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The fourteenth chapter of Book Two of
April 24, 2011
Sierra and her father attempt to reconcile after being apart for seven years.
The door closed behind Leah and Keith, leaving Sierra and Neil Levin alone in the hotel room. Sierra walked across the room and sat down on one of the beds, staring at her father. Neil moved across the room, setting down his briefcase, and sat down on the opposite bed. Sierra turned her head and glared at the bedside table, refusing to spare a glance to her father.
"Sierra?" he tentatively whispered.
Sierra didn't move a muscle, still glaring at the table.
"Please?" he tried again.
A small tear escaped from the corner of her eye and traced its way slowly down her cheek.
"Why should I?" she said, her voice starting to break.
"Sierra..." he started.
"How could you?" she said, wiping the tear away while keeping her gaze averted.
"I know." he sighed.
"No you don't." she spat at him.
Neil shook a bit at her bitterness and sighed deeply, looking down at his shoes.
"How could you leave me?"
"I didn't want to."
"Then why did you! How could you leave your only daughter alone for seven years! How could you, her only parent, leave her without one check-up, one message, one phone call?" she said, finally looking at him to convey her rage.
"I couldn't. I had no choice though."
Neil stood up slowly from the bed and waved his hand in a circle. Sierra gasped in shock as a small funnel of air rose from his outstretched palm.
"You're one of them?"
Neil nodded his head slowly, stopping the air and sitting back down.
"You abandoned me because you're one of them?" Sierra said, unbelieving.
"I had to, Sierra."
Sierra stood up abruptly and walked to the door, holding it open while glaring at Neil. Neil sighed with dismay as he stood up, grabbed his briefcase, and walked out the door.
Leah and Keith heard the wrathful slam of the door from Sierra's room, both of them recoiling from the sound. A second later, Keith walked over to the door connecting their rooms and knocked gently. No response came. Leah stood up as well and walked over to the door, slightly opening it and peeking inside. Leah closed the door slightly and whispered to Keith to stay inside.
Keith nodded and sat down on his bed. Leah opened the door again and walked inside, closing it gently behind her. Sierra was standing near the door, staring into space with her hand still on the doorknob. Leah walked over to her slowly, though Sierra took no notice of her being there. Leah gently laid her hand on Sierra's and took it off the doorknob.
Placing her hand on the small of Sierra's back, she led her over to the nearest bed and sat her down. Leah sat down beside her, but Sierra still didn't acknowledge her presence, nor did it look like she even knew that she had been moved.
"Sierra?" Leah whispered.
Still no response came from the girl in shock.
"Sierra, please talk to me." Leah pleaded.
At this Sierra slowly closed her eyes. Two small tears traced their way from Sierra's eyes down to her cheek. Leah sighed and pulled Sierra over to her shoulder, putting an arm around her as well.
Sierra lay deep under the blankets of her bed, eyes closed despite the heavy light coming in through the windows. Outside, the horns and sounds of the city permeated inside the room, further disturbing Sierra's forced slumber. Sierra pulled the blankets in tighter and over her head, growing increasingly frustrated. Suddenly, a knock came to the door, forcing Sierra's eyes open.
A silent moment passed, and another knock, but still Sierra did not move from her cocoon of blankets. A second later, another knock, weaker than the first two, came again. Sierra emerged from the blankets and sat up on the bed, staring at the door. A muffled sigh came through the door accompanied by quieted footsteps away from the room.
A knock came to door, and Leah stood up from her bed to answer it.
"Hey Mr. Levin, what's up?" said Leah, inviting him in
Neil stayed at the doorway. "Is Sierra here?" he asked.
"No. She went to the Chrysler Building with Keith. She'll be back in a couple hours, do want me to tell her you stopped by?"
"No, that's okay." Neil sighed.
Sierra walked up to the door of her room while Keith walked past her to his. As she inserted the key card into the slot, she turned to Keith.
"Still training, Keanu said he wanted to get her ready for a surprise." Keith said, opening the door to his room.
"How long will she be gone?"
"Keanu didn't say."
"Alright then. See you tomorrow," she said, opening her door.
"You too, goodnight," he said as he entered his room and closed the door.
Sierra walked into the room and closed the door gently behind her. She sighed deeply, turning on the lights and walked further into the room. She lifted a small backpack off of her and set it down on her bed, opening the zipper. She reached inside the bag and pulled out a small postcard from the Chrysler Building, showing the building illuminated against the setting sun of the New York Skyline.
Sierra put down the postcard and reached in again, pulling out the all too familiar plaster cast of her infant hand. She felt the rough rock gently with the back of her hand, staring at it. A minute later, she put it inside the bedside table drawer, then reaching to close her backpack and kick it off the bed. She slipped off the bed and jumped on it again, feeling the springs lift her up slightly before letting her settle into the fabric.
Closing her eyes and breathing deeply, Sierra felt her sore muscles relax from the long day of walking around the city. She smiled faintly to herself as she recounted the amazing view of the city from the spire in the sky. I really must convince Leah to take a day off training and go with me. Sierra thought to herself. Her plans for time with Leah were cut short however when a small knock came to the door.
"Coming." Sierra called, lifting herself off the bed, the pain from her muscles quickly returning.
She dusted herself off before opening the door. Neil Levin stood there, anticipating a slam in his face like before, but none came. Sierra just stood there, staring at him with a glare that was only a fraction less intense than their first meeting.
"May I come in?" he asked gently, not wanting to upset her again.
Sierra didn't respond, but only gave a slight twitch of the head towards the inside. Taking that as a yes, Neil walked in slowly past her and sat down on Leah's bed. Sierra closed the door gently and sat down on her own bed, opposite of Neil. She continued staring at him for a moment, then closed her eyes and looked down at the floor.
"What happened to Mom?" she asked quietly, putting her head back up and looking at him again.
"She died from a brain tumor."
"Why do I have any reason to believe that?" Sierra said, her voice breaking slightly.
Neil sighed and looked down at the floor for a moment, then resumed speaking, although never lifting his eyes up from the ground. His voice was low and monotone, sounding almost like the drivel of a gentle madman...
"Your mother and I were two airbenders living her in New York before the Twin Towers were built. When the towers were built in the seventies, all the airbenders gathered there in the mass employment and established the colony. We met on the roof of the North Tower while I was learning how to glide." Neil's face was briefly lit up by a smile as a small chuckle interrupted his gravelly drone. "I kept crashing into the rooftop, since my angles were all over the place. She helped me up and then I looked into her eyes... They were just like yours..."
He stole a small glance of his teenage daughter's lovely eyes and sighed, his voice quivering. He finally walked to the window to take in the view of the harbor, as if seeking solace among the jagged edges of the skyline. You see, there is a special bond between New Yorkers and their city. Where its noisy, boisterous character would crush many a gentler spirit, the natives are soothed and comforted by it. Somehow, this hectic jungle of concrete and steel manages to rekindle their joy and passion for living - it helps them heal... Feeling refreshed, Neil resumed his story:
"We took to each other right then and there. I know it's been said that love at first sight is a lie, but it all happened so fast... We went everywhere together: concerts at the Park, the movies, Broadway, we did it all. It had been only few months when we got married in the Trinity Church - just down the road."
Neil's smile faded, as he continued to recount less joyous events:
"I gave your mother everything her heart desired: her favorite car, her favorite necklace, a trip to Paris, Monte Carlo, we even went to Tokyo once... Then I realized: all that she really wanted was to have a child. I remember we tried for a few years, but nothing came of it. Then, we found out she had a condition called endometriosis. I paid top dollar for all kinds of treatments, but still no success. When your mother and I were about to give up hope, we learned that you were coming. We were so thrilled at the thought of having a baby and she became even more so when she learned it was a girl."
You were born with no complications, and you grew up just as the doctors promised; normal, healthy, beautiful... I wanted to raise you here in New York among the airbenders, but your mother was a little apprehensive about it. She wanted to leave the colony and raise our family somewhere safe from the BDA. I tried to reason with her that no place would be as safe as New York from them, especially with so many other people around..."
His voice dropped off into a painful silence, as his eyes once again dropped to the floor.
"When you were two years old, the head of the colony received word that a group of BDA agents were prowling around the edge of the city. He wanted them eliminated, and your mother and I were chosen to lead the team. Before I go on, do you know about a BDA agent named Vayu?"
"Yes, he's been chasing us. He's a member of the Elite." Sierra replied.
"Before he was in the BDA, he was a peaceful airbender living here in the city. One day he went out with a group of friends to the outskirts of Queens, and they were ambushed by the BDA. They fought back bravely, but they were overwhelmed. The leaders of the group saw Vayu's potential and decided to spare him. They held him captive and made him watch while each of his friends were killed. Mickey, Kevin, Georgia...all of them in cold blood. Word is that he was already half mad with grief when he was dragged off to Uluru.
We tried to track him down, but he was too far for us to pursue him. He's always blamed us for his drafting into the BDA, and he used to take every opportunity to harass us. When your mother and I led the team to eliminate the BDA convoy, we didn't know they were led by Vayu. He deafened our group and surrounded us with fog. With no sight or hearing, we quickly were scattered.
They picked us off one by one without us even knowing. Through some miracle, I stayed with your mother and tried to lead her out of the fog. When we could see the lights of the city through the fog, we thought we were safe. Suddenly her hand let go of my mine and she crashed to the ground. I turned around and saw her there sprawled on the ground, a great gash in her head from an air blade.
I tried to lead her on, but she was so weak already, and there was so much blood." At this, Neil closed his eyes and started shuddering, trying to hold back the tears. "More air blades started coming from everywhere and...I had to leave her behind. When I came back with help...she was already gone."
Neil finally turned around and faced Sierra. She was standing next to the bed, tears pouring down her face while she stared in rage at him. A tense second passed, and Sierra stomped off to the door, holding it open yet again for him. He hung his head in bitter defeat and walked outside, at which Sierra slammed the door with a fury that the entire floor heard it.
Leah opened the door gently and tiptoed in, feeling around the walls in the pitch black room. She closed the door quietly and heard the sound of Sierra's gentle breathing as she slumbered. Leah smiled faintly at the rare peaceful moment that Sierra could finally have, after the few tense days they'd had since arriving in New York.
Leah walked slowly and silently across the room to her bed. She sat down on the soft fabric, recoiling when the springs whistled as they contracted with Leah's weight. Leah looked over to Sierra, but she had not moved a muscle and still slept peacefully. Leah sighed with relief as she more carefully lay down on her bed.
Leah felt something sharp poke her side from her pocket. She dug her hand in the rough fabric and pulled out a cold, metal pen from Keanu's office in the South Tower. In the darkness she felt a sticky substance cling to her fingers. Leah lifted her fingers to her nose and recognized the smell of ink. She sighed at the thought of the ruined gift and distastefully threw it in the trash, at which the sound of metal clinking on rock emitted through the room.
At this the sound of Sierra's slumber was replaced by the sound of a fitful awakening as she clobbered from her sheets and looked up at Leah.
"Hey Leah," she said, taking a minute to yawn. "When'd you get here?"
"Just a few minutes ago," she said peering into the garbage can.
"What's wrong?" Sierra asked, climbing out of bed.
"I threw something in hear and it clinked on something." Leah replied, pushing aside some papers and taking them out.
Sierra walked over to Leah and put her hand on her shoulder, pulling her away. "I'm sure it's nothing, let's go back to sleep."
"No," Leah replied, sterner as she pushed past Sierra's grip. She dug a little deeper in the trash and found what she was looking for, a small sliver of rough brown rock. Sierra stood silent and looked away as realization dawned on Leah's face.
"Is this?" Leah started.
"But.." Leah stuttered.
Sierra gave no response, still staring at the floor.
"This is the only thing from your father before he left, why would you throw it away?"
Sierra walked over to her bed and sat down, cocooning herself back in her blankets. "It's not your business, Leah," she said, her voice muffled.
"It is my business, Sierra, what happened?" Leah said, putting the shard down on the nightstand.
Sierra sighed, but still tried to hide herself in her blankets.
"My dad came over."
"After I came back from the Chrysler Building with Keith."
"He told me what happened to my mom, and I threw him out."
"Because he's a filthy coward, that's why!" Sierra yelled, sitting up and glaring at Leah.
Leah recoiled at Sierra's bitterness and led her to the bed, sitting down beside her.
Sierra recounted the story that Neil had told her, looking down at the floor when she was done.
"And you just kicked him out of the room?" Leah asked.
"What else was I supposed to do?" Sierra accused.
"Why did you throw him out so quickly?"
"Because I was furious!" Sierra said, throwing a dirty glare at Leah. "He left my mother for dead to save his own skin!"
"What else was he supposed to do, Sierra? Stay there and be killed?"
"I'd rather have him dead than as the coward he is today!"
"He deserves it Leah!"
"He's your father!"
"My dad cared for me, supported me, made sure everything was as best as could be in my life. My dad told me the truth, tucked me into bed, told me bedtime stories, drove me to school, celebrated every holiday with me, wiped away my tears. That man," Sierra paused, standing up to face Leah.
"That man abandoned me for nine years, left me to be raised by a butler, never checked up on me once! Then when I finally show up to see him, he reveals that he left me because he was an airbender and that he lied to me my whole life about my mother! That man is not my father!"
Leah waited for a moment while Sierra calmed down from her outburst. "Are you done?" Leah finally asked.
Sierra sighed. "Yes," she said, sitting back down beside Leah.
"Sierra, have I ever told you about my father?"
"That's because I never knew him. My real mother gave birth to me alone. When my adoptive mom was going through the paperwork for the adoption process, they never found any trace of my dad. He's never checked on me, come to visit me. I'm not even sure he knows I exist."
Sierra stared at Leah with a slight twinge of guilt, looking down at the floor.
"You are so lucky Sierra. You have a dad. You have a dad who looks out for you, wants the best for you, tries so hard to make you happy. He loves you Sierra. And you know he loves you. That's something I never had Sierra. I never knew about my dad, I never had that privilege of knowing him and knowing that he loved and cared for me.
I know he's not perfect. No dad is. They all make mistakes. And your dad is trying his very best to fix them and earn your forgiveness. I understand that a lot has gone on in so little time, and it's a lot to get used to. But the least you could do is let him try to atone for his mistakes. Regret is a terrible thing Sierra. It lives on with you until the day you leave this Earth. And if I were your dad, I wouldn't want to live the rest of my life with a daughter who didn't love me."
Leah let this sink into Sierra's thoughts as she stared at the floor with her, tears streaming down both their faces. Sierra looked up and wiped her eyes, sniffing loudly as she tried to clear her breathing. Leah stood up and reached for a tissue box on the nightstand, handing it to Sierra. Sierra refused, and Leah took one and coughed into it, wiping her eyes as well.
"I'm sorry Leah." Sierra finally said, more tears arriving in the corners of her eyes. Leah sat down beside her, wiping gently at her eyes with a tissue.
"It's okay." Leah managed to say.
Sierra reached into the garbage can and carefully pulled out a shard of her broken cast. She gazed at it with a twinge of small regret, feeling slight pity that her only heirloom from home had to suffer from her wrath. She reached again into the can and continued pulling out more pieces, laying them out on the floor in a random arrangement.
Convinced she had every piece, she tried to arrange them into the original shape. As she gripped one piece, she winced in pain and looked at her finger, spotting a long thin cut from the ragged stone. She walked to the bathroom and covered it in a small washcloth, tying it off to put pressure on the wound. Satisfied with the bandage, she returned to her work.
A few minutes later, Sierra had the bottom half and right edge of the cast back in place. As she prepared to work on the top, a knock came at the door. Sierra started to stand up, but hesitated and stood in place, staring at the door. No other knock came, and the sound of muffled footsteps down the hallway. Sierra waited a moment, then rushed to the door and peered into the hallway.
Neil Levin was halfway to the elevator, his head slightly hung. Sierra's lips formed a tight line as she debated what to do, then walked out of the room and towards her father.
"Hey." she called out gently.
Neil turned around slowly and gazed at Sierra, a small hint of surprise crossing his face. They stood in their places for a few moments, just staring at each other while other guests walked by them, wondering what they were doing. Sierra smiled faintly at him and turned towards the room. Neil made no move to follow, and Sierra raised her eyebrows as if to say "are you coming?"
Neil followed Sierra into her room, sitting down on the bed as she gently closed the door behind her. Neil looked around the room and spotted the pieces of the cast, but didn't show surprise or anger at it. Sierra walked over to the pieces and knelt beside them, staring at Neil.
"Do you need help?" Neil asked, trying to be careful.
Sierra only nodded, resuming her work on the cast. Neil walked over to her and kneeled down beside her, working on the top half while Sierra did the left edge. They worked in silence for five minutes, and between the two of them they had the entire edge of the cast done. As they began to work on the middle, Sierra glanced at Neil.
"What happened after Mom died?" Sierra whispered.
Neil didn't take his eyes off the cast as he started talking. "At the time, we were living under fake names so the BDA couldn't trace us if we ever left the city. After your mom died, you and I stayed in the colony for a few more months. We left just before your third birthday."
"Why did we leave?"
"I was afraid of being sent on another mission and not coming back. I didn't want you to be an orphan. So we left. I led our fake names to Eureka, California while you and I slipped away to Alice Springs."
"Why a place so close to Uluru?"
"Despite its proximity to Uluru, the security there is actually really low. Even lower when Uluru residents are out on parole. We waited until we had definite proof that there was a parole going on, then we moved into the city without a trace. I bought a mansion in the suburbs and hired Gerald, and we lived there peacefully for years."
"Why did you leave?" Sierra asked, taking her eyes and hands off the cast.
Neil stopped working as well and looked at Sierra, feeling her brown eyes barely burning through him. He sighed deeply and looked her straight in the eyes.
"In February 1993, when you were eight years old, the World Trade Center was bombed. The Government put the blame on al-Qaeda, but the leaders of the colony thought it was the BDA behind the attack. The attack was meant to bring the Towers down, but failed to do so. The leaders were fearful of another attack, and they wanted us to move back to protect the colony in the case of another attack.
I refused at first. I told them that I feared for your safety should we move back, and I wanted her to be safe here. They pleaded me to come back, and I kept telling them no. Then, just before your ninth birthday, the BDA did a search of the city for benders. I panicked. I thought if they found me they would take you with me to Uluru. So I left. I took a plane to New York and stayed there. No attack came, but they wouldn't let me leave the city in case an attack ever did."
Sierra sat there for a moment and stared at Neil, then continued her work on the cast. Neil followed her lead, and together they worked on the fingers of the hand print.
"How did you become the leader of the Colony?"
"A few months ago, the previous leader, a man named John, left the city to investigate an intelligence report of a group of BDA agents prowling near Albany. It was actually an ambush, and he was taken to Uluru. I was placed in his stead in April."
"Why didn't you ever check up on me?"
"John didn't allow communication out of the city. He said that it would give away our identities and risk the safety of the colony."
"Why didn't you just leave the city?"
"I was planning to, but when John was captured, I had to stay to lead the colony."
Sierra made a small grimace of anger and stopped working on the cast, staring at Neil again.
"I never planned for you to get involved in this. I never planned for you to meet Leah, or to be hunted by the BDA. I just wanted you to have a normal life, away from all this." Neil said quietly.
"Why didn't you just tell me that you were a bender, instead of trying to hide me?"
"I didn't want you involved."
"But I am now, and I'm doing fine. You could've just told me, you could've taken me with you instead of abandoning me to protect against a bunch of paranoid benders." Sierra said bitterly.
"I was only doing what I thought was best for you." Neil tried to defend. But at that moment, Sierra decided she'd had enough. She stood up and walked to the door, holding it open a third time for Neil. Neil walked out of the door and anticipated a slam, but was surprised when the door closed gently behind him. He even thought he heard a quiet "bye" as she shut him out.
Leah inserted the key into the slot and walked into the room. She spotted Sierra kneeling down on the floor, back to her as she hunched over something.
"Leah?" Sierra said quietly.
"Yes?" she responded, sitting down on her bed.
"Can you fix this?"
Leah walked over to her and investigated what she was asking about. Laid out on the floor was every piece of Sierra's broken hand cast, arranged in the original form like a puzzle. Leah put her hand on the pieces and willed them together, taking care not to distort the handprint. A moment later, Sierra picked up the completed cast, holding it in her hands and staring at it.
"Thank you." Sierra replied indifferently.
"Anytime Sierra." Leah responded.
Leah walked over to her bed again and sat down, staring at the wall. Sierra stood up and put the cast on her nightstand, then turning to leave the room.
"What floor does my dad work on?" Sierra said, sounding as if she didn't care.
"North Tower, 34th floor."
"Okay," Sierra replied, walking out the door and closing it gently.
- Thanks to Dragon of The West for help in editing the section about Sierra's mother
- This was originally going to be part of a two part special that included info about Leah's father, but the author decided to shorten it to just this chapter while keeping the info about both their fathers included.
For the collective works of the author, go here.