|By Neo Bahamut||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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Monday, May 18, 2015
"Aroma!" Euryale called out, shaking the Healer by her shoulders. She was still writhing on the bed, tears streaming down her face, sweat beading along her brow and darkening her uniform. At least Euryale had managed to pry her arms off of the headboard and turn her around.
"Please help me!"
"I'm trying to, but you have to WAKE UP!"
Aroma opted instead to claw at Euryale's face, punching her in her nose and slapping her across her right eye. She drew back slightly, but bit through the pain.
"I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, groping at the end table until the shade of the incense burner clattered to the floor, "But you leave me no choice!"
She scooped up the long-extinguished contents and brought them towards her, then blew on the ash in her hand, sending it straight down Aroma's mouth and nose. The Healer hacked and sputtered, reaching up to push the offending particles out of her face. But Euryale's plan worked and Aroma's eyes snapped open, pupils darting fearfully around the room.
"It's okay," Euryale assured her as she switched on the lamp, "It's just me! You're not in the Spirit World anymore, and you're not dreaming—you're safe!"
Euryale jerked with surprise as Aroma wrapped her arms around her waist and rubbed her face against her abs. "That was so awful!" she sobbed, "Did you see it?!"
"Yeah," Euryale said, "That girl in your vision has some connection to the Purist Leader. Possibly her daughter. If she trained her daughter to attack Republic City, that could be bad, we could be looking at yet another disenfranchised Kyoshi Warrior stalking the streets, out hunting for the blood of benders."
Aroma pulled back and glared up at Euryale, lips curled back in fury. "Where did you go!?"
"What? I've been here this whole time...."
"I mean in the Spirit World! When that horrid woman came after me, you just disappeared, and I was left all alone in an alleyway! How could you, you—you—" She raised her little fist, but Euryale made no move to defend herself. Aroma bit her lip and eventually lowered her trembling arm, clenching her eyes shut. "How could you?"
Euryale rubbed her head, smiling when Aroma allowed it. "Aroma...in the Spirit World, your emotions determine your reality. You felt isolated, so you were taken away from me. It's the same reason why I was able to find you when you called for me. On the contrary, I just wanted to get us out of there, so I woke up, only to find that you weren't with me."
"Is that," Aroma began with a sniff, "Is that why I seemed to keep teleporting around?"
"Similar idea," Euryale said, "Distance doesn't mean much in the Spirit World. Why did you go into that forest anyway?"
"I h—heard a scream that turned out to be Hikari. You didn't?"
"No. The vision was meant for you, so I only encountered it when you called for me. Otherwise, you know I'd be there to help you through anything."
Aroma felt a pang of guilt. "I'm—I'm sorry for d—doubting you...."
Euryale resumed stroking her hair. "It's okay. You—"
She was interrupted by a harsh screech that caused Aroma to jump.
"It's okay, it's just the phone. But it could be the department, so will you be okay if I—?"
"Thank you." She turned up Aroma's chin and gave her a quick peck on the forehead. The Healer stared at her in surprise as she slid off of the bed and darted out into the hallway.
Moments later, she returned, looking crestfallen. "It was the Department. Something happened to—"
"Is Thiera okay?!"
Euryale's expression twisted. She saw this look once before, the night the Purist Leader stabbed her. "Yes. She came in while we were meditating, and is sleeping like a baby. Something happened to my friends, not yours."
The sting of guilt returned to Aroma's bosom. "I'm so sorry, I didn't think—"
"No. You didn't." Euryale sighed, "But it's okay. It's—they were on patrol outside of the Council building. The Chief thinks they were lured away by a crime-in-progress that was really an ambush so that the Purists could kill them—for their truck."
Aroma's hands shot to her mouth. "What? That's horrible!"
Euryale folded her arms, leaning back slightly. "Yeah, no kidding. They loaded it down with blasting jelly and ran it into the side of the Council Building. Inside there was some vandalism, and some money was stolen—naturally—but they also seemed to be after files. Specifically maps, mostly of forgotten places like the underground tunnels. They also took everything on the Council members, the United Forces, and the police, though most of our stuff is locked up back at HQ."
"All of that? How long ago did this happen?"
"Probably hours. A storm blew through, they must have used it to mask their crime. We only found out about it when the officers didn't report in at the end of their shift."
"So...are you going out?"
"Yeah. We're going into work early. You're used to being on call, right?" When Aroma nodded, she added, "Good. So you just go get ready while I wake up Thiera."
As Aroma slid off the bed, Euryale strode over to wrench her closet doors open. While her dresses were all on hangers, her armor was arranged in a sort of pile on the floor. Still, all Euryale had to do was flex her arms and it all came flying at her, greaves snapping shut around her legs, gauntlets sliding on, even the breastplate simply flopped over her head, the individual plates articulating when they met at her sides.
Moments later, Aroma slid quietly into the cruiser's passenger seat. In the rear view, Euryale saw Thiera pressed against her window, watching the town rolling past. At her side was Aroma, staring at her. She flexed her mouth several times, but was hesitant to say anything.
"Just forget it," Euryale said, "I don't really know anyone in the department all that well. Not that it makes it okay, but—just try to act normal, alright?"
"Okay," Aroma answered with a nod, "So...you don't have a partner, or anything? I thought most cops had partners?"
"Uh...Not always. I mean, my dad showed me the ropes, but after he retired, I wanted to work alone. But let's just forget about work, cops, and robbers altogether. You guys need to get out more, being stalked by crazies doesn't mean you have to hide from fun."
"Actually, I mostly stayed at home even before all of this happened," Aroma said.
Thiera muttered, "I am much the same, in that regard."
"Okay, fair enough, but I get to drag you to at least one major social function a week, got it? Provided our schedules are clear, of course."
"That sounds fine, I guess," Aroma stated non-committedly.
On the other hand, Thiera frowned. "Define 'major social function,' please."
"Well, like, anything from going to a party to just out to eat," Euryale answered. "Plays, Pro-Bending matches...Little Fire Nation will be throwing a big bash down by the docks next week, to welcome Keter to the city. We should go to that."
"What would we even do there?" Thiera asked.
Euryale shrugged. "It's a party, go have some fun?"
Aroma turned in her seat to stare behind her, brow furrowing in concern. "Um, we already passed the council building."
"There are no survivors," Thiera explained dully, "And therefore nothing that we can do there."
With most of the police out investigating the Purists, HQ was largely empty. Saikhan, a balding man around the Chief's age with a large nose and a vaguely rectangular head, nodded at them from behind the desk when they signed in, but returned to his paperwork without awaiting a reply.
Once they were inside of their office, Thiera unexpectedly spun on her heels and announced, "We need to talk."
"About what?" Aroma answered with a nervous giggle. She closed the door before continuing, "Listen, we really don't have to, I understand...." Understand what exactly? I have a pretty good idea of why she shot me down, I guess, but that's all I know. Then again, do I really want to know anything else?
As if reading her thoughts, Thiera pressed on, "I think you've guessed that I don't harbor romantic feelings about you, or any other woman, for that matter."
"Yes," Aroma muttered wistfully at her toes, "I don't know why I assumed otherwise."
"Is Euryale aware?"
"Wha—oh, yes, she actually gave me advice on how to—talk to you—about this...."
Thiera scoffed in exasperation. "Have neither of you ever heard the expression 'Look before you leap'?"
The lump in Aroma's throat pulsed as her eyebrows pushed together, but she said nothing, and still avoided looking up at Thiera.
"...I think I should move out," the waterbender said after a while.
"So, what, you're done with me?" Aroma asked bitterly, "Just like that? Someone takes a fancy to you, and you don't want to be around them anymore?"
"It isn't like that!" Thiera protested. "It's just that—I'm not—"
"Comfortable around me?"
"Be honest: Are you comfortable around me anymore?"
Now Aroma looked up, face growing hot. "I wasn't comfortable around you before! Don't you get it?! Showing someone how important they are to you isn't easy, and it's not something you just run away from if you get hurt!"
Thiera's teeth and eyes flashed as she started forward, but she stepped back again when Aroma pointed at her, punctuating each angry remark with a shaming wag from her finger.
"No, you wanted me to talk, so hear this: What do you think I was thinking as I worked under you for all of these years? Or when saving you from the Purists? It sure wasn't, 'Oh no, this is uncomfortable, I'd better go somewhere else!' Granted, I guess I did run away after asking you for a date, but I came right back!"
With the rage boiled away, Aroma's nerves were scalded raw. First, her breath caught up to her. She sputtered and wheezed, clutching her stomach with both hands as it twisted into an agonizing knot. If Thiera noticed the occasional twitching of her shoulders, she didn't say. Instead, she slowly lowered her own shoulder, relaxing her posture. Her mouth closed and she literally chewed, figuratively digesting what Aroma had said. To Aroma's surprise, her eyes misted over and she gave a great sniff.
Eventually, she spoke, "You are being awfully harsh."
Without hesitation, Aroma answered, "Yeah, well, the truth hurts sometimes. But you have to accept it." She looked aside, at nothing in particular. As she continued her speech, her tone became less bitter and more resigned. "I know I have to move on. You won't have to worry about me longing after you. I'll just...find someone else." Yeah, right, as if it will be that easy to replace you.
Thiera scratched her temple. Eventually, she nodded. "Alright. It's my turn to trust you and follow your orders. So if you think I should stay with you and Euryale, I will."
"Of course you should. We are safer together. We can support each other, and not just against the Purists."
"Through the trials and tribulations of day-to-day affairs," Thiera noted with a smile, which Aroma promptly returned.
The girls' expressions faded as they heard the door open. Looking over, they saw an officer with dark skin and red hair peeking through, but it wasn't Euryale. Her hair was much longer, mostly tucked behind her ears, and matched her eyes, while her expression was the opposite of Euryale's; cold, rigidly angular, and hawkish. Aroma recognized her as Officer Barbatos, whom Euryale said was frequently in trouble with internal affairs for her bad temper and even worse reputation among the suspects that she brought in—never without a fight.
"What are you 2 moaning about?"
Aroma began, "Oh, we were just—"
"Rhetorical. Just stop yelling, it sounds like a soap opera in here."
And so she slammed the door, leaving the girls to stare at each other in bewilderment.
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