|By Neo Bahamut||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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Wednesday, August 5, 2015
"Dang it!" she hissed through her teeth, pounding the dash once as if that would turn back time. "Okay," she breathed lightly to herself, "Okay...it's not a big deal, I'll just say it's the fight with Aroma that has me distracted."
She leaned back, looking at her empty passenger seat, wondering how Aroma was doing. Euryale had been discouraged from checking up on her, for fear that knowing too much would affect the operation. All that the Chief had told her was that she had moved into an apartment and some shady folks started following her.
But what really weighed down Euryale's gut was the likelihood that the Purists had been spying on them the whole time, and she never even knew it. The Chief doubted they knew that much, or else they wouldn't have taken the bait. She thought it was most likely that someone in the Purists was gossiping with some of her neighbors.
But if I'd been asking around, I might have known that already. Then none of this would even be necessary. Why didn't I spend my evenings looking for suspicious activity around the building? Stupid, amateur mistake!
She raked a hand through her hair and inspected it. Watching her twitching wrist, a few red strands wrapped around her fingers, she breathed yet another heavy sigh. She thought about cancelling, but had to "act normal," which felt a bit like using Roatha. But all of these internal arguments served only to tick away another 6 minutes, so she resolved to slip her keys into her pouch and climb out of the car.
Figuring this would be a fairly casual affair, she wore a little black dress that exposed most of her legs, shoulders, and collarbone. Never fond of purses, she had a kind of narrow red belt with a circular, zip-up pouch at her right side. But she did fold her hair behind her head, save for a strand hanging down at each temple, securing it with crisscrossing silvery pins, 1 topped with the emblem of the Earth Coin, the other with the Fire Nation crest. For footwear, she wore glossy black slip-ons with open toes.
She was a full half hour late by the time she galloped up the staircase. Wanting a preview of how upset Roatha would be, she slipped her right shoe off and placed her foot right on the door. Vibrations surged up her leg and she scrunched her eyes shut to remove distractions as she made sense of the hazy images. She could just barely make out a lamp, some kind of large furniture, and a shape—walking right towards her!
By the time she realized it, it was already too late. The door slid away from the sole of her foot and she went tumbling down. She raised her hands, but they never touched the ground, as Roatha had grabbed her shoulder on reflex. Slowly, she grabbed the doorway and pulled herself to her feet, laughing nervously as her ears burned.
"Were you just...kicking my door?" Roatha asked, eyes and mouth twisting as though he'd just tasted something awful. He was wearing the same jacket, wrinkled slightly from whatever he was doing while he waited, but clearly freshly cleaned and pressed. To complement it, he had a pair of black slacks and shiny rounded shoes that looked new, or at least seldom worn.
"No, I was..." Euryale looked around and finally spied her discarded shoe, "I was adjusting my shoe! And then the door just opened, and I fell! You understand, right?"
"So...it was my fault that you fell?" Roatha asked incredulously, his expression unchanging. Euryale instantly hung her head in shame.
"No, I—look, I know I'm late. Really late. I swear, I wasn't trying to insult you, or anything, it's just that with the Purists, and I had this fight with Aroma, I sort of...."
"You forgot," Roatha said matter-of-factly.
"Well—yes," Euryale admitted. She put her shoe back on and looked up, noticing that Roatha's expression was now blank, and added, "Aroma left the apartment, there's a lot of paperwork that I have to do for the department, and even more that I need to help Thiera with, it's just a very, very confusing time."
"I know. Apparently, your fight was really public, it's like everyone you ever met has been told. Even the plant workers are gossiping about it."
"Okay, well," Euryale began, starting to turn as she pointed back the way she came, I'll just go, then."
"What? Wait, did you seriously come here, half an hour late, just to stand me up?!" he shouted in disbelief, crossing his arms.
"...Are you saying that you actually want me to stay?" she asked, looking back over her shoulder.
"I don't know. Where is this going?"
"To...the park?" Euryale suggested, realizing now just how little she'd thought this out. She added, "We should stop for food along the way."
"What are you hungry for?"
Darn it, he got me again! "Fire Nation food," she said after a brief pause, seeking to shift the conversation to safer territory. "I'm actually part Fire Nation, mostly on my mother's side."
"Really?" he asked, his expression softening and arms starting to unfold. "What's your favorite dish?"
"I'm quite partial to moo sow steak, wooly pig chops, or mashed komodo rhino over noodles or rice," she answered, turning back towards him.
"Sounds good. To Little Fire Nation, then?" he asked, holding out a hand to...shake? Signal for her to lead the way? She just went for broke, grabbing it as she turned to head out for the second time tonight. She heard Roatha pull his door closed on the way out, but he didn't seem to mind holding hands.
The park and Little Fire Nation were both a long way away, so Euryale pointed out her car as they left the building. On the drive there, Euryale filled him in on the basic details—that this was an unmarked car she rented from the department, that she's been a cop for about 6 years and a detective for about 3, and about her father's and mother's statuses as a retired metalbending cop and spiritualist, respectively.
Roatha returned similar autobiographical information, at which point she found out that he didn't own a car nor know how to drive, worked mostly in retail and food service before getting the power plant job a year or 2 ago, and whose mother was a waitress last he knew, as they were often too busy to catch up. He also asked her about the fight she had with Aroma, but Euryale claimed she didn't like to talk about it.
This turned out to not eat up nearly enough time to get to the restaurant, so Euryale was trying to think of another topic when Roatha asked, "So, can you tell me about any of the cases you've worked on?"
"Well, not really the Purists, obviously. But...I suppose I can tell you about Senthose. It was all over the news anyway."
"Wait...YOU caught the head of the Red Monsoons?!"
"Yeesh, don't sound so surprised." She frowned when she glanced over and saw him gaping at her in a mixture of disbelief and what she swore was horror.
"I'm—I'm sorry," he stammered, "It's just that...the papers were calling him a 'real life supervillain.' Which I guess would make you—"
"Let's not go that far," Euryale said with a laugh. "The press does like to exaggerate."
"But he was convicted, so he had to be guilty of what they claimed, right?"
"Well...sort of. Y'see, I didn't know it at the time, but this all started back when I was still in the academy. Actually, I guess it began long before I was born. Do you know how the Red Monsoons began?"
When she saw him shaking his head, she explained, "After the war, the Harmony Restoration Movement sought to free all of the political prisoners in the Fire Nation and the colonies, and give them jobs to help them get back on their feet. A lot of them were actually given government jobs as repayment for testifying against Fire Nation war crimes. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but some of those people were, well...."
"Actually criminals?" Roatha asked.
"Exactly. Of course, eventually there was Yakone's rise, fall, escape, and disappearance. We were all so focused on finding Yakone that we didn't know what other families were rising to prominence. So because of that, it's very difficult to find these people jobs when they get out of prison where they can't just meet up with their old colleagues again."
"So," Roatha muttered in confusion, "What does this have to do with Senthose?"
"Hold that thought, we're pulling into Little Fire Nation now." She pointed out the windshield, indicating the bright red post and lintel construction forming an open, rectangular gateway in the road. Golden dragons wound their way around the posts, their upturned faces decorating either side of the gate. Instead of fire, they "breathed" Fire Nation flags.
As they drove through, they found that most of the buildings were squat and plain, except for the extravagant red tapered roofs with gold-colored crossbeams, which looked as though they were lifted straight out of Fire Fountain City. The lamps lining the street appeared to have their heads stylized to resemble either palaces or paper lamps bearing words like "Agni Kai" or "Sun Warriors." In the distance, they caught a glimpse of taller buildings, still only about the size of an average apartment complex. But they were rounder, more like the pagodas of the Fire Nation capital.
"So where do you want to eat?" Roatha asked.
Euryale glanced at the signs on the side of the road. "The Market" was 10 miles away, but that was a grocery store. "Hotman's" 7 miles, along with "Imperial Inferno." Closer, at 5 miles, were "Sizzling Steakhouse" and "Fire Fountain Drinks," but that was a bar.
"Hotman's has a pretty wide selection," she answered, "And it should be pretty quiet around this time of night. Are you okay with that?"
He was, so not long afterwards, they pulled into the tiny allotted parking shared between Hotman's, a kind of round maroon building with equally round windows along its circumference, and Imperial Inferno, a gaudier gold building with bright red text embossed on its walls and equally crimson windows. Both buildings had double oaken doors.
Inside, Hotman's was nearly empty, as predicted. They heard the clanking of dishes as people ate somewhere deep within, but could not see them, since the kitchen was largely walled off at the center and the dining area curled around it to either side. The walls were the same color as outside, the floor a checkerboard of white and black tiles. As they stepped up to a podium, a woman with a dark bob in a maroon apron asked if it was just the 2 of them.
When they nodded, she stepped out, motioning for them to follow. At this point, they could see the restaurant's name scrawled across her apron in brazen characters. She led them to a brass table with legs that curved outward, and similarly designed chairs. Both the cushions and the tablecloth were a slightly lighter shade of red than the walls.
Euryale ordered a moo sow steak after all, medium rare, along with a Verricherry Vericcola. Roatha thought that mashed komodo rhino over noodles sounded interesting, so he ordered that, along with lychee juice. When the waitress set off, they folded their arms in their laps and stared awkwardly at one another.
"So...where was I?" Euryale asked.
"Forget it, I'm not here to date Senthose. Instead, tell me about one of your hobbies, or something."
"Well, okay...I go out every couple weeks. Parties, bars, that sort of thing. When I'm home, I usually listen to the radio, but since Thiera moved in with me, I've been doing a lot of stuff with her. She's really good at Pai Sho. And..." she hesitated, wondering if she should tell him about spiritual stuff. He hadn't said anything when he mentioned that her mother is a spiritualist, but sometimes people get weird when you claim to have actually been to the Spirit World. She decided to ease into that topic by saying, "Sometimes I help my mom."
"Oh, neat," he answered, "Are you any good at Pai Sho?"
"Obviously you pick up a general awareness of strategy and gut instinct as a detective, but I'm still not as good as Thiera."
Roatha was not very good, so she pretty much just gave Pai Sho tips until the food arrived. It was sort of a boring subject, but Euryale couldn't help but enjoy being good at something. She grinned as she spoke, figuring that Roatha realized this early on. Both were too afraid of committing a social faux pas by trying to talk while eating, so they quickly agreed to save further conversation until they got to the park. After the meal, Roatha started putting Yuans on the table and Euryale paid her half unprompted.
"It'll take 10 minutes just to walk to the park," Euryale said, rising to her feet.
"Fine by me," Roatha responded, rising as well.
"Wanna hold hands again?" she asked, smirking as Roatha turned a blotchy pink.
"Sure," he answered, quickly wiping his hand with a napkin before grabbing Euryale's. It was cold, but she tried to bite back a wince as they set off.
"I'm glad tonight's going well," she said, "I needed some fun after the big fight with my roommates last night." Struck by a sudden afterthought, she looked at Roatha, whose neck snapped forward. "This is going well, isn't it?"
"Y—yeah," he said, looking at her out of the corner of his eye, apparently afraid she'd be mad about catching him staring. "I think so, anyway. But is it better than with this other guy of yours?"
Euryale squinted. "What are you...oh!" she exclaimed, her eyes snapping open only for her face to twist into a grimace. "Ohhhhh...."
"No, sorry, I shouldn't have asked," Roatha immediately retracted as they entered the park gates, heading for the sound of the stream. The lamps were just close enough together that they could see to make sure that their walking path was unobstructed. He looked around at them as if they could give him a different topic.
Instead, Euryale asked, "Hey, wanna show off some firebending for me?"
"Uh...I could try, but I'm not very good."
He raised a hand, launching an orange-yellow lance into the night. Euryale gave an excited laugh, clapping her hand on her forearm, since she was unable to use the hand that was holding Roatha's. Encouraged, Roatha smiled at her, waving his hand in an arc and watching the sparkles dance in her golden eyes.
"Hey!" she exclaimed, pointing at a falling leaf, "Think you can hit that?"
So he pointed his index finger at it and shot it through with a thin jet, then blew the smoke trailing from his finger.
"Try making a ring!" she called next. Roatha responded by twirling his finger, trailing a glowing loop. It was a little lopsided, but Euryale seemed excited just the same. They continued like this for at least an hour, Euryale managing to steer away from anything too complicated for an amateur firebender to perform, but still exhilarated.
As the night wore on, it actually got brighter, due to the full moon rising in the sky. They could see the gate glinting a few yards away.
"It's getting late," Euryale said, glancing upward, "We should probably get back to the car, so I can take you home."
"Aw, but I didn't get to see you earthbend."
"Hand me that rock," she requested, pointing with her free hand to a misshapen stone slightly larger than her fist, "And I'll show you a quick trick before we have to go. Oh, but I'll need my other hand."
He complied, at which point she began squeezing it in both hands. It made a sound like crunching gravel as it started to shrink under her fingers.
Sweat beads forming along her forehead, she explained, "Compressing rocks is actually a lot harder than breaking or moving them. I'm still pretty new at it."
While speaking, she twisted her fingers, grinding off flakes of solid rock to mold the stone into a desired shape. Finally, she held up a smooth, symmetrical rock that was unmistakably a heart.
"What do you think?" she asked with a smile.
"It's...amazing. You're amazing."
Grinning stupidly, she handed it to him. On the way back, they made plans for another date. Their schedules were pretty busy, but they both had openings at the end of next week.
Upon returning home, Euryale set her keys on the end table, bare now that someone had come to move out Aroma's goldsilverfish. Lilith, who was currently staying with her mother but came to keep an eye on Thiera while Euryale was away—much to the waterbender's chagrin—had fallen asleep on the red couch, ginger hairs just barely visible looping around the pillows while her braid dangled down to the floor. She was wearing dark blue slacks and a tight shirt with short, belled sleeves, pink with faint white markings on it. When Euryale drew closer, she could see that they made out the shape of flowers.
Euryale cautiously stooped over to pick up her braid, quickly dusting it off and tucking it back behind a pillow. Lilith snorted, scrunched her eyes, and turned her back towards Euryale, who could also see a blanket wound around her feet. Reasoning that she must have kicked it off in her sleep for being too hot, she decided to leave Lilith uncovered and move back the hall, cracking Thiera's door until she could be seen turning in her sleep.
She supposed they wouldn't have much to do until the next phase of the operation.
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