|By Neo Bahamut||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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|Ups & Downs|
Thursday, July 10, 2014
By the time Aroma woke up, the sunlight was already starting to fade from her window, barely peeking out from behind the paper curtain. She tossed the leafy green covers off of herself and sat up in bed, sliding her feet into a pair of fuzzy, pink slippers. She'd only had time to get a few pairs of clothes from her old apartment. This, as well as the exhausting events of the previous night, were why she was still wearing her dress, instead of any pajamas. Rubbing her left eye with her fist, she glanced over at the clock, set inside of a glossy wooden arch that was sitting on the bedside table.
"Six in the afternoon," she groaned, "I feel like such a bum."
She stood up and shuffled off into the hall, where she bumped into Thiera, who was on her way out of the bathroom. From the blast of steam warming Aroma's face and the glance of blond hair wrapped up in a white towel, she could tell that Thiera was just getting out of the shower. Aroma blushed and covered her the hand she was rubbing her eye with, looking away. "Sorry," she mumbled.
"It's fine, really," Thiera assured her, "I'm fully covered."
So Aroma stole a peek as Thiera headed into her room and pushed her door closed, save for a small crack for them to speak through.
"Good morning," Thiera continued, "Or should I say, 'Good evening'? Either way, did you sleep well?"
"Yes," Aroma said, absent-mindedly rubbing her stiff lower back. "What about you? Did you have, uh, an easy time finding towels?"
"Well, actually, it took me about half an hour to find white towels."
While Aroma was trying to figure out how to respond to that, the door at the end of the hall opened and Euryale stepped out, already in full armor.
"Are you going back to work?" Aroma asked. "But you just got off."
"Yeah, sorry, I wanted to take some time to get to know you 2, but I really want to investigate some leads while they're hot. I left some money for you to order out. Or go out yourselves, if you want."
"Thank you, but you don't need to do that."
"Well, I already did it," Euryale said over her shoulder, making her way to the door. "I'll just be a few hours! Looking forward to talking to you then!"
Aroma heard the door swing open and shut, and Thiera also stepped out of her room. The towel was still in her hair, but around her body was a sleeveless white dress that extended down to her mid calves, and a matching scarf around her neck and shoulders. "So," she began, "If it's just you and I, then how about some seaweed noodles?"
The dining room was fairly lackluster, basically a box with beige walls just off of the living room. The table was slightly darker, chipped corners thrown in harsh relief by the slightly swaying overhead lamp. Aroma briefly wondered if the police used the same plan for all of the rooms that they owned, and simply altered the materials that they were made from. Turning her attention back to her carton of green noodles, she poked 1 with her chopsticks, and a small spurt of water gushed out. Sitting across from her, Thiera clapped her own chopsticks to the table with slightly more force than was necessary. She sighed. Aroma looked to her, past the pile of Euryale's Yuans that remained defiantly unspent. The slight swaying of the overhead lamp caused her friend and superior to alternate between being radiantly lit in golden-white, or concealed in the shadows.
"I know that something is wrong," she started, her words ringing louder than usual in the hollow space. But not as loud as she should be yelling at me, Aroma thought. Thiera pressed on, "You've barely said 2 words since we ordered and you've hardly touched your noodles...it's still the cab driver, isn't it?"
"Yes," Aroma confirmed, staring at her food carton again, this time at the crescent moon and wave symbol of the Water Tribe, which adorned the side.
"We've lost patients before. Some of them even from Triad attacks."
"But this is different." It was a statement. Inarguable and absolute. When Thiera realized that Aroma had no intention to deny or elaborate, she pressed on, "Because this is the first time that it's your fault."
Aroma's face shot up, but it was too dim to see Thiera's expression. Aroma craned forward, her eyes stinging. When Thiera also leaned forward, face set in a grim, even expression, Aroma slumped back. Her chopsticks clattered to the floor, but she took no notice. Why was she short of breath now? When she was stabbed, when Thiera was in danger, she kept her composure in a way that she never thought she could. She reacted, well, like Thiera would. So why was she so overemotional now, least of all when she didn't deserve any pity? Did she just not care about the driver or, Spirits forbid, Thiera? No, that was impossible. Perhaps she wasn't a good enough person to sacrifice herself for a complete stranger, but Thiera's life was infinitely more important than her own. To Aroma, she was the most important person in the world. Now, she realized, Thiera was—
"Because you're just a Junior Healer, in the end, those patients were never your responsibility. They lived or died depending on the actions of someone else. Someone like me."
Aroma looked around. She had lost awareness for a moment. From the smell of the seaweed, the irregular lights playing on the waves of the Water Tribe emblem, and the weight of the despair and realization that passed so quickly that Thiera hadn't even seen it, Aroma thought, just for a moment, that she was actually drowning in a frozen polar ocean. When she realized that she was safe, and more importantly that Thiera didn't blame her, she felt a rush of warmth from deep within, but it still didn't completely cover the guilt.
"This is what it's like, Aroma. You can never be sure whether or not things might have been different if you just changed 1 thing. But you have to keep going. Because there are always more patients."
"You're talking as though he's already—"
"Yes, he is most likely gone," Thiera said simply, not breaking eye contact. "I think we both already knew that, so pretending otherwise isn't going to help you."
"...Yeah, I knew. But why would you want to help me?"
Thiera stood up and walked around the table. Aroma couldn't help but flinch away from her, but the waterbender simply put her hand on Aroma's shoulder.
"Because you're there for me whenever I'm going through this, whether you know it or not. You're my best friend, Aroma." She glanced up, adding, "Actually, quite possibly my only friend." When she looked back down, Aroma was once again staring into those sparkling blue eyes, now deeper than ever before. "And, frankly, right now, you need someone to tell you to stop moping already."
"...What?" Aroma asked with a raised eyebrow.
"This was the most intense breakfast of my life, so I hope you're over it, and we can just eat," Thiera said simply. "Save those feelings for the rebel leader. You're just a Junior Healer. You don't have to try to be everyone's savior, or some pure light spirit. Just Aroma is good enough for me."
She smiled hopefully, and Aroma returned the gesture. I'm not over it, and I can't just forget it, she thought, but thanks to you, I am okay. I'll live up to your expectations, and prove to you that I'm more than just good enough.
"Oh, but Thiera, I have some bad news—this is technically dinner that we are eating."
"Hey, this is the first meal that we are eating after waking up! That counts as 'breakfast'!"
There's that adorable fluster again.
"Hey, I'm back," Euryale announced, entering the living room. The Healers had long finished their dinner, thrown their cartons away, and were sitting on a couch, wondering what kinds of things Euryale would ask them. As it turned out, the first was, "Did I miss any important discussions?"
Aroma and Thiera looked at each other, then to Euryale. "No," Thiera said, but Aroma just half-suppressed a giggle, covering her mouth with her hand.
Euryale raised an eyebrow. "Right, well, I'm going to get out of this armor," she informed them, pointing to her room. "Be back in a jiffy."
Of course, Aroma had gotten dressed right after she had eaten. Even if she felt like being lazy and not changing, that outfit now had a hole running through the skirt, which was itself covered with dried blood.
Evidently, Thiera's thoughts were along similar lines, because she asked, "Speaking of clothes, are you planning to sew that green dress?"
Aroma shook her head and answered, "I don't want to try to clean it, so I'm just throwing it away."
"I understand. Besides, I like what you have on now," Thiera responded, reaching out to touch the pink hem running around Aroma's collarbone and shoulders. Aside from the slightly fancier touches of the neck hem, the lace at the bottom of the skirt, and a trio of flower-shaped buttons running down the chest, it was basically the same type of dress as the one she had on last night. They weren't exactly unique in Republic City, but Aroma smiled anyway.
"Thanks. You look pretty, too. Uh, your dress I mean. And, well, uh, you too. I mean—"
"You both look nice," Euryale confirmed, emerging from her bedroom with a similar dress as Aroma, only red, and without the buttons or lace at the bottom. She flopped down across from them, spreading her brazen arms across the top of the couch behind her. She nodded slightly at Aroma, continuing, "So, business before pleasure. First off, the Chief and I are now pretty sure that the woman who attacked you is a Kyoshi Warrior. We just aren't legally allowed to say that."
"Oooooh!" Aroma practically shouted, excited by the sudden realization. Practically everyone had at least heard of the Kyoshi Warriors. "Of course, that explains the armor and the green kimono. But, wait, don't they wear all this make-up that makes them look kind of like angry hawks?" She put her fingers over her eyebrows and took a stern expression, which was evidently supposed to imitate Kyoshi Warrior paint.
"Never mind that," Thiera said impatiently, "What do you mean that you're 'not legally allowed to say that.'"
"The questions are related," Euryale answered. "Symbolism is important to the Kyoshi Warriors. They would never go into battle without make-up, and they would never allow their uniforms to become so tarnished. The fact that this woman does both indicates that she's essentially renounced being them. And Kyoshi Island won't cop to losing 1 of their own, let alone that she's become a bigoted maniac who robs and kills people on the streets."
"You sound slightly bitter," Thiera noted.
"Only slightly," was Euryale's sarcastic reply. "We think some people are already aware of the group this woman started, but are too afraid to say anything. However, if some of the Triad suspects start taking plea bargains, we may be able to find out more."
"Is that everything that you know?" Thiera asked.
"For now, yes."
Aroma looked around for something to talk about, ultimately settling on asking, "So...you like red?"
"Hm?" Euryale looked down at her red dress and the red couch she was sitting on, and then across to the matching couch. "Oh, yeah, I guess you could say it's my favorite color. This is all natural, though," she added, pointing to her head.
"Ours too!" Aroma cheerily responded.
"It is!" Thiera asserted indignantly when Euryale looked at her and frowned. "Is it honestly so hard to believe that, in the whole world, there aren't a few people with blond hair?!"
Euryale raised her hands defensively. "Okay, okay, sheesh! So...what do your names mean?"
"I don't know, what does yours mean?" Thiera asked.
"Point taken. I know that Rakshashi are a kind of feminine Spirit, though."
"Oh, do you know a lot about Spirits?" Aroma asked, folding her hands in her lap.
Euryale made a slight waving motion with her hand. "I'm pretty well-versed in Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation traditions. I'm a bit sketchier on Water Tribe and Air Nomad, though. What about you 2?"
Aroma nodded at Thiera. While they talked, she slipped out of her slippers and crossed her legs.
"Well, alright," Thiera said with a sigh. "I know a number of stories, but don't really believe any of them."
"Oh," Euryale said with a nervous grin, "Well, that's okay. Not many people have ever seen a Spirit. But, if you don't mind my asking, how would you explain—"
"Hold on, there. I did not say that I lack belief in Spirits, only the stories surrounding them. They are all based on hearsay and no single event has more than 1 or 2 primary sources. I believe that the Spirit World exists, but that it interacts very little with the material world, if at all."
"Oh. Well, that makes more sense, but obviously, I would disagree."
At that, Thiera jumped to her feet. "What's your problem?!"
Euryale quickly joined her. "What's your problem!?"
Aroma drew back with each shout as if she were physically being slapped, and tentatively raised her shaking hands. "Wait, please, I'm sure this is just a misunderstanding!"
Both women turned their glares on Aroma, who shrunk back again as they shouted simultaneously, "It is not!"
Euryale was the first to point to Thiera. "She has been passive-aggressively insulting me ever since she got here!"
"That's not true," Thiera shouted, still looking at Aroma, but now pointing to Euryale. "And anyway, she's the one who thinks she's better than us!"
Euryale finally turned to Thiera. "I do not!"
Thiera turned to face her as well, almost lashing Aroma with her hair. "You had us move all the way across town because your boss decided, as if she's more important than our patients! You also implied that believing more spirit fables makes you smarter!"
Euryale balled her hands into fists near her chest, grinding her teeth as she took that all in. Shaking, she spat back, "That isn't what I meant! Do you think I just believe any old story I hear?"
Thiera folded her arms and looked away, smugly replying, "Yes."
Aroma scrambled to her feet, putting her hands on the shoulders of both of her friends. "Now, just hold on, there's no need to escalate—"
"That's right!" Euryale yelled, jerking away from Aroma and pointing at Thiera. "No need for any of this! If you don't like me, you can just go back home!"
"Gladly!" Thiera replied sharply, striding towards the door.
Euryale's finger drooped. "Wha—what?"
"You heard me!" Thiera yelled, wrenching open the door. "I didn't want to live here anyway, remember? Good day!"
Euryale pushed past Aroma as gently as possible, starting after Thiera with an outstretched hand. "Wait!"
But Thiera had already stepped through the door and slammed it shut, so Euryale grabbed only the knob. Slapping the wall with her other hand, she wrenched it free again, and started after the waterbender, who was briskly moving down the stairs.
"I didn't really mean that! I was just mad! Anyway, you can't go back alone, it's dangerous!"
"Watch me!" Thiera called over her shoulder.
Euryale raced down the first few steps, catching up with Thiera as she turned on a landing, but abruptly stopped when Thiera turned back and pointed in Euryale's face, adding, "Don't follow me! That's police harassment!"
So Euryale could only stand there, her hands cupped around her mouth, yelling, "I'm sorry!" and "Can we just start over?!"
Eventually, she was forced to admit that Thiera wasn't coming back and started slowly up the stairs. When she looked up, she caught a glimpse of Aroma running from the door, probably back to her room. Thinking that the other healer was going to leave as well, she took the stairs 2 at a time, racing to rectify the situation, but stopped when she reached the door to her apartment.
She didn't hear the sound of packing.
She heard crying.
She backed up against the wall and slid down, into a sitting position.
"Great job, Detective. Lost 1 already."
After chiding herself bitterly, she wrapped her arms around her knees and buried her face in them. She felt herself tearing up.
"It's because I can hear Aroma," she concluded. "Like seeing someone yawn. It's—it's contagious. Y—yeah. That's all."
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