of anger and some amusement. "Take your sisters and brother and go play outside now."

"Yes, mom," The oldest boy said meekly. He slinked out through the front door with the toddler's hand in tow. The two girls followed suite, but not before the youngest one waved goodbye at us.

"Forgive me, Lady Rana," Ira said quietly with the look of embarrassment remaining. She smiled and shrugged carelessly.

"Taro's grown since I last saw him," Akane observed politely. I noticed she was trying to dissipate any of Ira's embarrassment, but Ira did not seem to be too embarrassed in the first place.

"They all are," Ira replied, "Which is a pain when it comes to their clothes." Akane laughed in response and I smiled amused as well. Ira gestured for us to sit on the cushions in the living room, while she hustled out of the room into a nearby doorway that appeared to be the kitchen. Iwao stood in the nearby corner, silent as always.

"I still am not falling for it," I muttered to Akane. "Even if she's not in this for the money." Ira walked back into the living room through the doorway she had disappeared into with a tray in hand. I looked at her warily, but thankfully she had not seemed to have heard me. She set the tray before Akane, which had a pot of steaming tea and a plate full of fire cakes.

Ira rose back up to her feet and signaled for me to follow her through the same doorway she had come through. She did her fortune telling in the kitchen? It was small, yet airy with a cozy feeling about it. There was a small fire crackling in the cooking hearth and several windows open on its accompanying wall to let in the fresh air. Ira walked towards a small table with sitting cushions that was nestled in the right corner by an open door that gave view of the farming fields beyond. I sat down opposite of the doorway with the breeze bringing in the fresh air, scented of the fields and the ocean together. Ira sat across from me with the doorway to the back after retrieving a pot of tea and two cups from the counter. She gazed at me intently after pouring the two cups with tea. I held the cup in my hands on the table and was secretly relieved it was not one of the more particular spicy teas common in the Fire Nation.

"You don't believe in my predictions," She mused with a crooked grin. Had she heard me in the living room, I thought slightly shamed. "You're the persistent type. I figured you wouldn't even with what Lady Akane probably told you."

I tried to keep any surprise from my face. Perhaps she was just good at reading people by looking at them. "Akane told me what you said about me," I informed her with a careless shrug. "How much will this cost?" I added, wondering how much money she did earn from this scam.

"Nothing," Ira replied with a somewhat offended look. "I never charge anyone. My gift is small, but I use it to help people."

"By telling them their futures?"

Ira smiled wryly at me in comprehension. She knew I did not believe in destiny. "The future isn't set. I tell people the paths or events that are most likely to occur."

I took a sip of the tea, enjoying the spicy flavor that was not overwhelming for once. "So you mean one's destiny isn't set in stone, it can change?" I asked, trying to keep any hope from my voice. That someday….I could return too….

"It's hard to say, My Lady," Ira told me with a frown. "Sometimes it can be changed and other times it cannot be."

"Penguin fodder," I muttered. Her answer was a riddle and evasive answer at the same time! To think I had momentarily thought to hope even a little!

"There are different ways to do a reading," Ira said kindly, ignoring my response. "But my strength is palm readings. Which hand is your strong hand?"

"My left," I answered her.

Ira nodded with an apprehension. "Your right hand, please." I extended my right hand towards her with the palm facing upwards. My left hand held the cup of tea, taking comfort from its warmth. Ira cradled my hand on the table between her own heavily callused hands. She did work on the fields, I thought wryly. Ira's hazel eyes analyzed my palm steadily, while her fingertips traced across my palm. Several minutes passed this way before Ira released my hand. I brought it back to clasp my tea with my right hand. Ira's face was unreadable as she looked at me.

"It is the same as I said before….this child will be a son. You're from another land with a painful past," She paused, giving me a sympathetic gaze. "You could be happy if you let yourself be." I lowered my eyes and bit my tongue to keep it silent. Such words….others had said it before….how I reveled in revile of such statements…and yet….there was….

"Do you wish for me to continue?" Ira asked softly. My hands were clenching the cup of tea without me even realizing yet. I kept my gaze down, but nodded in consent. "You'll have more than one child…the number I'm not sure of," Ira continued with a concentrated face. "One of your children will have your gift though." A moment of terror filled me as she said those words. Did she know the truth about me? Would it bring about the end of myself…Akane…and others…even…even…

I looked up to see Ira looking at me with concern and comfort intertwined. No, I reasoned, even if she did know what my "gift" was she would not tell others. It was not her way. Ira spoke the next words so quietly I could barely hear them. "No matter where you go, your children will all be touched by the war."

The hollow in my chest quaked at her last words. The thought had occurred to e since finding out that I was pregnant that here, unlike in the Southern Water Tribe, the child within me…could know peace. Yet there was the fact, that even here, the war affected them for they were the enemy. That…my child could one day be one of these demons in their skull helmets…

I shuddered. Ira frowned at me. Still…her prediction…no matter where I go…did it mean I would escape from here someday? Of course I will, I swore inside, yet that hope for an eventual escape thrived on that promise. "Is that it?" I asked hurriedly, covering and pushing away my thoughts. The look on her face hinted that there was and whatever it was, she did not want to say it.

"No, My Lady," She replied hastily.

"There is!" I hurled at her. I could not help myself, even though I did not believe in this stuff I told myself fervently.

"You don't believe in fate," Ira announced quietly with a calm face. "This is something that can't be changed. Perhaps it would be best if-No one handles this kind of prediction well."

I have lived through hell….

"Tell me," I ordered her.

Ira let out a small breath. "You'll die in childbirth," She informed me in a hushed voice. "Be it here or elsewhere. You cannot escape this."

There was brief silence before I snorted in derision. I did not believe in this stuff, I thought, although there was a tingling of terror trembling within me. Ira looked at me knowingly as if she had dealt with many others who had had a similar reaction. Nothing she says is true, I reminded myself….even if it was; it meant that this child would be born safely for she had said I would have others. "I'm sorry, My Lady," Ira told me respectfully. Her face was sincere as she began to rise to her feet. I followed suit. She escorted me towards the living room. "Feel free to come see me again."

"Thank you," I said in a low tone. The ache within me was pounded by the echoes of my heart. I did not feel much for speaking.

"Thank you for coming to my home," Ira announced, initiating the farewell. Akane rose to her feet with a fond smile.

"Thank you for the tea, Ira," She said with a graceful tilt of her head. Ira returned her smile and opened the front door. Iwao led the way through the door as Ira bowed towards Akane and I as we walked past her. It is all penguin droppings, I berated myself. None of it could be true.

Akane stayed for several more days. I pushed Ira's predictions to the back of my mind to enjoy with Akane. Her visit was just what I needed since he had gone, plus her knowledge about pregnancy I found to be extremely useful. And occasionally amusing as well. I was sorrowful to see her leave; however I would have her letters to look forward too. Meanwhile I tried to keep up on my waterbending training. I had fallen behind from what I had once been, which had not been much to begin with, although now I had the waterbending scroll as a teacher. I had not forgotten some of the basic stances I had learned as a child. There was also my poetry and studies to keep up on, even that blasted erhu instrument. Somehow I was slowly improving on it. I visited Ran's home again and heard of her childrearing stories and advice.

I received a letter from Katsu after the first he had been gone. We began our usual exchange of letters. This time they were different. His were longer; more descriptive of his days and in mine…I began to no longer express my desire for his demise. Life continued in this fashion. I had only seen Satoru for my lessons and nary a sight of Teruko. It was in the third week since Katsu's departure that there was a change. Satoru came to me as I had thought he eventually would…

I was in the study, working on my own scroll of poems. After Satoru's suggestion all those weeks ago, I had finally tried my hand at writing poetry….not that they were any good.

Center of rhythm,

A song somehow forgotten.

'Tis a hollow beat.

Yet a melody begins,

A pattern pulse cadence that

I was struggling over the last line of the poem. It did not quite feel right yet and it seemed impossible to find the right words. "My Lady?" Satoru called out carefully. I looked up in surprise to see him hovering at the doorway apprehensively. I ducked my head in confirmation, resulting in Satoru sitting in his usual spot from my lessons. This was the first I had been alone with him since that confrontation and besides our lessons…

I glimpsed Satoru eyeing the scroll on the table curiously. Damn…I had forgotten to hide it away from his sight! "That's not a bad start," He commented, "But it's not finished."

"I know," I sighed in half frustration over the poem and also wondering what would be coming. "It's that last line."

There was a tense moment of silence following, almost as if we were both holding our breaths in wait. "Do you-?"

"I just-" We both began to at the same time, cutting each other off.

"Uh-Sorry, go ahead," I said immediately. There was nervousness on his face, probably as there was just on mine. Unconsciously I realized was fiddling with my necklace.

"No, you speak first," Satoru replied with questions now wrought in his grey eyes. His sitting posture seemed so calm and oblivious to the feelings running amuck in his eyes. The blood rushed to my face.

"So…you really love her?" I asked quietly. There was no jealousy on my part, perhaps in the fear of losing of my only…friends…I had here. It was truly a genuine concern and curiosity. I did not desire him to throw his life here, unless he truly meant it. Teruko certainly loved him and he had claimed too last time. Nevertheless, we were alone without Teruko present.

A small shadow crossed onto Satoru's face aligned with cognition. "I love her. We are connected in such a way…it was fate," He answered me matter-of-factly. He did not show any signs of embarrassment and looked at me directly. This was uncharacteristic of him for he usually was rather shy. He meant it. Every word. "I would be lying if I said I didn't love you still, My Lady, but it isn't same as it is with Teruko."

He was not lying. There was the answer. It led me wonder if it is possible to be in love with two people at the same time. Perhaps it was and it Satoru's case….he loved Teruko more then he loved me. Satoru believed it to be fate, even though I found that part impossible to believe. Fate, destiny, call it what you will is a load of penguin fodder! In this though, I was appreciative of the fact that I was no longer the center of his affections. But…I wanted them both to be happy.

"I believe you," I said evenly. Satoru almost looked relieved at my reply.

"I came to ask you for something," Satoru confessed. I knew this had been coming, but my nerves held me still. Please do not ask me something I cannot do, I pleaded silently. "I have the money and means for Teruko and I-For us to run way together."

"What are you going to do?" I inquired impatiently. The long awaited question was sprung from the trap. It was because I cared for them both and also….the selfish part, the void within, twisted uncomfortably at the idea of them leaving me.

I did not want to be alone.

Satoru flinched. He had been withholding himself from asking for he looked nervous, with a shadow of guilt. "I-We," Satoru stumbled out hurriedly. "We're going to leave the Fire Nation. Together."

A small, unpreventable snort of air came from me. I had known his answer before I had asked. I suppose I had not wanted to hear the truth. "My lady, would you be willing to help us?" Satoru added. The look on his face was one of the utmost imploration and trust. I did not want them to leave me….here…they were several people of the few I have come to….to trust….and to love…

I looked away from Satoru, trying to squash the selfishness within me, and yet, at the same time, I wanted to…

"I know you might feel betrayed," Satoru said as if he exactly how the feelings were whirling in me. "Teruko is one of your only friends here and…Forgive me, but I'd also like to think you consider me as one."

"I do," I mumbled while still looking away. I looked back towards Satoru and was startled too se my own pain in his grey eyes. "I don't want either of you to go," I confessed in a whisper.

"I know," Satoru agreed with me comfortingly. He hesitantly touched me on the forearm, giving it a gentle squeeze. "This is the only way her and I can be together," He went on with a morose smile. "I'd offer to take you with us, but…" Satoru glanced towards the doorway, where undoubtedly Iwao hovered like a vulture-hawk in the hallway. Satoru had offered to help me once before. That had been before he had met Teruko. If I came with them, they would be pursued because of me. There was no doubt in my mind that Katsu would send Iwao after me. He would chase me to the borders of the Fire Nation, and perhaps beyond…

I smiled sadly in return to Satoru in understanding. No doubt the bitterness was plain to see on my face. "Do you think that will be hunted down if you remain in the Fire Nation?"

"Without a doubt," Satoru responded resentfully with his own bitterness drenched in every syllable. "Her father is a noble." I had met Teruko's father in passing several times when I had been to her home. He had seemed a decent enough of a man, for a Fire Nation demon, but I kept the thought to myself. "We'll go to the colonies. It's a good place to get lost and not be found."

"So how do you need my help?" I asked, ignoring the jabbing sensation in my chest cavity.

Satoru's eyes met mine forwardly as he spoke candidly. "We'll need a several days head start, enough time to get away if her father decides to send anyone after us. Teruko would join you for a weekend trip to Ember Island…you'd write frantically to her father on the second day of her running away," Satoru smirked at his next words. "But truly she'd have left the first day with me."

It was a simple enough of a plan. Ember Island was a popular destination, so I could assume that it had enough people to have a busy port. The only problem would be getting there. Iwao would not allow for it unless Katsu had given the say-so for me to go there. Not to forget, Iwao had probably heard every word we were now saying. He seemed to dislike Satoru, so would he agree to help? Katsu did not need to know for he was friends with Teruko's father. I did not trust him because I did not know whose side he would take. If I knew him better, perhaps I could…

"I'll have to convince Iwao," I murmured. "There's no way around that." Satoru nodded in agreement. "Will you need money?"

Satoru scowled at me. "Please, the payload I got for you was more than any noble has paid me," Satoru jested humorlessly. He had teased before that he only stayed for the paycheck.

I smiled and Satoru paused as I did so. "I haven't seen you smile in…" Satoru said hushed. There was that look, however tiny, in his grey eyes, dancing with something else entirely. "Thank you, Rana, for your help…and for…" Satoru said haltingly in a serious manner as he searched for the words, the right words, for whatever it was he wanted to express. It did not escape my notice that he had called my by name with no titles for the first time. I hated being addressed formally to begin with so welcomed the sound of name from his lips. "I've no regrets coming here. You're the first women I've loved….and I learned much from doing so." Satoru gently touched my right cheek with his right hand. It was different from Katsu's hand. Softer. A scholar's hand. I should pull away I thought, but his grey eyes kept me grounded. The touch itself was not romantic exactly, although it spoke of a depth of feelings well-mixed.

The thought came to me, unbidden and unwanted, that in another time and place, I could have loved this man….in the way he loved me. Yet I had learned from him as he had from me. I had come to consider him a friend. He had taught me to read and write, opening up whole new worlds for me. Satoru was one of the few here who had kept me from despair…and learning that my enemy is just as human as I…

"Thank you," I murmured thickly. My throat seemed clogged as if winter had frozen it. "I hope you and Teruko will have a good life together."

Satoru flinched a little at my last statement. His hand fell away from my face. "Agni…My Lady…I wish…" He let out a frustrated noise. "I want you to be happy!" He declared loudly. "You deserve some happiness. Here I've found mine, and yet you-"

I shook my head to silence him. "It'll be okay," I comforted him. It was a lie and even as I said it…somehow it felt…

Satoru looked away from me as moment passed. He turned back with searching eyes. "I heard you're with child. Are you-"

"I'm fine," I interrupted him with a smile that would hopefully silence him. I was fine in a way about my pregnancy, yet when it came to…

"You should go now," I said in a low tone that left no room for argument. "I'll contact you once I get…"

Satoru nodded. "Please understand the urgency," He said quietly. "The wedding is-"

I dipped my head. Satoru rose and gave me their strange bow. His grey eyes were troubled as he looked at me. I gave him an affirming smile to ease that troubled gaze. Satoru left the study without another word.

How was I going to convince Iwao? There was a suspicion of doubt teasing the corners of my mind. Iwao did not like Satoru, this doubt, the small fear, that he might refuse to take part. The question was hot to convince him, especially on withholding this from Katsu. A selfish part of me hoped he would. Satoru and Teruko would be forced to remain here…I would not be alone…and they would be miserable. That thought gave me the drive to confront Iwao as I rose from my cushion, readying myself for battle as I walked towards the doorway….

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