Bitter Tea Leaves

13th of Goodmonth, 379 ONT: Azulon, Fire Nation

Hikaru staggered down the street. Alive he may be but he was far from whole and his injuries coupled with the lack of food and drink dulled his senses and made the word around him shift between a long, dark tunnel and a bright afternoon. The simple white robe they’d given him, as tradition demanded, was stained and streaked crimson down his back where the lashings had dug deepest. His mind fought for clarity, both for the world around him and the words now burned into his soul. Yet both were elusive enough for him to wonder if he was dreaming all this.

It was not until a cool hand touched his shoulder then the person slipped under his arm to support him and led Hikaru out of the street. Whomever it was felt cool to the touch and smelled faintly of cherry blossoms and reminded him of stolen kisses in the shadows of the gates back at the training grounds. But the walk was not far and soon he found himself being guided into a waiting carriage. The walk had cleared his mind somewhat and he turned to look at the person who had shown him kindness when none was to be given. His heart caught in his throat at the sight of her, Yukiko.

Her face glistened in the afternoon light, tracks left in the wake of dust from tears shed as she stared up at him, her face now a mask he could not penetrate. “I only want to know why. Why did you not stop when you had a way out? With the injuries Natsu had it was only a matter of bringing it to the Commander and they would have been expelled. Why give it all up? Why… why give me up?” the last had caught in her throat and Hikaru felt the weight of it press on him. He noted that she did not join him in the carriage but a part of him knew why. But could he admit it to himself? “Was your vengeance worth that much? Is it even sated now that you’ve killed their sons? Did you even stop to consider what this would do to me? To my family?”

He winced as if physically struck for she’d called him on it and he knew she was right. But he’d been so tired of it all, tired of watching them get away with everything with not a soul to raise an objection. And then when it was his best friend being mercilessly brought to the brink of death to be used as bait after having seen his father burned. Well he’d acted as he felt he must to stop the brutality and save the people closest to him. He’d thought no further than that and looking at Yukiko he knew that it had cost him more than he would ever know with her. Whatever they had, wherever it was to lead was gone. She’d mourned him in the days leading up to the trial and now had come to see him off. That Ymeri had chosen him to live and entrusted him with a quest was no comfort in this moment and he felt it would never be.

“No more,” he croaked then swallowed for the fire had burned the moisture from his throat, “I could take no more of their kind and how they abused, no usurped the very idea of our society and justice to serve their needs. If not there then they would have found a place that worked to their liking and I would be the forgotten and dead son of a traitor. Our people deserve more. The future deserves a chance to be more. You…”

Yukiko shook her head, “So vengeance was to be had no matter the cost. May it warm your nights and fill your days then Hikaru for I see what I meant to you in that. The road you choose will end the same way it started alone and facing the fires of judgement.” She turned on her heel and strode away leaving Hikaru to stare after her in shock as he felt like it would be the last time he ever saw her. “… deserved more.” He slouched in his seat watching the way she went not noticing the driver cluck to the horses and give the reins a snap. He would have cried if he had any moisture to spare.

21st of Goodmonth, 379 ONT: Yamamoto Estate outside Azulon, Fire Nation

Hikaru checked his pack for the fifth time and his bow for the tenth before sighing and pacing the room once more. His wounds were healed but the scars ached and the skin was tight and strange to the touch across his back. His escort was late and on a day when he was to steal away from the Fire Nation that was not a good sign in his eyes. His lamellar armour gleamed in the light and his boots shone like a mirror. Every stitch of clothing and gear was impeccable as if he was about to leave on a mission with his former unit. If only.

“Stop pacing and stop fretting my son. They will be here and you will be gone soon enough. Come and sit. There is tea enough for both of us.” His mother motioned to an ornate cushion on the far side of the table. “At least let me look at my son one last time before I lose him forever.”

That brought his pacing to a halt and he dropped to his knees on the offered cushion. “I’m sorry mother. I’m nervous that something had happened to them and our estate will be targeted. But you should not say things like that. We will see each other again. I go to find allies and items of power to help us remove the disease that threatens our nation. I am certain there are many who would fight for us if given the chance and opportunity to be compensated by the Fire Nation.”

She shook her head, grey hair slipping loose as she poured his tea. “But there is no us, only you alone in foreign lands with gaijin who would as soon kill you and steal your well polished armour and boots as help you. And you would need an army of tens of thousands to take even a part of the Fire Nation and the Nation would not welcome you back.” There was a long pause and Hikaru didn’t know what to say. He knew his mother had withdrawn their people from many prominent positions, giving up power to remove the threat of reprisal and keep them alive. But to be told she did not expect to see him again was too much like the parting between Yukiko and himself. They did not see what he did and could not support him in what he felt was right. He’d not spoken to his mother about the charge Ymeri had given him and feared what she might think.

“So let me look for as long as I can my son. I shall pray for your safe return for as long as I have breath and hold your memory in my heart until that day no matter how far away it is.” Hikaru nodded and sipped from his tea. He would succeed, he had no other options left to him now…



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