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|More from Dragon of The West||Drama||PG||Positive||None|
|Redemption, Part 1: Dejection|
Feb 28th, 2012
Redemption, Part 2: Dominion
It was a somber trip up North, since no other mood could fit the occasion. They had both been mentors, teachers, even parents to some. Perhaps this is why the Nomads had taken to calling them FuJin ("Father") and MuJin ("Mother"). To think of how they passed, peacefully, laying together in their sleep one could only think that it had truly been a blessing from the Spirits.
Yao and Lin were finally at rest, far from the cries of war, free from the throes of hunger, and without the burden of pain. All of the things that had beset them in their early years as a family of ministers in the Earth Kingdom were but distant memories.
Here in the solace of the Northern Air Temple life had begun anew in what some may have called the twilight years of their life. The Old Masters had lived fully, loved fully, laughed heartily and wept bitterly. They had both learned and taught, heard and spoken, and now as they had loved, they received others' love and respect, wishing them farewell on this their last journey.
The old Nomads were of a very rigorous emotional disposition and generally disapproved of strong emotional attachments or any manifestations thereof. However, Aang had not lived long enough among them to develop this ascetic character. Therefore, the farewell ceremony had been so far a very emotional one. Many tears were shed on the day of the elderly masters' final goodbye, but of course none were as heartfelt or as true as those of their children, Tseng and Huang. For as tender as their parting was, it was still sudden, since they had showed no sickness, no suffering, and their mind was sound and fresh to their very last day. However, even though Tseng and Huang's words had been sincere and beautiful and bestowed much honor unto their late Mother and Father, what most people would end up remembering was the words of a Young Master by the name of Kuen Yin...
"Woe is me."
Aye, came the echo from the audience...
"You will not find many people who can tell that that they've seen their Father or Mother die twice, leaving them twice an orphan. You see, The Great War took my parents from me at an early age. They were both killed during a Fire Nation raid to our village. After that, my brother, my sister and I were left to fend off for ourselves: wandering, foraging, begging, and even stealing to survive. I still remember clearly how, after having thrown in our luck with the Eastern Gypsies for the best part of two years, we were abandoned at the Gates of Ba Sing Se with nothing more than half a bag of rice, three silver pieces and a hastily written note: 'Sorry, not enough to go around - must trim dead weight.'
I remember taking up two jobs to support my younger kin. My brother was of working age, but I would never forgive myself for not allowing him to complete one of our Father's greatest wishes, which was to see him study and get a career as far removed from the military as possible. I was a cleaning girl during the day and a laundry girl during the evenings, serving two different households in the middle ring. As much as I begged for board on their comfortable, spacious homes, I was denied, receiving only meager pay with which to buy food and pay rent in the Lower Ring.
Two years passed – then the War was over. My brother was finally safe from the danger of early recruitment, but we were not completely out of harm's way. I remember the hoodlums constantly threatening to meddle with my younger brother and sister. The prospect alone would drive me to tears at night. I was forced to offer my body to the low lives in order for them to spare my family. My brother and sister found out. They never forgave me. I was able to secure them a good foster home before removing myself from their lives. The lady I did laundry for found it in her heart to make room for them in her home. We both agreed, though, that it was best for me to spare them my shame, so I left them there and never saw them again.
And so there I was: tainted, broken, in complete and utter despair. I felt completely unworthy of love or forgiveness, the weight of loneliness and reproach crushing my heart and obliterating my spirit. It was then that I heard about the news of a call for volunteers to become the new Air Nomads. Even in my bleak mood, I felt that 18 was too young an age for my life to be over, so I opted for a fresh start, as many of us did.
And it was here that I met my second parents, FuJin and MuJin. They saw a beauty in me that I could no longer see in myself. You see, they made it a point to do their best to see inside of me, as opposed to seeing only the outside. They had a special wisdom, which helped them see past the insults, the attitude and the bitterness that I constantly spewed at them. They knew my toughness was only skin deep, and that beneath the surface, there was nothing but a hurt, angry, lonely child. Day after day, they mended my broken soul and nurtured and guided my spirit until it was strong again. Their love and their acceptance vested me with the power to forgive myself and start anew. And they did it selflessly, with so many of us! They sowed into the earth of our misfortune and pain, and to reap what?"
She paused briefly, and gave off a slight, playful smile...
"Alas! Here I would dare say lays the beauty of being a wise sower: of being one who knows where the good earth lies and casts his seed accordingly, for they were taken without lamentation, suffering, or pain. Once their time upon this Earth was due, the Spirits simply collected them and placed them yonder to where their reward awaited."
"They leave us, but not until having set an example for raising the banner of truth and conviction even in the face of certain death. For we all know that they served with dignity, integrity and love even when they were beset and surrounded by chaos, confusion, hatred, and discord. And it was so, even in their later years, that after having fought evil in many battlefields - in their minds, in their home, in their ministry – that they were forced to face it with their bare hands. When evil showed its face at our doorstep, they did not run away, they did not hide, nor did they look for a corner in which to crouch and whimper. They grit their teeth and balled their fists and faced it head-on, like the headstrong earthbenders they once were – 'You shall not pass!'"
A fierce determination had taken over the young Nun's words. Emboldened by the memories of her brave old mentors, she raised her voice, allowing the fire that set her heart ablaze reach the ears of her audience:
"In their old age, where one would think their strength would fail or their heart would cower, they stood by their word and called evil to its face and cast it out –'You shall not pass!'"
Aang and Tengu sprung from their seats, and began clapping, tears strolling down their faces.
"You shall not pass!" Kuen Yin cried into the mountains, bellowing feverishly, as more of the Nomads stood up and joined the Avatar and the Chief Counselor.
"We are old, we are gray, we are well past our prime, but we will not stand down! We refuse to conveniently remove ourselves from the way! YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"
After a brief moment of exaltation, Kuen Yin was able to resume her eulogy, once against in the midst of a peaceable, reverent silence.
"And today, we celebrate their strength and their courage, their love and their wisdom, and ultimately, their legacy. Bless you, FuJin and MuJin. May your memory live forever."
Tseng and Huang then blew upon the bundled bodies of their parents. Their corpses, wrapped in coarse linen, like human-sized cocoons, flew high among the mountains, awaiting their final metamorphosis while moving ever closer to their eternal home...
Immediately after the funeral ceremony, Aang chose to spend the rest of the day alone, locking himself in the sacred chambers to meditate, pray and mourn. His heart was heavy, not only with the grief of losing dear mentors and friends, but also with the predicament their sudden departure had now cast upon his shoulders. War had become an all-encompassing endeavor for the last four years, leaving him with little time to keep developing the nascent Air Nomads. There was now a veritable void in the temple's leadership and he was left to ponder who could fill such an important space. He found no solution that afternoon. Even in his sleep he found himself troubled with the burden of preoccupation and indecision.
The next day, his mood was still dark and gloomy, slightly exacerbated by his restlessness. He knew that he owed Chang and Kuen Yin a meeting, but instead he indulged in his bereavement, strolling lazily through the grounds, wandering aimlessly through the chilly, albeit sunlit hallways. At mid-morning, he casually found his wife, watching Sora practice a series of rounds with Tengu, Lu, Wu and Shu. He could not help but smile as he watched all of the airbenders give the young child simultaneous advice to improve her form.
"All of them would be great teachers." Katara said to Aang.
"That's for sure..." Aang replied, gazing dreamily into their direction...
"Yet there's only one she really cares to listen to..."
Aang gave a playful, questioning smirk as he sat down and observed more closely. All of his daughter's attention was focused on one person...
"He would be a wonderful master..."
"Tengu?" he looked at the former killer and then at his wife, his gaze alternating between the two, as he scoffed lightly, in amused bewilderment "Really? Wasn't energybending Tengu the fearsome killer, a dangerous man, a bad idea?"
"Yes, I was wrong – you can rub it in..." Katara seemed defenseless, but she was far from beaten "I think he has more than earned a place in this family."
Aang immediately became more serious; remembering the many times Tengu had put himself literally in harm's way to protect them. "Very true..."
Aang remained pensive for a second and then continued "Well, he's not a Master, so technically..."
"Why is he not a Master?" Katara interrupted.
"Well, there was the incident with Wu and Shu..."
"Aang, Sora is almost six, which means that was well over seven years ago..."
Aang was pensive once again "I need to talk to Kuen Yin. We need her permission to continue Tengu's formal training."
"Aang you have to be kidding... Do you really still need a nod from her, after all of this time?"
"Well, no, but yes..." he said as he stood up and glanced at his wife.
"You sure you want to go there?"
"I really don't, but I need to make sure things will run smoothly. I can't have loose ends."
"Can't you just trust them to behave like adults about this?"
"Katara, one thing I've learned is not to trust anyone more than I trust myself. Emotions can be dangerous if left unchecked. I want to make sure they won't get in the way of our people growing."
Katara sighed as she saw her husband leave for the Temple's Garden, hoping that the ensuing storm would be short lived.
Alas... It would not.
Earlier that morning...
Tengu walked into the garden almost lazily, yet his stomach trembled with anticipation. He had managed to elude her - for years on end in fact - but he now had deliberately driven himself into this dead end. He hesitated for a brief moment, but he reckoned it was just too late to back out. He sat down in one of the smaller stone benches, his figure drenched in the early morning sunlight. Feeling the still scant warmth of the sun, he struck a meditation pose and relaxed, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. He waited.
She had followed in complete silence, yet even with his eyes closed he could still feel her standing right in front of him, some six to eight feet away. Such was their bond...and it was about to be tested.
He slowly opened his eyes until they adjusted to her figure. The stark contrast of light and shadow slowly melted away, revealing her graceful features. He unfolded from his position and stood up, and paid his respects to the Master with a deep bow. She returned the gesture, reciprocating her peer's sense of ceremony for a brief moment, yet she quickly approached him and hugged him tightly.
He was caught off guard by the sudden, intense display of affection. However, he slowly returned the embrace and cradled her. She sighed, taking in his scent and his warmth. A few moments passed in complete and utter silence. Suddenly a quiet, gentle sobbing began channeling her once carefully contained emotions, making her body tremble and weakening his defenses. Slowly, his tears forced themselves past the knot in his throat, found their way to his eyes and finally, down his face...
When she finally let go, she kept a hold of his right hand. He gestured for her to sit. She sat and began drying her tears. He too, sat down, doing what he could to regain his composure.
"You have been avoiding me..." she reprieved, a sliver of resentment showing in her voice.
It was true. He could not lie. In fact, he had dreaded this moment for years, but there was no longer any point in delaying the inevitable...
"All this time, after that night you left from the Temple, I thought I would never see you again. All I had were your letters."
"Well, I am here now," he said.
Alas, he was. After all of those sleepless nights spent fearing, waiting and anticipating, he had finally come back. Looking into his deep brown eyes, she found weariness; the toll and the burden of war weighing down on his soul – refusing to leave him. Yet she also saw that, still in there, there was that very same unyielding resolve, that uncanny sense of honesty and honor that drew her so. There was also something else... Could it be what she had longed for all of this time?
"There is something I need to know - something I need you to tell me."
He stood silent as he struggled to maintain eye contact, as the weight of her begging stare was almost unbearable. He thought, however, that he owed at least that much – his undivided attention.
She had planned her response carefully for years. She had plans ranging from "A" through "F", catering to as many scenarios. However, now that the moment had finally presented itself, she failed to make words do her bidding. Failing to make her feelings verbal, she leaned over and kissed him with all the tenderness and passion she had locked in her heart for so long.
His lips were nearly motionless...
Kuen Yin stood up, fumbling. She was almost breathless. She felt hollow, cold, empty...exposed... Tears began forming in her eyes as she began her confidence began to crumble.
"I'm so sorry Kuen Yin, but I'm afraid I cannot give you the answer that you want." Tengu attempted an explanation.
"So you don't want me...?"
"Kuen Yin" Tengu said, a touch of sadness in his voice "you have a right to be much more than merely wanted: you should be loved, cherished, respected..."
"So you don't love me...?" a sterner, more confused version of her voice demanded.
"Kuen Yin, I do love you. I would die for you. I owe you my very life, but I cannot return what you feel for me."
Tengu had dealt her a crushing blow, but Kuen Yin was not willing to give up without a fight. Not after all of those sleepless nights and not after all she had been through.
"You know, I'm confused. All this time, I've been thinking there's this special bond between us. No one has ever made me feel so special, so respected, so important... I have never felt so close to a man as with you. And now that I've finally allowed myself to experience these feelings again, after all of the trash and the filth I've had to purge out of my mind and my spirit, you tell me that you don't feel the same way? That I'm somehow deluding myself into making our relationship into something that it's not?"
"There is a possibility..." Tengu replied as dryly as he could, allowing only the tiniest quiver of emotion in his voice.
"No! You're saying I'm imagining this! I am not crazy!" she asked, as her emotions began to make the transition from hurt and sadness into indignation and anger.
"You are fooling yourself, Kuen Yin. You make me to be the man of your dreams and I am not. In your mind you have filled in my flaws and sealed away my imperfections in order to satisfy your hopes for me."
"You are making this to be all about me, but mind you, I am not a foolish, delusional schoolgirl with a crush! I'm a grown woman and I know that you and I share a special bond - it's unique and it's profound and..."
"You idealize me yet, at the same time, you think that being that we share a troubled past, that I would be the only man that would have you..."
A fierce sting interrupted his words. Tengu took his fingers to his left cheek, visibly startled as he looked into Kuen Yin's fierce eyes, her right hand still pulsating from the slap. She looked at him sternly, pointing her finger at him...
"You have no right to be so condescending... We will not bring my past into this anymore. I know who I am and what I'm worth. I am not allowing you or anyone else lessen me because of my past!"
The tears were gone and the sobs had disappeared. Kuen Yin the frayed lover was gone and now standing in her place was once again the stalwart, headstrong Master.
"My apologies, Master Kuen Yin - I was a fool to treat you so." Tengu allowed his eyes to continue downcast. He did not want his consternation to be seen. His plan was playing out to the letter, yet he had underestimated the power of the backdraft.
Kuen Yin sustained her angry stare for a few seconds and was just about ready to turn about face and leave, but then she noticed the hesitation in his eyes. She then smiled a weak smile, and looked up to the sky as she dried her tears. A few moments of awkward silence took place before she addressed him once again, crossing her arms in a defiant motion.
"You have a way with words, Tengu." Tengu only breathed deeply, his gaze still fixed on the floor. "You would have me believe this whole stupid charade."
Only someone with such an intimate knowledge of her heart could push her buttons so. However, when it came to Tengu, Kuen Yin had a few tricks of her own. She now walked slowly towards him, with a new found confidence – a sinuous swagger...
"Look me in the eye" she commanded him in a quiet, steady voice. He would not comply. "Look at me." Not once she raised her voice.
Slowly, apprehensively, he raised his head until their eyes met. She smiled as she mesmerized him with her large, soft, emerald eyes...
"Tell me you don't love me. Tell me you don't have feelings for me and I will forever stay out of your way..."
He stood silent. She came closer and whispered to his face...
"You can't lie..."
A hole, an opening in his trap had allowed the prey to go free! Had he really been that shoddy, that weak, that transparent? He had lost the high ground and was now in the kill box – he could manipulate her insecurity no more. In a sense, he was relieved, since using such deceit was against his nature and he felt a burden of guilt being lifted off his shoulders.
Of course, he now had no choice but to actually verbalize all of those ethereal arguments he had forged in his subconscious mind throughout the course of the last decade. Clumsily, hurriedly – they found their way to his lips, where instead of weaving themselves into the usual tempered and lucid discourse; they ended up stuttering and sputtering, like a faulty steam engine.
"This can't be Kuen Yin – I'm a marked man, a target. I can't bring you into focus. I could never forgive myself if..."
"If they killed me like they did Xiaomian?"
Suddenly, the breakfast bell rang. The daily hustle and bustle of the Temple was about to ensue. Both monks automatically lowered their voices, wishing to avoid any casual eavesdropper.
"You saw what that did to me! You must remember how I was thrown into such desperation and woe that I lacked even the strength to take my own life!"
"Okay – so this is about fear..."
"Yes! I will say it – I'm not above it! Every person I've ever dared to love has been killed because of me!"
"That is NOT true!"
"I couldn't save my family!"
An enraged scowl emerged in Tengu's features. The threat of rage unbound pulsating behind his tearful eyes was menacing, even to her. Finally, he mumbled between gritted teeth...
Like a master tactician, Kuen Yin had dealt her coup de graçe. A quick, deafening blow had rendered the master strategist, the stalwart friend, utterly and completely defenseless.
And now what..?
"You know, I can't force you to return my feelings: I can't force you to love me the way that I do and am willing to love you. But one thing I will say is this, Tengu: you're still a slave, and unless you find a way to put your past into perspective, you will remain its slave until your dying day. There were forces at play bigger than your choices, acting above and beyond your own course of action."
"You don't know..."
"Yes I do know! You know – all those years ago, when you told me to forgive myself, I actually thought you had achieved it yourself. I do admit you've allowed yourself to experience the pain, but not to accept healing."
"Kuen Yin – this is useless..."
"This is not about us anymore!" she made a measured pause, whence she approached him and held his face between her hands "This is about you! It is about how you've continue to throw yourself into the fire hoping for immolation; wishing that the pain of the scorching flames will somehow redeem your soul, just because you're not good enough for a simple and honest reckoning. You're so involved in the tragedy of your past that you are not able to conceive yourself as a lovable, respectable human being, deserving of simple, uncomplicated forgiveness..."
A throbbing anger had replaced his vulnerability. For a moment, he could have allowed himself to tear into her with total, unrestricted abandon. Once again, the truth was too harsh and bleak for him to experience without the aid of violence and rage – yet he could not move – he was stuck to the ground, frozen in his tracks, unarmed, uncovered – naked...
"I love you, Tengu. But Heaven knows I cannot save you."
She let go of his face and pulled back a couple of steps... "You need to save yourself..."
Then, she left him.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Honor Thy Father Chapters|
| Hope Against Hope - A Change of Pace - Tainted Sanctuary - A New Home - Recovered - Empowered - When In Doubt - The Hunt - Full Moon - Reckonings - Sora
The Love of the Daughter - The Wasted Warrior, Part 1: Cycles- The Wasted Warrior, Part 2: Regrets- Daddy - The Charade, Part 1: The Shadow - The Charade Part 2: The Beast - The Charade, Part 3: The Fool - The Breakthrough - Redemption, Part 1: Dejection - Redemption, Part 2: Dominion