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|In This House|
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The broken windows and tattered shades blown by the dusty wind matched the face of the man who viewed them. His green eyes were broken from grief. His coarse hair and over-grown bangs stirred slightly as the wind graced his heated skin with her cooling touch. Scars, some from battle others from childhood, created a network of light lines on his face.
His outfit was shabby and too long. The sleeves crept up on his palms each time his hands lowered and the hem of the pants were dragging on the ground. The tall grass hid his battered shoes and grew unchecked. A few weeds found root in the pouch. Veins were slowly creeping up the supports. The paint had been scrapped off in a dozen place. Part of the roof was gone, the edges of the hole were charred black. The door stood proudly up-right, held in place by the hinges. The handle gleamed brightly in the light. Aside from one small scratch mark, the door was unmarred.
His feet fell with heavy thuds as he made his way to the door. The porch steps threatened to buckle under his weight, the damaged wood barely supporting his tall figure. Coming to the door, he firmly griped the handle. The door felt strong and secure. He pulled back on the handle. Nothing moved. A touch of puzzlement briefly played across his warn features as he fished in his pocket for the key. Finding it at the bottom, he fitted it into the lock. Soundlessly, the door opened.
For a moment, he paused in the doorway, taking in the scene. Glass was scattered across the floor. All of the furniture was broken and burnt, or reduced to piles of ash, most of which had blown away in the wind. The light decorations which had hung on the wall were torn down. Anything of value was missing, the things of no price had been broken and burnt.
Walking over and around the fallen objects, he made his way into the kitchen. The round table was upside-down, its legs sticking in the air. Two were missing, a third had been broken off by fire, the charred end close to its parent. The rest of the table was mostly whole, only the edges were injured.
The cupboards had been cleaned out, the contents had been stolen, broken, or part of the ash piles. The walls were still standing, but had been badly burned in a few places. Turning from the disastrous kitchen, he gently brushed over one of the blacked areas, and looked up. The ceiling was clean, and smelled of fresh wood.
Curious as to what lay above, he approached the steps, eying them with a critical gaze. The staircase was missing a few steps, the railing was gone, and it was black with sot, but it still looked steady enough to hold him. Carefully, he made his way upstairs. The windows were all smashed and the curtains missing, but the floor was spotless.
The hole in the roof had seemed small, now he the extent of it. Almost half of the roof was gone. The edges were black. Sunlight came streaming in. He gave the hole a passing glance before coming to his bedroom door. Bracing for the worst, but hoping for better he turned the handle. The room was empty, swept clean and well-dusted. He stood there, unsure what to think, or who to thank.
He didn't have to wait long to find out. A rumbly sound of earth being ripped from the ground caused him to turn. A figure leapt in though the roof hole and landed lightly in the hallway. He puffy tan-cream pants were gathered at her ankles. She wore a short green robe with yellow trim. A simple yellow-green belt was around her waist, the cloth ends almost toughing the ground when she stood upright.
"Saiko." he uttered her name. With a smile she waved her hand as if dismissing somebody. From outside, the sound of moving earth was heard. "Welcome home, Ro." She greeted him. He did not return the smile, but when she opened her arms wide, he hugged her.
In her embrace, he felt like he was reunited with a part of himself. As she pulled away from his embrace, her smile widened. "I got your favorite. Downstairs," she said. He didn't need to ask her what it was. They descended the staircase, being mindful of the broken areas. She moved with a light grace, her feet seeming to float over the missing steps.
"Been fixing this place for long?" He asked. "I just do a bit now and then, got some help putting the floor in, the whole upstairs was a wreak." He smiled inside, despite the missing roof, she no longer saw upstairs as a wreak.
They reached the bottom step and entered the kitchen. Facing the table, she raised her foot and firmly set it on the floorboards. There was the tiniest of vibrations, and the table was hoisted into the air. Waving her arms in front of her, she controlled the earth each which ace come up from under the table, and set it to the side. Moving the table revealed a gaping hole in the floorboards.
From this Saiko pulled out more earth, and with it a plain, metal chest. With a swish of her hand, all dirt on it was cleared. Going to one knee, she took out a key, unlocked, undid the clasps, and slowly lifted the lid. Carefully cushioned by soft green cloth was a full tea set. The tea set was white, with brown and green designs of leaves and branches intertwined with abstract lines. "From Grandmother Ano," he said longing. She nodded. "We finished cleaning Grandma's house, this was the last thing found. The family thought it best for you to keep it." She replied, speaking of her own grandmother, daughter of Ano.
Standing, she drew a startling amount of earth from the hole. With moments that looked like they belonged to a waterbender, she brought the table to center. He watched with a touch of pride as she made four earthen table legs. Arches were made between each leg, and all four legs arched towards the middle of the table, where they met to form a stand. Parts of the teacup design where present in the arches. The effortless moments told Ro she had done this before.
With a light touch, she started to set the table. He joined in, putting extra care into each motion. His hands were hard and calloused, but they moved with precision. The two worked in companionable silence. A pot of water was set boiling, and Saiko formed two Earthen chairs, adding the same decorative arched patters that the table wore.
Even as the tea was poured, silence remained. It was a pure, settled silence. With a hole in the roof, the house felt airy and light. The tea permeated the air, mingling with the other homely scents. Blooming flowers in the back of house added their fragrance. The broken windows with the sun shining thought them cast decorative shadows. The birds outside sang sweetly. The trees lightly brushed each other in the soft breeze. For the moment, the world and its worries were forgotten. Neither wanted to break the silence.
At length, Ro chose to break it. "The door looks nice," he said. Saiko brightened. "I was getting to the rest of it, starting at the bottom and working up, but there's so much to work on." He nodded. Saiko's attention tended to wonder. She would start one project, see something else that needed to be done, and start on that, forgetting about the first project. "My room is nice," he said. She brushed the comment aside. "If you think empty is nice." "I think peace is nice," he said. With that, he let out a long, slow sigh. It was the sigh of one who was weary of life.
Saiko's smile fell. "Ro," she said, quietly asking if now was a good time to ask him something big. A slight nod form the veteran told her to continue. "Now that you're back from the war, you need a place to stay, Kana and I can make room for you until this gets fixed up." He waved her offer aside, leaning back in his soft earth chair. Even the vertical back felt padded. He marveled at how far her skill had come. When he had been drafted to fight in the War on Sozin, she had just learned all of the basics.
"I'm going to stay right here," He replied. She looked around at the mess and thought of all the work still needed. Her eyes returned to Ro. His eyes were unreadable, but his jaw was set and his face looked stubborn. She knew changing his mind was impossible, still she gave it a try. "This place still needs lots of work, the top floor is complete, you should have seen it before there was only a few floorboards, and I meant to get the roof fixed, I patch it up with earth for now. I thought it best to get a proper door before too much of the inside is fixed up."
"That is why I choose to stay," he said. She raised an eyebrow. "This place is damaged, the Fire Nation doesn't bother hurting what is already fallen." He looked down into his tea as he spoke, flashes of battles replying in his head.
She reached over and gently placed her hand on his, knowing that the house was not the only thing he was referring to. "It's not your fault that the troops failed," she said in an effort to make him feel better. "I never said it was." He snapped, rising his head. Her velvet green eyes looked softly into his own dark green eyes. He regretted snapping. Taking a slow, deep breath, he explained further his need to stay.
"This place is linked to the battles of the past, but it is also past them, it's in a new stage, a stage of rest. I need to be there." Understanding flickered in her eyes. "Our door is always opened should you have need," she said gently, withdrawing her hand.
Ro changed the subject, wishing to forget about wars. "You're getting good at earthbending." "Not when it comes to sparring, maybe good at making things, but no good at throwing rocks" There was a hint of sadness in her voice. "This is something," he said patting the chair. "It takes some skill to do this." That comment lit up her face. Ro had always given an honest opinion, and she had learned to trust his judgment. Praise from him was held in high regard. "Thank you, I do try. Mom helps me sometime but she doesn't visit often, say that reminds..." The two talked the hours away, Saiko doing the most, telling Ro about all that happened in his absence. The subject of his housing was not brought up again.
Saiko patched up the hole in the roof. She left. Their good bye was short, but that was how they always were, even the day he left to fight in the war. As she walked down the road, she looked over her shoulder once, and smiled. In that smile he knew there was a promise that she would come back. Ro lifted his hand in recognition of that promise.
He watched until she was out of sight, and even then he stood there for a bit longer before turning back to the house. The house was the same as when he had come, save for the chest, which was hidden on the inside of the earthen roof, and the two earth chairs, another sign that she would return.
Alone, he sat down in his earth chair. Contentment washed over him. The sun was setting, filling the house with a yellow light. The temperature was just right. Sighing a long, deep sigh, he leaned back, closed his eyes, and for the first time in a long time he rested.
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