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Labors of Love
Chapter information
Series

Republic City Renaissance

Book

0 (Void)

Chapter

9

Written by

Neo Bahamut

Release date

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Word count

3,941

Chronology
Last chapter

Shifting Tides

Next chapter

Forest, Light

"...And right this way is the infirmary," Euryale announced. "As you can see, it's a little bit cramped."

Aroma and Thiera walked in after Euryale, looking around. The whole infirmary could have fit in the lobby of their old clinic, and was even more depressing, since the sterile white walls and floor were now replaced by drab gray stone.

Thiera surveyed a row narrow steel frames on wheels, each with a sheet thrown over it, face wrinkling with disgust. "Are these beds or gurneys?"

Euryale shrugged. "Look, I'm sorry, if we have an injury or an officer that goes down in the field, usually, they're taken to a hospital. The infirmary is only used for on-site emergencies. I don't know, maybe you'll like the ambulance better?"

Aroma raised her hand, even now wearing the gloves that Thiera had bought her, cleaned spick-and-span just for today.

Euryale stared at her, pursing her lips and furrowing her brow. Slowly, she raised her arm to point at Aroma, who asked, "Excuse me, but where is our office?"

When Euryale pointed to a desk in the corner, buried under disorganized sheets of paper, Aroma frowned. "Oh—well—at least it has a phone and a typewriter."

"What are those?" Thiera asked, pointing to a couple of tall, dome-shaped blue objects sitting on their "office" table.

"Oh, those are hats," Euryale answered. "You'll be required to wear them, as they signify that a Healer is connected to the department."

Aroma's frown deepened. "They look kind of...phallic."

They turned when they heard the door open, to see an officer, slightly shorter than Euryale, who had brown hair falling just shy of his squared shoulders. Thick and angular, his face appeared to be carved out of rock, with an appropriately hard glare.

"The big 3-way between Avici, Beifong, and the Council is going down in 20 minutes. I figured, since the Purists are your case, you'd wanna see him fry."

Aroma recognized him, but hearing him try to make small talk, she shirked back. The slight increase in his vocal pitch just made it sound like he was mocking what someone who would actually want to be friends with Euryale might say. She preferred him curt and silent. Staring at him with an unreadable expression, Thiera probably felt something similar.

"Excellent news!" Euryale proudly declared, showing no signs of suspicion as she saluted the officer, "Thanks, Kane."

Kane rigidly returned a salute that was really more like he was swatting a fly.

When he left, Euryale turned to the duo, rubbing her hands together. "So—wanna come along, you 2?"

***

After a short drive, they reached the Council building, just in time to catch Chief Beifong stepping out of her own car. Euryale matched her brisk walk, but stayed a pace behind while Aroma and Thiera stumbled along behind her, now grimacing under their new hats.

"Do you think we can get the warrant?" Euryale asked.

Chief Beifong smirked, even though none of them could see it. "Watch and learn, kids."

"We are all in our 20's," Thiera protested.

"That's nice," Chief Beifong said, before pushing the doors open. A man, presumably Dr. Avici, was standing in the "bend" of the roughly U-shaped Council table, gesticulating rather forcefully at each chairperson. He was fairly stereotypically dressed in a long, white coat, which fastened with a trio of clasps at the chest, similarly to a Healer's Jacket. He was even still wearing his plastic gloves, as though trying to convince the Council that he really was a scientist. As a medical researcher, underneath his lab coat, he wore a blue uniform similar to Aroma's and Thiera's. In terms of physical features, he had pale skin and black hair, with streaks of gray, which reached down to around his ears.

"I don't think you understand the implications of my research," he complained more calmly than his gesturing would suggest, slow and low pitched, as though he were trying to explain it to children.

"But you said that your paper speaks for itself," Tenzin noted.

This prompted Dr. Avici to point to him, his demeanor suddenly snapping. "And it does! If you had read it, then you would know that my procedure is the gateway to eliminating all forms of unwanted behavior!"

"Including Bending?" asked the Fire Councilwoman, an older woman in a formal, traditional crimson blouse over a long-sleeved magenta under robe, her gray hair wrapped up in a tight bun under a cloth matching her blouse.

Dr. Avici rounded on her next. "What does that matter? Are you honestly going to set medical research back decades just to preserve your ability to shoot fire at people?!"

"I have never attacked another person with my Firebending!" she bellowed, square jowls flapping.

"I am simply saying, there is a statistic link between firebending and assault crimes."

"No offense to our esteemed Councilwoman, but that is technically correct," the chairman said, recognizable by his cobalt military regalia and handlebar mustache as Franz. He sounded like a grunting walrus-seal.

Tenzin glared across the room at him. "Would you just call the vote? We've all read the doctor's paper, we've heard the arguments, now it's time to reach a decision!"

"Fine. All opposed?" Predictably, every single Councilperson raised their hands, and so Franz banged the gavel, casting a sidelong glance at Dr. Avici. "So sorry, Doctor, but your request for city funding has been denied."

The doctor held his hands out as if to grab Franz. "Unbelievable! This is hardly a democratic decision, the vote was prejudiced by—"

"The decision is final, Dr. Avici."

The researcher took a step back, shaking his head slowly. "You just don't understand the consequences of your actions...yet."

"Is that a threat, Doctor?"

Dr. Avici shot a glare over his shoulder, towards where Euryale and Chief Beifong observed with their arms crossed, Aroma and Thiera peering out from behind them. "Not at all. I'll be taking my leave now." As he whirled around, he adjusted the black, square-rimmed glasses that they could now see he was wearing.

"You might want to stick around for a bit," Chief Beifong noted casually as she started forward, "I'm here to request a warrant to search all properties owned or leased by you."

The doctor stopped dead in his tracks and spun again as Chief Beifong walked past him. "What? On what grounds?"

"Yes...what is this about, Lin?" Tenzin asked, looking concerned. The Chief ignored him and turned instead to Franz, handing him a slip of paper. Once she had done so, she folded her hands behind her back.

"This copy of a news clip on Dr. Avici was sent in to the department. As you can see, it was hand-edited to include the name that our witnesses confirm the new anti-bender gang to be using. The article's subject, as you note, is Dr. Avici's dislike of benders."

"Freedom of speech, you disgruntled old wolfbat!" Dr. Avici shouted, swiping his hand at her as though he held a sword, "Not bowing down to your every opinion just because of your mighty metalbending mother is not a crime!"

Chief Beifong squinted dangerously at him when he mentioned her mother, then turned back and shrugged. "No, but criminal conspiracy is. In addition to that article, we recovered a weapon from a Purist attack that we have confirmed is made from a type of plastic that Dr. Avici was researching before the company he was partnered with went bankrupt."

"Circumstantial at best!" Dr. Avici protested.

"We don't need to prove that you're guilty to get a warrant," Chief Beifong corrected him.

"Fascinating development, that I should be denied funding AND accused of a crime, both for my political views, and all in the space of 5 minutes!"

"That is quite enough, Dr. Avici," Franz cautioned. "Please use your inside voice, and quit interrupting, or I will have to have you removed. Now, Chief Beifong, is there anything else?"

"Not for now."

"Very well, then. All in favor of granting this warrant?" Once again, every single Councilperson raised their hands, Franz banged the gavel, and Dr. Avici shook with impotent rage. He opened his mouth, but just sort of made an incoherent snarl, and turned to walk briskly out of the room.

"Fleeing just makes you look guilty," Chief Beifong called over her shoulder. Euryale glared at him as he walked past. He was almost out of the door when he found his path blocked by Thiera, fists clenched at her sides and eyes boring right into his. Dr. Avici looked down his nose at Thiera as if she were a pile of something he didn't want to step in. Aroma stared at them curiously, frowning when she saw the look on the doctor's face.

"And what do you want?" he asked.

"I just want you to know that the Purists burned down my mother's clinic last night, with myself, and all of my staff and patients inside. It was only because of the timely intervention of Officer Rakshashi that we just barely escaped with our lives. So I certainly hope that those are not the kind of people that you support."

He smirked at her, tilting his head back. "Well, I assure you, I am very sorry to hear that you just barely escaped with your lives."

Thiera's fists were now shaking. Aroma approached her, gently grabbing her arm and holding her hand. She joined Thiera in glaring at the first person she ever wished death on, refusing to back down even after seeing the contempt burning in his acid green eyes. Dr. Avici backed out of the staring contest surprisingly quickly, averting his gaze to move past them. The Healers turned to continue stabbing him in the back with their own gazes.

Euryale also looked after him, but with a more even expression. After a while, she piped up, "He's going to run."

Aroma shook herself, before turning to her and asking, "What? How do you know?"

"He practically admitted to trying to kill Thiera. Trust me, he knows he's busted, he's gonna try to go underground before we get enough to arrest him."

Tenzin stepped down from the Council Table and made his way over to them. "Lin, what's this about? Is there any way that I can help?"

Chief Beifong held a hand up to his face, practically shoving him away as she rebuffed him. "The police can handle this investigation ourselves, thank you."

Meanwhile, Franz was signing a slip of paper that he had withdrawn from a drawer. He then passed it on to the Earth Kingdom Chairman, a balding man with a topknot and a green button-up jacket, who signed it and passed it on to the Fire Nation Chairwoman. When the Southern Water Tribe Chairman—another balding man, this one with an oblong face and dressed in a lightweight blue parka with a cape collar—was ready to hand the warrant and ink bottle off, Tenzin reluctantly turned to sign as well. No sooner than his pen left the page than Lin snatched it away and turned to leave.

"Euryale, drop those 2 off at the station, then meet me at the doctor's flat."

***

Early afternoon saw Aroma and Thiera sitting on a bench in Republic City Park, under a small copse of trees by the stream's edge. It's hard to find private time when you're being guarded from a homicidal maniac, but the park usually only had 1 or 2 patrol personnel stationed at a time, in this case a tall, lanky and pale woman with blue eyes and brown hair set in a tight bun. Like Aroma and Thiera, she had to wear one of those terrible oblong hats, though hers was black and matched her slacks and button-up jacket. She kept her distance from the duo, but observed them from afar during her rounds.

Thiera was eating one of her favorite foods, a white rice sausage with tomato sauce in a roll, while Aroma partook of a carton of seaweed noodles, though she was more aimlessly twirling the noodles with her chopsticks. When Thiera had finally finished, cleaned up, and deposited her wipe in the nearby waste basket, Aroma cast her eyes to the rainbow of leaves that was falling into the stream. Thiera drummed her fingers on her knees, legs slightly crossed.

"It's beautiful out here," Aroma rasped, "D-don't you think?" She looked over.

Thiera turned to her, eyebrows set in a stern "V." "I can clearly see that something is wrong, why won't you tell me what it is?"

"Nothing is wrong!" Aroma quickly blurted out. "At least—I don't think it is...."

Thiera's eyebrows scrunched even further as she struggled to make sense of this. "I am confused."

"Thiera—don't you think this is a lovely day?" She turned, gesturing broadly across the river, a family of turtle ducks weaving through the fallen foliage, sending gentle ripples lapping up on the shore.

"You are avoiding the question," Thiera contended.

"A lovely day," Aroma pressed on. "The kind of day that makes you think about how lovely things are. About lovely—lovely people."

"You're shaking," Thiera murmured, reaching out and touching Aroma's shoulder, "And the way that you're repeating yourself—are you sure that you're feeling alright? Please, you should allow me to examine you."

Aroma leaned into Thiera's touch, brushing aside her bangs and closing her eyes. A second later, she felt fingers gently kneading into her brow and heard the soft, soothing buzz of waterbending. Her forehead tingled slightly.

"Your face feels hot," Thiera noted, "Which isn't so surprising, given how red and blotchy you look right now. We should probably get you a drink. But I don't feel any blockages. In fact, your chi feels unusually excited."

"It should," Aroma noted, "I'm excited. And a little nervous." Blotchy?

"Oh?" Thiera drew back. "About what?"

When Aroma opened her eyes, a gust of wind picked up, twirling Thiera's hair and tossing it playfully into the sunbeams. Aroma tried to smile, but only succeeded in clenching her jaw. Thiera waited patiently, placing a hand on Aroma's knee, applying small pressure to urge her on. Aroma's own hands immediately shot to Thiera's, who jumped with surprise.

"I'm sorry! I didn't hurt you, did I?" Aroma asked.

"You just startled me," Thiera reassured her. "Please, tell me what is on your mind."

Aroma raised Thiera's hand up to about chest level, conscious not to squeeze too tight, but unable to suppress the shaking of her wrists. She felt her hands grow wet and cold, only fueling her panic, which of course made the clamminess creep up her arms and shoulders and into her neck.

"I have to know how you feel about me!" she blurted out. "Why did we come out here? Why are we going to Kuang's Cuisine together?"

"Well...why wouldn't I want to go out with you?" She tilted her head, pursing her lips. "Aroma...did something I do make you think I don't like you?"

"No, no, I'm sorry, I should never have doubted you. I told myself that it was silly, but it all just seems too good to be true. Would—would it be too forward to ask for a hug?"

"Of course not," Thiera said, "But you'll have to let go of my hand first."

Aroma looked down to see that her fingers had clenched around Thiera's, making them look like bloated little blood sausages. She immediately dropped Thiera's hand, allowing the waterbender to massage her knuckles.

"Oh—I'm sorry...!" Tentatively, Aroma reached out towards Thiera's shoulders. Thiera leaned in a bit more quickly, putting an arm around the small of Aroma's back and patting it. Aroma wrapped her arms around the back of Thiera's neck, kneading into her shoulders. After a moment, Thiera looked up and their eyes locked. Aroma's heart banged against her ribcage, pushing her towards her love. She moved her hands up to the back of Thiera's neck and leaned in, but no sooner had her lips brushed against Thiera's than the waterbender shot backwards and pushed roughly against Aroma's shoulders.

Not expecting this, Aroma toppled off of the bench, knocking her noodles askew. The turtleducks happily swarmed her, devouring the noodles and pecking at her for more. Aroma ignored the stinging bites, sitting up to stare at Thiera in panic.

"I'm sorry! I shouldn't have made that move so soon after we started dating, should I? Stupid, stupid—I mean that I'm stupid, you're not stupid, you're brilliant, a genius, and so stunning—is this a bad time to be complimenting you? Am I just making myself look desperate? Please, I don't mean to hurt you, just let me know!"

For her part, Thiera just stared down at her in confusion. "Dating? Wha—oh. OH. Ohhhh...."

Her expression suddenly melted into a look you might give someone before telling them you accidentally ran over their cat. Aroma swore that her heart literally stopped.

"Aroma...I'm not—"

"You don't need to say anything," Aroma said quickly. She stood just as quickly, turning to cover her face, which she awkwardly tried to pass off as scratching.

Thiera looked around for a topic change and smiled nervously at the patrolwoman who was peering at them in confusion across the bank. "We should—uh—get back to work."

A shake ran up Aroma's body. Of course they would still have to finish their shift, not to mention share the same office and apartment! Being around Thiera so often while avoiding sharing her feelings was already awkward enough, but facing her disappointment day in and day out would eviscerate her. Plus, she still had no idea how Thiera would react to the unwanted attention...she didn't think this through at all!

"Do you—uh—want to stop along the way? For more noodles?"

"No thanks, I'm not hungry. I have to go to the bathroom! I'll meet you later!"

Without waiting for a reply, she darted off across the bridge, sending an angry, squawking cloud of turtleducks flying. The patrolwoman ran after her, shouting and asking what was wrong, a well-meaning gesture that only made her even more of a public spectacle.

"Bathroom!" she yelled, reaching behind her to wave the patrolwoman off.

Not coordinated enough to handle all of this at once, her foot bumped a rock and she skidded face-first across the grass. The patrolwoman bolted to her side to help her up. By the time Aroma looked back, Thiera had already disappeared. Aroma dully lied and told the patrolwoman that she was okay while brushing dirt off of her face—her gloves already bore the brunt of the grass stains.

The patrolwoman took her by the arm and led her to a squat building of cheap wood with holes rotted into it, practically a crate. Entering, she ran some water. She then slid her gloves off of her arms, trying to bite back her sniffles as she folded them and placed them in her pocket. She cupped her hands under the faucet and splashed her face a few times, then looked up at her cracked, clouded face in the mirror, frowning resolutely.

You can't stay in here all day. You're not a schoolgirl anymore. It's time to pull up your grown-up pants and face the music.

Inhaling deeply, she shut off the water and stepped out. The patrolwoman offered her arm, but Aroma shook her head and pushed past her, eventually finding Euryale standing at the wrought iron arch of the park gates. She was still in her armor, waving with her left hand, a kind of red sausage wrapped in dough in her right.

Aroma covered her eyes, trying to make it look as though she was shielding them from the sun. She asked, "W--what are you doing here?"

"Just got back to HQ," she answered, "Heard that you and Thiera were on lunch break, and decided to join you. Speaking of, where exactly is Thiera? And why aren't you wearing your evening gloves? Get too hot?"

"I—yes, that's it. So hot that Thiera decided to go back early."

"And you didn't go with her?"

"It was...too beautiful a day—to pass up."

"Heh, hey, did you use the 'not half as beautiful as you are' line?" Euryale joked.

"Can we please talk about something else?!" Aroma snapped. "What happened with Dr. Avici, for instance?"

Euryale nodded. "Yeah, sure, sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. You know I just want to help you succeed with her."

Aroma stared at the ground.

"Don't worry, I'm sure you'll find what you want to say to her soon. But about Dr. Avici, like we expected, he ran. His flat was mostly just full of junk, but we did find some evidence that he'd been experimenting with blasting jelly and gunpowder without a permit. But what we didn't find was even more important than what we did: He didn't have anywhere near as much Shirshu toxin as he ordered for anesthetics, so either he's been trading it instead of actually using it, or he took what he had left when he went into hiding. Neither of which is legal."

"How do you know he's in hiding?" Aroma asked.

"Stole stuff from his office, didn't come back from his break, and nobody knows where he is. Witnesses say he drove up to the Dragon Flats, something he's been doing a lot. Apparently, he's been claiming he was buying supplies, but his employers deny ever sending him for any. Probably peddling supplies to the Purists. We've got units up there trying to find either him or his buyer."

"And you don't want to be up there with them?"

"Eh, I decided to question his coworkers s'more," Euryale answered with a shrug, "The trail on Avici and his buyer seems to have run cold for now. So, where're we eating?"

"I actually already finished my lunch," Aroma said. It's more-or-less true.

"Oh...okay, then I guess I'll just take you back to HQ and eat on the way. I forgot to grab a Verricola anyway."

Aroma just nodded.

"Are you sure you're alright?" Euryale asked.

"Yes, I—I'm fine."

At first, the way back to the station was filled with awkward silence. About halfway there, Euryale finally broke and resumed discussing the case, rambling on about possible places Dr. Avici might be hiding: Drainage pipes by the docks, abandoned factory basements in the industrial sector, decommissioned train cars, and more. Aroma just nodded her head every once in a while and pretended to listen. In reality, she was questioning if she adequately probed Thiera's personality: Would she still want to be Aroma's friend? Was she offended? How would this affect their living arrangements? Would she move out again? Would Aroma be transferred or fired? Did Thiera even still have that authority now that they were working with the police?

The answers to these questions would have to wait. When Aroma arrived at their "office," Thiera was nowhere to be found. Euryale took a short trip back to the front desk, and when she returned, informed Aroma that Thiera would be out for the rest of the day, recollecting patient information that was lost when the Dragon Flats clinic was burned. Aroma knew that she was being avoided, but wasn't sure what that meant. Maybe Thiera didn't want to see her ever again. Maybe she just wanted to give her space.

Pondering these questions wouldn't give her answers, and Aroma could feel her eyes burning again, so when Euryale left, she just sat behind the desk and buried herself in paperwork.

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